I read the following on Twitter today, posted by @clroters, “No one should be sponsored for training until they’ve been a communicant member of the CofE for at least 5 years”. It got me thinking about what kind of people I, as a lay person, want as clergy to minister to me. I would agree that a good grounding in the Church is important before a person should be ordained. The discernment process, as I am currently experiencing it, seems quite rigorous at ensuring candidates have a sufficient understanding of Anglicanism, have thought about their own beliefs and how their personal beliefs fit into the rich tapestry that is the broad church of Anglicanism. I believe that the discernment process only puts forward candidates for ordination training that are sufficiently mature in their faith to be able to make good ministers.
I have never met the author of the original tweet, but his profile picture suggests that he may be considerably younger than I. This leads me to wonder if there should be a minimum age for candidates for training. Surely a good minister needs sufficient experience of life before they are sponsored for training. Surely a person who has completed a degree at university and then gone straight to ordination training as soon as they are able would not have sufficient experience of life to be able to guide his or her flock? Have they been alongside families when one of their number is dying? Have they sat alongside a train driver who has just been involved in a suicide? Have they been through cancer? The answer of course is probably not. Does this then make them ineligible for sponsorship to ordination training?
Where do we draw the line with deciding who should, and who should not, be allowed to be sponsored for training? Perhaps the celibate should be barred because how can they give advice to couples coming to them for marriage? Perhaps the childless should be barred because they can’t give advice to baptism families? Perhaps those who have not yet suffered a bereavement should be barred because how can they come alongside those who have suffered a loss?
When I look at members of the clergy whom I know, I would suggest that few actually have had all of the experiences that I mention above. I’m sure though that most will have had different, and difficult, experiences which serves to equip them their ministry. I also know that when I have experienced difficult times in my life there has been someone there whom God has sent to minister to me in my time of need. In the main they haven’t had the experience that they’re helping me to deal with, but they do have that certain something that all ministers need.
So if we determine purely by life experience who should, or should not, be sponsored for ordination training we would soon come to the conclusion that every man and woman on earth should be barred for lack of this quality or for want of that experience. Thus we conclude that there has only ever been one man who could truly be called a priest. The world was so grateful that God had sent us such a man as this, such a man as could solve all the world’s problems, that they crucified him.
Only Jesus, then, is good enough to be our priest, to make that ultimate sacrifice for the sin of man. So how do we select our clergy? We have the discernment process aforementioned. The idea is the candidate is laid bare in this process, is forced to examine every aspect of their life, and the candidate is presented to the much vaunted BAP. I have yet to experience BAP or, indeed, a diocesan panel; but I find the idea of attending quite daunting. Why should I be daunted by it? Because surely its purpose, if it to be meaningful, is to discern the will of God. God’s will is not always what we want or what we expect, but if it is the will of God then thats what must happen. We cannot duck it. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, … thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”
Was David equipped to deal with Goliath? On his own ability I would opine he was not. Was Noah equipped to build an ark and cope with the flood? I read no mention of him having ever being apprenticed to a shipwright. Was Moses equipped to lead the Israelites through the wilderness? But God equipped them all to do his will. He gave them what they needed when they most needed it because they were his faithful servants. God treats each of us as individuals. He knows that we all grow at different rates to one another. He know that it will take some of us longer than others to reach a stage of maturity in our relationship with him to be equipped to do whatever it is he has created us to do in the first place. I offer you the case of Revd Katherine Price, Chaplain to Queen’s College Oxford. In her book “I think it’s God calling” she describes herself as a cradle atheist. This author clearly had no background in the C of E nor any other Church. She experimented with the notion of God being real and came to realise that, not only does God exist, but that he wanted her to be a minister in his Church. A bit like St. Paul really, he didn’t’t believe that Jesus was the son of God. I don’t think he had five years in the Anglican communion before he started preaching the word to all and sundry.
So it’s good that we have this discernment process so that those involved in it can prayerfully and sincerely discern God’s will for each candidate on their own merits because nobody is wholly suitable for the role. We each have our gifts that we use, we each have different gifts from our neighbour, and God ensures that we have the right gift, in the right place at the right time.
Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10