Last summer I was reminded that the autumn would mark the 50th Anniversary of my ordination, and that prodded me to think about whether I should mark it and if so how. A personal review seemed like an obvious thing to do, but I reckoned that might benefit from some outside questioning. So I wrote to people who’ve known me over the years in a variety of different contexts, explaining what I hoped to do, and asking if they’d “be willing to help me by offering a thought provoking question? Any question they liked.” I ended up with a very stimulating set of questions. I mulled them through the autumn, wrote a considered response in early December, and shared it with all who’d helped me. Their reactions encouraged me to then publish what I’d written on this web-site. That in turn has led to quite a few comments, either posted on the web-site, or expressed to me personally. Some people have found that particular things that I wrote resonated with them, others have been prompted to consider a similar review of their own callings. With the latter particularly in mind it seemed that it might be useful if I published the questions, hoping they might stimulate others as they did me.. So here they are, in the order in which I received them. Please bear in mind that they were offered with respect to my ordination, so if your calling is other, you’ll probably need to adapt them.
1] The Picture / Piece of music / Poem / Novel / Book / Man /Woman / Holy Place /Foreign Country that has influenced you most. Are there links between them?
2] Why do you always ask questions….the difficult questions?
Have your early questions been answered?
What questions remain?
3] Why celebrate the 50th anniversary of ordination in 1970? Rather than an anniversary of your actual felt call [in the early1960s]? Isn’t the 50th anniversary one to the institutional church? Didn’t you leave that when you founded The Annunciation Trust , and again when you returned your Permission to Officiate ?
4] ‘You can’t change the direction of the wind. But you can adjust your sails to always reach your destination.’ Have you had to, and what is your destination?
5] What have been the gifts to you of your ministry in Europe?
Where do you find meaning in your life
What has life taught you?
I’ve just been struck by this observation by Rachel Mann about the priesthood in this week’s Church Times: ‘For priests are God’s repertory artists, rehearsing God’s story that all may be fed.’
So, my question is: what do you make of that, and how does it resonate with you?
I think my question(s) would be to ask you to reflect on the changing nature of priesthood over the last 50 years both from the external and the internal perspectives. Externally, there has been significant evolution of our national culture, the church itself and society’s appreciation of the value of personal and corporate spiritual life. Internally there will have been developments in your instinct and understanding of yourself, God and of priesthood. In the light of both of these reflections, how do you want to approach the future task of ministering in the wisdom and insights you have gained during your priesthood and what might you need to help you in that task?
I think that Mechtild of Magdeburg once said that in life we are given to drink from two chalices: the chalice of the white wine of joy and the chalice of the red wine of suffering. She also said that we haven’t lived fully until we drink to the bottom from each of these chalices. In the light of her wisdom, I would like you to reflect on the following question: What was the white wine and the red wine of your life as a priest?
Rowan Williams spoke at a clergy conference that:
A priest needs to be a poet. They need to bring imagination to the task of communicating the gospel and interpreting it for others.
A priest needs to be a historian. Someone who holds the story for a community or individual and helps them reflect upon it.
A priest needs to be a contemplative. When asked what this might mean Rowan remarkably simply said “someone who simply enjoys life to the full. ( abundant life)” and a priest should help others do the same. (where is the gift?!!)
I wonder which of these if any resonate with your experience of the last 50 years?
What has being ordained done to you?
What have you made of it, and what has it made of you?
How did leaving parish ministry change your understanding of your work as a priest?
What has your experience shown you to be the single most important message to communicate about the nature and purpose of God?
1) If you were to have looked forward into your priesthood through a kaleidoscope 50 years ago, what patterns and colours might you have expected to see, and how might you have interpreted those patterns and colours as you saw priesthood in those early days.
2) If you were to look back through that same kaleidoscope today, what patterns and colours can you see, and what might they say to you?
If you found out that ordained ministry was not part of God’s master plan (either personally or more generally), though not necessarily deleterious to it, how would it colour your view of the last fifty years?
Did you ever truly find it possible to forgive those who have hurt or hindered you?
1] How do you trace your transfiguration and participation in the Divine life throughout the 50 years and how do you experience that now?
2] What response might this divine exchange call forth from you in the present? Is there another step in giving of all you are?
I wondered how insights gained through other cultures/faiths have affected you.
To what kind of vocation does your priesthood now call you in these eschatological times, with the (probable) fast-approaching collapse of societal, political, economic, ecclesial, ecological and even civilisation-al norms as we have come to know them?”
What are the ways in which your vocation (as ordained priest) sustained (or not) your relationship with God?”
Do you see you and your faith as “one”, or is there a “me” and “my faith” as separate entities?
– When you are confronted (even from afar) with violations of human rights or quite simply with antisocial acts, does your reaction as an “ordinary individual” sometimes differ from the reaction that you “have to” espouse as an ordained priest?
– How much has your faith inspired your actions, and (or?) how much have your actions served to underpin your faith?
– Is faith a prerequisite for perseverance?
– What initiatives – however modest, however individualised – that you have taken do you see as having had the greatest effect over time – for an individual or on a wider plane?
And, I suppose, the very obvious ones:
– If you have ever doubted your faith, what caused you to do so and how did you retrieve it?
– If you have never doubted your faith, is that because you have seen no cause to do so or because, for example, you have never wanted to go that far?
Is being/having a friend the most important thing in human relationships? How have friendships shaped your understanding of priesthood?
Perhaps you could cover ‘Magic Moments’ for you and what has surprised you in your Ministry, either pleasant or not!
Perhaps you might also consider any amusing incidents, there must be lots.
Perhaps you might consider a reflection on your Greenbelt/Soul Space work that impacted many people.
I remember that Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography was titled ‘The Story of My Experiments With Truth’. Confession time: I have never read it, but I wonder if you might like to use the title as the basis for a little introspective reviewing of your own experience and experiments?
How do you see honesty or truthfulness in relation with your real deep down human nature or personality manifest in your career as priest?
This might be a question of how to deal with doubts or failures etc.
How has the contrast between being a priest licensed to a parish, to being a priest who is not, shaped your understanding of priesthood?
You felt called to ordination, now after 50 years, has the call in essence remained the same?
What do you think God is seeing when he/she looks upon your life as a priest?
What are you most happy about when you look back on your life as a priest? and what are you hoping for for the coming years?
If the Church of England Selection process had not accepted you for ordination training what would you have done?
What is your God given name, name in the large, holistic biblical sense, the name which has continued to form, to be revealed to you over the years, maybe especially since the day your calling took shape deep down within you?’
Why did you give up your Permission to Officiate?
With the Road to Emmaus story in mind…. When you look back on your 50 years of priesthood what has been the most fundamental pattern of that journey, and at which points, looking back, has your heart most burned within you?