Money

I have the grant assessment from the Diocese now.

I would not be able to train full-time if I didn’t get a grant and I am grateful for this life-line. Rent is paid, I’m fed by college 5 days a week in term time, and there’s money to spend on top. Except it’s quite a small amount. From the budget sheet I think it’s a bit less than £400 a month for everything else. Seems fine till you chip away at it with the regular outgoings… Having been over my head in debt in the past I am very keen not to have to resort to credit cards and overdraft for everyday things.

It has been suggested I set up a stewardship account and allow friends to contribute towards books, gin, and fun. I feel terribly guilty about this.

I have had two years to prepare. If I had handled my finances better years ago, I could have saved more. If I had not met friends in the pub or gone away for weekends I could have saved more. If I had not given money away to charities I could have saved more. If I had not moved jobs & taken a pay cut I could have saved more. Instead I was paying off credit cards (down to about £975 now, which is quietly sitting on a 30-month 0% card), happily drinking beer and generally having a social life. I have, in the last year, created a Running Away Fund For Dire Emergencies – but it is sacrosanct. And there is cash stashed for a new pair of glasses, contact lenses, running shoes, some new clothes before I go, plus Greenbelt, living costs when I stop working, etc. But still – two and a bit pay cheques left – yikes. My ability to buy a new laptop depends on how much deposit I get back when I leave the flat, for example.

So essentially a stewardship account feels like me saying ‘I squandered the last two years salary, and mishandled finances before that, now please bail me out.’ When we all have demands on our finances why should it be me that benefits? I honestly don’t feel worthy of that. I am grateful for what I will receive, and although I’m frustrated at some of the Diocesan rules, I don’t have a great sense of entitlement. I do have a fierce sense of independence. Ask my Mum how long it took to persuade me to accept her offer of a significant percentage towards a possible holiday. And the vicar will tell you that I originally turned down the pilgrimage last year.

What I’m hearing from friends though is that they want to help.That it’s OK to say ‘this is going to be hard, will you help with the things that will help?’ because friends want to be part of the journey. And despite my fierce independence and dislike of being the sponger I was prepared to accept the odd bottle of gin or a loan of books – I’d joked about getting £3 a month sponsorship for gin purposes. Just had never thought about more.

It’s just hard, OK? What is it OK to spend other people’s money on? I hate wearing glasses, so is it OK to spend your money on my vanity? Is it OK to spend your money on my books? I’m tired and need to see a friend, is it OK to spend your money on train fare to London?

I may not appear gracious about the offer of financial support, and I hope this blog explains why. I am genuinely overwhelmed by the friends lining up to start this journey with me. The fastest way to make me cry is to remind me that I am loved. So, thank you.

Invisible barriers

I wrote a separate post about the idea of intentionally letting go. Currently, I am at a conference. I am not a delegate, as I have been in the past, but an exhibitor (a job I have also done in the past in a different context). This is remarkably odd for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, people that don’t know me, are wary of talking to me as I am by virtue of my different badge colour, an alien species. No matter that this time last year I was a practitioner, or that this time two years ago I was a speaker. Blue badge = sales pitch = avoid, even avoiding eye contact. (People who do know me are nice, and a couple of people I talk to on Twitter have come to say hello. But, no-one’s responding here to my tweets).

Secondly, it’s odd being at something but not part of it. Following tweets about sessions I’m not in – but would, had life been different, been interested in feels oddly remote.

Thirdly, I am actively hating having to lie to people! There are some who are interested in the fact I’m now working for a vendor, and they’re asking me why I moved, how I find it, what I am going to do next. I cannot give an honest answer to any of those questions this week. I was knackered yesterday from the sheer stress of trying to remember what the cover story is. Truthfulness is so much easier. I was pondering resigning even earlier, but I cannot risk losing another week’s pay.

Finally – it’s strange to be back in this world in any capacity because I know it is only for a short period of time (ten weeks yesterday). In a way, then, this conference acts as a point of letting go. Of being able to see people that have helped teach me the trade I am leaving and mentally say goodbye to them. To be thankful for the community for which I have worked in various volunteer capacities and which will go on supporting new entrants in future years. There was stealth prayer in the venue yesterday.

