Well – for the last two years, I’ve been training for ordination in the Anglican Church at Trinity College in Bristol. Those two years are now over, I’ve come out the other side, and I am about to be ordained (literally in an hour’s time). For my pre-ordination retreat, all of us about to be deaconed had been asked to write a reflection on our calling into ministry. Here’s mine for you to read:
What God has called me into is both unknown and impossible. Unknown because only God knows what the future ministry he has invited me to will bring, and impossible because humanly, I just cannot fulfil all that will be asked and required of me in the ordination service. At least, not on my own. So far, this process of discernment, selection and training has taken what feels like an age. I’ve read countless books, attended numerous conferences, prayed and prayed, studied and studied, argued and argued. So it will be a very easy temptation to reassure Jesus, after having had the Bishop lay hands on me and ordain me as deacon, that it’s OK, and I can take things from here. “Thanks for your help and support Jesus, but I’m quite capable of doing this Church ministry stuff myself now.”
As the Church of England Ordinal quite clearly states: “You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened. Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
And who am I to think that I have it all sorted? After all, the end of this chapter of my life is actually the marker for a new phase of the unknown journey that Jesus will be taking me on. He who has started a good work in me intends to complete it. It’s not of my own doing, but the grace and power of God gifted to me. God needn’t have chosen me, but in love he did, with all my strengths, but more importantly, my weaknesses and failings – which he promises to use for his glory. And as he does that, I’m going to learn new things, I’m going to be drawn to deeper love and commitment of Jesus, sometimes realising that this deeper love requires repentance of my sins against both God and neighbour. I am conscious that I fall short of God’s best daily, which is why, when the congregation are asked whether they think I am worthy to be ordained and they answer that they trust that I am worthy, I will be clinging on for dear life to the worthiness of Jesus – it is his worthiness and not mine which makes me being ordained possible. For, when that question is asked, the enemy will, as the hymn writer says “tempt me to despair and tell me of the guilt within”, but “upward” I will look “and see him there, who made an end to all my sin”.
I am young (25) and fully aware that I still have some – no – a lot of learning to do. But, I am not worried about this. God does call the young as well as the older generations and I will be glad to serve him and his Church with enthusiasm. I’ve often been told by people in ordained ministry that I will grow out of my enthusiasm, but I don’t think they know me very well – I am vowing to never lose my enthusiasm for the Church and making Christ known – please hold me to account on this! I’m also an unashamed Charismatic Evangelical, if you hadn’t guessed already. I’m committed to showing people the possibility of a personal relationship with Jesus, that the resurrection is the greatest news in history and that the Holy Spirit can use people in miraculous ways to build up the Church and signpost people to Jesus. But I also realise that Evangelicals can be uncharitable and we can sometimes speak before we think. Please bear with me when I mess up in this area. Quite often it’s because I care, but sometimes it’s just because I’m being an idiot and want to have an argument.
I’m aware that I will be ordained into a Church that finds itself in the midst of a very confused world – and perhaps the Church itself shares in that confusion at times. The impossible nature of ministry means that, on occasion, I may be like Jeremiah, speaking words people may not like to hear, but are nevertheless words of God’s heart for this broken world. On another occasion, God may call me to be like David, who didn’t care if he looked like a fool whilst he danced in God’s presence. On another, I may be called to be like Ezekiel, a crazy prophet, showing signs of God’s plans and purposes in very eccentric ways. Or potentially I will be called to be like Hosea, and commit myself to those who grieve God’s heart of love, sharing in his pain for them. I may be like Jonah, who, at the sight of a daunting challenge ran away. Whilst hoping that I don’t end up in a big fish, it’s comforting to know that God brought him back to his calling, and didn’t let him go. God started a work in him, and completed it. But above all, I will be called to be like Jesus, who committed himself to crucifixion for the sake of a world that needs saving from itself, in the sure and certain hope that following him will result in wonderful, indescribable resurrection.
Some may be tempted to shrug all that off as just an emotional rollercoaster which comes with any job. But this is different. It is a call to personal holiness that goes beyond my human limitations. It is a call to live in and not shy away from the demands that sacrificial love will make. It is a call to run into the open arms of the Father, fully aware that I can’t, but through me, He can.
Writing this down, or speaking this out, could fill me with fear and trepidation. But, weirdly, it hasn’t. If there is one thing I have learnt over the last few years, it’s the verse that has been given to me over and over again in various forms – through liturgy, through study, and through people’s prayers and encouragement. And it’s the verse that I will wear (literally on my stole, as well as metaphorically) at my ordination and through my ministry, for it carries a precious truth, it soothes the soul, and makes possible the impossible: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine.”