This afternoon I spent some time with my District Chair Stephen Burgess, we were discussing my Testimony Service for Synod on the 7th May. As I prepare for this I find that I am looking back and considering the road that my faith has taken, and how I began to discern a call to ordained ministry.
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to be pointed to Christopher's story as a very real turning point for me, it was a turning point of trust and faith, the discovery of a God who loved me in-spite of myself, but my conscious journey of faith began before that, growing from my delight in a Primary School Hymn Book, to my desire not only to own a Bible but to read it from cover to cover...
That said I had no idea what Christianity was all about, although I knew some of the "Jesus " stories to allow them to challenge or change was not even a thought on the far horizon.
My church experience began in Nottinghamshire at the age of 12, where I attended a local Pathfinders group, a move to Essex and a break from church for a few years until I became involved in helping at a local Cub Scout Pack and began to attend Parade Services, this led to a weekly attendance at a local village church, and a real desire to belong was kindled within me.
As a young (unmarried to start with) mother, I continued to attend church, and my first three children were all baptised. Tim was happy for this, and we began to attend special services as a family. All of my church experience so far was Anglican, although that had not crossed my mind at the time.
A move to a small costal village in Essex co-incided with Christopher's diagnosis, and the church family in the village, Anglican, Catholic and Congregational, stepped in to help out. This practical out-pouring of support had a very real effect upon me. As a family we began to attend the local Congregational Church, joined Bible Study Groups, and learnt to pray!
A call to evangelism soon followed, and it was then that I encountered one of the great obstacles to being a woman and being called to ministry. It was OK in many folks eyes for me to be involved on a local level providing that I did not want to preach, or perish the thought get involved in mission activities that meant leaving our children in Tim's care for a week. I was told at one point that I was stealing my husbands ministry...
Even the mission group who welcomed me to join their teams, and even to take a leadership role had a this far no further policy, although many people in the organisation recognised my leadership gifts I could not be a team leader, it was against policy; and they could back it up with reasonable sounding theology- theology I now profoundly disagree with!
Next came a move to Texas, and an encounter with the Bible Belt... we attended a Baptist Church, way too big and too polished, and the womens ministry groups made my toes curl- sexism reigned! My task in life I was told was to support my husband and to look good... ( yes really), we left that church. Then came a free church, another large congregation where although participation was encouraged I met a similar problem, so many things were off limits to women. The poem below was written about my utter frustration at the confining attitudes I met within this particular congregation, and yes I really did hurl my Bible across the car-park!
Still in Texas and we joined an Episcopal Church, here the Pastor was an inspiration, he was a man of prayer and vision and in the short time we were members there I learnt so much about integrity and ministry.
Back to England and a move to Colchester, and back to an Anglican Church, again it was big, and although we became involved it was never a spiritual home. Soon we moved back to the village on the coast and re-joined the Congregational Church, we had changed a lot, but in many ways we were home, and it was from here that Tim and I were encouraged to take up a course of study in Evangelism and Mission, at the same time Tim had been made redundant twice within 3 years and with no work opening up for him in electronics we needed to look to something new. The course of study led me in an entirely different direction and into some very strange encounters...
A move to Methodist Circuit in , Norfolk, and the beginnings of a love hate love affair with Methodism. We were employed as Community Out-reach Workers, it was wonderful, and it drove me crazy. The big choice came at Spring Harvest one year, we had taken a number of teenagers with us and had been working for the church for 3 years at this point. The choice was stark, candidate for ordained ministry or leave.... commit or walk away. This was not an ultimatum issued by the church, but a personal struggle.
I offered for Foundation Training and to my astonishment I was accepted, two years with ERMC training part time followed. I was challenged and stretched and grew. Back to the interview pannels, and Circuit, District and Connexion all said yes unanimously, two more years with ERMC and the chance to study for an M.A. which I thoroughly enjoyed...
Interestingly training with an eccumenical course really helped me to discover why Methodism was the place I now called home, both theologically with its' Arminian roots and its emphasis on prevenient grace, practically with its strong call to social justice and community and global involement and responsibility, and dare I say administratively with its emphasis on every member ministry and discipleship, Methodism made sense to me- and yes it still drives me crazy!
Through Methodism's emphasis on grace I was able to really grasp that the God who called me did not call me to be perfect before I could serve him, rather s/he called me to begin a work in and through me, to be open to transformation within as the Holy Spirit guided and equipped me, to be open to that guidance with the "pruning" and training that it might bring.
I was Stationed in the Snaith, and Selby Circuit in September 2009, and all being well I will be Ordained on the 3rd July this year in Liverpool...
On a personal note my journey has been challenging, I grew up under the sound of the call to worship from a local Mosque in Malaysia rather than Englis Church Bells, though they did come later when my parents returend home to England with us and we lived for a while opposite the Parish Church in Deeping St James ( I have never been inside it!)...
I lived on a pig farm in Essex struggling to come to terms with my parents divorce, muddling love and sex in search for belonging I found that even here God was with me, as I married the father of my first child, he is the father of all the others also, and we have been married for almost 30 years now. In many ways we grew up with our children, having responsibility for them made us responsible and taught us to pray. Tim is currently training at Durham St John and is a Student Deacon in the Methodist Diaconal Order...
The poem below marked a turning point for me, a day when I threw my frustrations at a narrow confining theology across a church car park, and never looked back...
This Bible is worn and battered;
Like my faith is torn in places,
And like may faith it has been well used.
Every page has been read in this Bible,
Each word scanned and poured over
It was my companion through hard times.
But that did not stop me hurling the damn thing
Clean across the car park
In an outpouring of frustration!
My faith went with it that day
And everything changed;
For I no longer held to brittle man made rules
Rules that told me how to pray
How to give,
And how to behave.
Rules that gave rules to God
Telling him how to respond to his childrens cries
These words have taught me well that there is another way
A true way for those who have ears to hear
And eyes to see…
For God will not be bound by our rules
Nor will he always smooth the path before us
But he will walk it with us
Whether we choose to take his hand
Or refuse it and stride on alone!
My journey of faith will continue to be a pilgrimage, I have no doubt about that! And I still have that Bible...