There is also a learning point here. The blue badge is a divide. I am in the same venue as the community of which I have been part, but by taking a different job, I am now not one of them. Eye contact is to be avoided. My cheery hellos go unheeded. People are surprised to see me in this capacity, and not as a delegate. So there are invisible barriers, changes in behaviour towards me (and my lovely, longsuffering colleague). I suspect there’s a parallel here. For if I am collared up in a couple of years, as much as that may gain me entry to places I’d never go otherwise, it also acts as a barrier, a suggestion that I am not a normal person with all my normal foibles.

So, there will be friends made in this life who will come with me to the next version – who will send me emergency gin, listen to me swear, or rant about life in college (actually that might not be an OR connector there). But there will be others who won’t be able to see past the change in circumstances, who see the religious nature of my life to come as a barrier. And I think I understand a bit more about that particular shift than I did 24 hours ago.

Creating a Good Letting Go

A wise friend asked me recently if I had the space to create a good letting go. That was a really interesting turn of phrase. I know – see blog posts passim – that there is a process of letting go to be got on with. I had not thought about creating it as a Thing, a ritual that I would have some control over. But I realise I can. And this links to a conversation I had with my spiritual director about the physical handing over of stuff. She had recently downsized and had given lots away, but said she’d taken time to say thank you for the thing, and the use it had been to her.

I tweeted about this, and it was pointed out to me that the rituals of life – the liminal – are what a lot of my future will be about, and that there is creativity in this. That made a lot of sense. I am happier now, thinking that although there is going to be some stirring of emotions as I go through every last thing I own, I perhaps have the opportunity to be deliberate about the process. And when I am written out of an activity in church, I can be thankful for what has been in the past, not hurt that the present isn’t important to others. (I hope).

Let’s face it, in the next five years I am going to move on three times, so I might as well have a Way Of Dealing That Works. This may be the sharpest and hardest – leaving profession, church, family and community – but others will hurt all the same. So I will be creating a good letting go. I will be intentionally grateful for the people I am not going to work with or see again; for the things I pass on or recycle. I wrote a prayer for this…I may write more. The whole transition is basically one long ‘Oh God I have to trust you’ kind of prayer (not the calm floaty kind of prayerfulness that others might be achieving) so some structure to this will help, I think. I will be alive to the fact that I can influence how I see this process; that it isn’t going to all be just being buffeted by my unpredictable emotions.

And for the rest of the time, there is gin.

Things that bite

A jolly fine friend gave me a great phrase last year (pre-BAP): things that bite. I’d just been having lessons in being a lay Eucharistic minister, which involved trying not to giggle as I pretended to administer the chalice. So I was taught how to set up the altar. Standing behind it, flapping a veil around in an unpractised manner I had one of those moments, where things bite. I realised (whilst knocking the paten off the top of the chalice for the third time trying to settle the veil) that this was either going to be learning the practical side of one of the most important things I will ever be able to do – something that will become part and parcel of my being. Or, if I had gotten a No from the BAP, then standing behind the altar, setting it up always for someone else – that would be one of the hardest jobs I would have to do as a server. By the time I got home, I was wobbling all over the place – and in a call to the Jolly Fine Friend, she knew exactly what I meant. “Oh,” she said. “Yes. Things bite, usually when you’re not expecting it.”

This past ten days has seen a lot of unexpected gnashers. On Sunday the new PCC was commissioned. I’m no longer on the PCC, so I didn’t know that this was going to happen. It was, therefore, a bit of an odd feeling to be in the pews on the outside of something I had been in the middle of for three years.

For the last year we’ve been building up to a week of events, the last of which was on Sunday evening. I have the washup meeting to go to – and that’s it. I’ve been assured they still want me to attend after that – I don’t think anyone had noticed I have been to what was technically my last session – but I probably won’t. What is there to contribute? Anything being planned will happen after I’ve left. So as well as feeling a little anti-climactic that the fun stuff has been and gone, it’s another thing that bites.

