Lots of other folk (here, here and here, for example) have written about their experiences of being at a Bishops Advisers Panel – the three day selection conference at which it is decided if we will be recommended for training, or not. It is a rather strange environment, though, so I don’t think another blog post will be one too many to add colour to the outline of the Going to A BAP leaflet candidates have.
So. Here we go. I had a well-planned journey on the train, and I had Google mapped the station-to-centre journey to the point I knew it by heart. Allowing for train delays meant I arrived a couple of hours early, so I had a wander, some lunch, and then unpacked properly and slowly for about an hour. I normally unpack akin to scattering the contents of my suitcase around the place – this time, I wanted to make sure I had places for things so if I were in a hurry, or under pressure, I could find what I needed. I mean, I even hung things up! Absolutely overjoyed to find several pieces of post waiting for me when I arrived.
You are in the hands of one panel secretary, and three advisers.
The introductory session sets the scene. Throughout the event, actually, we were briefed incredibly well – told what was going to happen, when, and where and why. (Despite that I still missed the bit where we were told we would finish earlier on the Wednesday and the packing was rather more of a scramble than it needed to be). There are lots of opportunities for prayer and worship throughout the three days – all bar one are ‘optional’ but it would be an odd person, I think, that didn’t need that chapel time.
The icebreakers were just that, icebreakers – nothing out of the ordinary and the first chance to size up the people around you and those that form your group for the presentation and discussion exercises.
The personal inventory was less stressful than I had expected – I had spare pen, spare spare pen, and a biro just in case of writing implement failure. Each adviser gets their set of answers, so there are about 13 minutes for each group of questions and you are given time warnings in 13 minute increments. I tackled this exercise by skim-reading through all the questions, then answering the shorter and easier ones first. Then I went back and looked at the slightly longer answers (although all are only a few lines, really). I guess the important thing is to not spend 35 minutes on the first page and then have nothing for the other advisers. I did also, in a moment between the end of the exercise and supper, scribble down as many answers and questions as I could remember, as that formed part of the advice I was given, but that didn’t really help as I don’t remember looking at them again.
During meals, the advisers sit in the same place, and candidates have free choice of where to sit. So don’t pick a seat as your favourite – and if you can manage it, don’t sit on the same table as someone about to interview you. Yes, you are being observed during the meals, but don’t let that make you feel horribly nervous. I ended up in the seat at the head of the table for the first meal, trying to divvy up a chicken-in-sauce dish between five people – messy.
On paper, the presentation-discussion-summarising exercise looks horrendous. One imagines that if this selection conference were secular and competitive, it would be – imagine all those people trying to out-do each other and steal the spotlight. In reality, though, when the rest of your group all want you to succeed, it was (for me at least) an enjoyable morning. There is definitely a sense that the group bonds together during the exercise. All my group had picked a topic related to mission – ranging from how to integrate a Messy Church congregation, use of social media, prayer, making the Bible more accessible, being relevant in a consumer society and what ‘believing without belonging’ looks like. That common criteria meant that the discussions could build on previous topics and opinions from one discussion were relevant to the next. Advice for this is: time your presentation; don’t be thrown by the timing announcement at 4:30. In the discussion, which feels like it’s going on for ever, make sure everyone’s given a chance to speak; make notes on what is being said so you can sum up well and prove you were paying attention.
Our pastoral exercise was a situation very close to my heart, so I did find myself getting very caught up in the paper person’s scenario. I jotted a few ideas down on the page during the first evening, which I then sifted and fleshed out during my free time on Tuesday. The temptation, particularly when using a laptop, was to have every word and phrase crafted as perfect prose so I did have to stop myself from spending all my time on this. Take a USB stick and there is an opportunity during the last morning to print your final version off.
The interviews. Well. Hmmm. My DDO had warned me to expect two on the first day, one on the second, which is what I had. First up was vocational. No pressure, then, this being the most important criteria being looked at. That wasn’t the best 50 minutes I have ever spent in my life – I didn’t find my level with the adviser, who, perhaps in her approach to impartiality, didn’t respond to my attempts at humour. Cracking a joke and having zero response is something that generally puts me off my stride a bit. So I found that quite a hard work interview and I cringed about it for some time afterwards (if I’m honest – right up until the point the DDO called me with the result!). There is an opportunity to approach the panel secretary to correct anything you think you really got wrong – I didn’t feel that was appropriate, as there wasn’t anything specific I felt I could put my finger on to say ‘this wasn’t what I meant.’
My second interview was the pastoral interview, which I felt more like an interesting conversation, and there was laughter. The educational, which was last for me on Wednesday, was also a very affirming conversation. I’d seen on paper that I loosely had a bit of common history with the adviser so we had an interesting starting point and again, there was laughter.
The impression I had of the interviews is as follows. The advisers have a very thorough, two-dimensional paper version of you that they will know fairly well. At BAP, they get to meet the real, in-the-flesh version. They’re trying to match up the two. So in the pastoral and educational interviews, I felt like the advisers were colouring in a picture of me – checking that the colours they’d pick matched the person in front of them. But in the vocational interview, it felt like the advisor was just drawing random body parts. Differences in style, I guess, and eventually in discussion all the parts must have matched up sufficiently.
Then all of a sudden, we were in debrief… then the last worship session and it was time to go. There was a bit of time to my train, so there was no rush for me to depart which was helpful. Almost as soon as we finished the draining adrenaline left me feeling completely wiped out – I barely had the energy to open a gin and tonic.
- Be yourself. Yes, I know. That is hard advice if you don’t like yourself very much or are really rather wondering what accident it was that led you there.
- Dress to be comfortable, and you – not necessarily smart. Some had jeans, others had tweed jackets and I’m fairly certain they weren’t bought for the occasion.
- Have fun. Everyone’s in the same boat. After what can be quite a lonely process, being with 15 others who have been through similar is rather nice.
- Take everything you need to be comfortable. If that’s the kitchen sink, then pack the kitchen sink. This is not a time to be minimalist. In fact, when I was a bit embarrassed by an over-size bag, I was given the advice to just feel sorry for the folk who don’t have their home comforts around them. I also had all manner of drugs for possible ailments or pains.
- I took blu-tac and put up cards people had sent me, I had some daffodils in a mug (they flatly refused to open though), lavender oil, favourite PJs and I’m not ashamed to admit, a small well-travelled cuddly toy rabbit (his ears make a good place for lavender oil drops).
- I had my laptop for the pastoral exercise, which also meant I had my iTunes collection with me to keep me occupied in spare time.
- Running kit made it in, and did get used – I was awake very early on the Tuesday, so I went out for a couple of miles before breakfast. That helped.
- I also had a drawerful of snacks – I figured I would be tired, but I didn’t want to be tired AND hungry at the same time, and if one meal had been ratatouille, I’d have been in trouble.
- Drink helps. Be sociable. Our evening drink together, talking utter nonsense, was a helpful gap in the proceedings.
- If you can avoid driving home, then don’t – you really will be tired by the Wednesday afternoon. I was zombie-like.
- Clear off quick, though – after closing tea the advisers stay on and start their decision making process. So don’t expect them to linger about for a friendly chat.
- Take the next day off work. I could barely talk in full sentences on the Thursday, luckily I had an understanding friend who just sat in the pub with me as I gradually brain-dumped the whole experience to him.