I’m writing myself out of church life, and being written out by other people. Not consciously and not unkindly – just a realisation that I’ve only got one more servers’ rota… no more PCC… three more housegroup meetings… And it doesn’t matter whether they are thing I’m in control of, or not – they bite all the same. I’ve just been asked for my availability for July & August for the servers’ rota: and there are three Sundays left. That’s all. I nearly cried when I worked that out.

I’m reliably informed by my long-suffering vicar friends that I might as well get used to this, because it’ll be part of life in the future. It is the first hint of the taste of the ministry of the 18th camel. It’s my first taste of transition out of a community that I worked damned hard to get into – that I argued with, fought with, grumped at, laughed at…and eventually came to realise that I loved and was loved as part of it. It’s the latter that is the oddest realisation. I mean, I know some people don’t actively dislike me, and others are completely ambivalent towards me, and there are some people that can’t wait for me to go. But the words of kindness and encouragement I’ve encountered in the past few weeks have shown me what I didn’t know. And I’m about to start blubbing into the laptop, which would be expensive, so I shall stop.

Celebrating 20 Years

Yesterday I was very lucky to have a ticket to the service at St Paul’s Cathedral celebrating 20 years of women priests (or as I call them, ‘priests.’) In 1992 when the vote went through I was at university and I don’t really think it registered with me; I certainly don’t remember the 1994 ordinations. I was probably about as far away from the church as I could get at that point, so that isn’t exactly surprising. 

The walk from Westminster to St Paul’s was lovely – laughter and sunshine along the way. We were some of the last into St Pauls (having been drinking fizz in the pub round the corner for a bit) so the 1994 cohort had already started to process in. We stood amid the applause and cheers watching the women walking in. And I realised then that I wanted to say thank you to all of them. 

I’ve worked in places where being me has been a disadvantage. Imagine having a holiday job as a student – as a delivery assistant – where they wouldn’t let you drive the van because you were a woman… or as an AV technician when they didn’t trust you to lift a telly by yourself. So I’ve had moments where I’ve wondered why my skill was ignored just because I happened not to be a bloke. But only moments.

Their fight, their sacrifices, their banging of head against brick walls – all the arguments that were going on when I wasn’t even a Christmas and Easter attending C of E person – meant that 20 years later, I could walk into the DDO’s office with no questions asked. Well, there were lots of questions, but you know what I mean. My actual gender wasn’t part of the criteria. No-one said ‘no, you can’t do this, you’re not a chap.’ Women as priests are, in many places, unremarkable. And that is something to celebrate. 

Congratulations?

People, who have been more kind that I was expecting, have said “Congratulations on your selection.” Of course, I reply politely and take their excitement as a compliment, because it is after all nice to be congratulated, and I have it on the vicar’s authority that people are happy they have produced a training candidate (even if some of them think I am friend of the anti-Christ).

But… my inner pedant is wondering why ‘congratulations’ feels wrong. I suspect this could be filed under ‘over- thinking.’ But. I didn’t do anything, except show up. I didn’t purposely choose this as an idea about what would be next in life. I didn’t have to learn the right words, or read the right books (although understanding how to articulate what ‘vocation’ looks like certainly helped). So ‘congratulations’ just feels wrong – as if I have passed a test or handed in a thesis or done something specific which needed skill or judgement or talent. I don’t know what else folk can say, though – answers on a postcard. I’m not suggesting that this isn’t a significant milestone or that I am not pleased I was accepted: it just doesn’t feel like a moment I want, or ought, to take pride in.

A non-church person described this as a career change – they said “wouldn’t mind a career change as well but haven’t got the courage to do it, so I think it’s great that you are going for it.” It was too complicated to try to explain why it doesn’t feel quite like that. At times I feel completely uncourageous – even quite simple things feel like they will be taxing (‘I have to learn new bus routes’) let alone the Actually Important Big Stuff. I was trying to imagine life without the backdrop of the familiarities here, and it was a bit tricky. I’ve been counting the days left at work (81) – but I won’t get to 50 ParkRuns before I move…I tell myself that everything is all mixed up, that the many uncertainties take their outlet in trivialities…that once there is an approximate shape to what’s happening & I can be completely open about it, I’ll stop worrying about the Amorphous Everything, and importantly, I’ll be well on my way to trusting Him Upstairs.

Letting go of things

It’s six months until I start college. Five months until I (hopefully) finish work and leave my Current Job and Abode behind. But, changes are starting to happen now – tiny shifts in what is normal, needing to let go of things.

This week, two professional membership organisations renewals fell due. And I didn’t renew. Two organisations that had been hugely influential in establishing my professional network, locally and internationally. Places I made friends; learned to write articles; worked with volunteers on committees; planned events; presented at conferences and then, took my turn as leader. I worked on the assumption that the more I put in, the more I would get out – and proved it true. In short, all the colour in my recent CV has come about through these professional, extra-curricular activities.

And now – now that has to be left behind. I had worked hard to get my personal brand recognition in my industry, but even last year I had to turn down a high-profile opportunity because I was concentrating on the discernment process. So I’ve known this part was coming, which perhaps made 1 April a softer landing than it could have been. This is the kind of episode that ‘bites,’ as a friend of mine described it recently.

So as my professional identity begins to shift, I say goodbye to a couple of defining features on the landscape. Thank you, organisations X & Y; you have been fun. I owe you a lot.

On First Reading the Criteria & Other Literature

The first inklings that Something Might Be Going On surfaced for me in late 2011, but it wasn’t until after Easter in 2012 that I spoke formally to anyone. I’d had a few exchanges with a wise friend, who had given me the key test to apply: try to ignore the ideas, and if they go away, they’re probably not from God. If they don’t go away, and the nagging inkling takes up residence, you might be on to something.

I knew a vicar in another Diocese who is a DDO; he met with me on an unofficial basis, agreed I wasn’t going quite mad, and gave me a copy of the Criteria for Selection for Ordained Ministry in the Church of England (pdf here).

I didn’t dare look at the document in public. They felt too dangerous, and daunting. I couldn’t be seen to be reading them – who on earth do I think I am? And almost the first thing I was told to do by several people was to read Michael Ramsey’s The Christian Priest Today – obviously that could only be read in private, too – not one for a train journey. (Actually I didn’t find that book nearly so provoking as John Pritchard’s the Life & Work of a Priest). So all of a sudden, I had this dangerous document and a whole new set of books to read… Sitting in the Starbucks round the corner from my office, people-watching, working my way through various books on vocation: what a way to spend a summer’s lunchbreaks!

I was thinking recently about that initial piece of paper and how I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Criteria had actually bitten my fingers off. Now, the criteria feel like old friends – a set of pointers I have learned to live with. Like lots of the process, I grew into it. Language that felt odd, or scary, now feels familiar. I suppose if life is a tapestry these threads start to be woven in as the colour of the work changes – looks odd at first, but after a while enough new threads and ideas have been incorporated that the new colour looks quite normal.

The next 6 months

I think I will post one more piece today about the things I am thinking about for the next few months, and then in a few days’ time start working backwards to the beginning of the story.

I found out relatively recently that I have been recommended for training. That was a fairly anxious, and momentous day. For me, training will be residential and I already knew which Theological College I have been accepted at. No, I’m not going to tell you where.

This means effectively moving into TC for the duration. I rent my current home, so I will have no other base. And here’s where the fun starts. This week, I have been working backwards from the start of term date to work out when I can move out, which determines when I can stop work, for I need to work out how much I can save, to have money to live on… knowing I might only have five or six more earning months rather does focus the mind.

I’m only on a month’s notice at work, and I cannot risk going public earlier in case it leads to an early dismissal. No, I don’t have any kind of employment rights, haven’t been there long enough. It’s the only time I have really wished for a 3 month notice period though!

Also, all plans have to work around Greenbelt, which is an absolute fixed point in my autumn.

Anyway, it looks like if I become quite frugal* (as opposed to very frugal, which is what student life will be again) I can save enough to be able to not work for a fortnight and still have money over to fund visits to friends, moving, the necessary gin, train fares, new pencil case, new laptop, put things in short-term storage, etc and even possibly an actual holiday for a few days which is not something I’ve had for quite a few years.

So, we’ll see how things go.

*Yes, this is relative. I know that if I did lose my job I’d be on £71/ week. So my frugal of £100/week is still a pretty privileged frugal.

Going to a BAP

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.

Helpful advice

  • 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.