Sunday, 15 July 2018

By the village pond

Crossing the Line - part 20

Haddenham is a village in Buckinghamshire with a quintessentially English village green.

The ancient parish church with its lych-gate, the duck pond with its distinctive white Aylesbury Ducks and the cottages which line the green, make it an idyllic scene.

By the 1980’s the population had grown well beyond just a farming community, attracting commuters with new housing and direct trains into London Marylebone.  The parish church was thriving with a large congregation, a gentle kind of charismatic renewal and a lively youth ministry.

The quaint, Victorian village school was now the church hall and next to it, on the village green, was the Old School House.

As the end of my time at University approached, I started to find myself worrying about what I was going to do next.  My housemates were all kick-starting their careers, while I was trying to find something useful to do for a couple of years before starting theological college.

I wasn’t short of ideas but my dreams kept getting dashed by reality.

I wanted to spend some time overseas.  I had met someone who had spent time delivering aid with the UN in Ethiopia.  That sounded like a life changing experience, so I started investigating how I could do this.  Unfortunately, the civil war in the region was getting worse and the UN was starting to pull staff and volunteers out, so that came to nothing.

Driving HGV lorries across Europe was something I also liked the idea of but found that it was impossible.  Haulage companies didn’t take under 25’s because of the high cost of insurance.

Perhaps I could be an air courier?  Flying all over the world delivering letters and parcels seemed exciting so I wrote to several companies, only to be told that at the age of 22, I was too old!

It wasn’t long before all of my friends seemed to have something sorted, except me.  I started to have words with God.  “OK – if my ideas won’t work, what do you want me to do?”

About a week before my final exams the phone rang. 

It was Lawrence Hoyle – a Church of England priest who ran a group called Anglican Renewal Ministries (ARM).  Lawrence had founded the ministry to promote Charismatic Renewal in the Church of England and we had first met when ARM came to lead a weekend conference in my dad’s church in Bolton.  I had helped to lead the worship for the weekend with others from the youth group.  At the end he invited me to spend a summer working at Lamplugh House, a small conference centre which he and his wife Margaret had set up in the beautifully named village of Thwing in East Yorkshire.

I spent a happy summer there, helping out around the house, designing publicity, and leading worship for the groups who came.

Now he was on the phone with a new job offer.  Anglican Renewal Ministries was moving its offices to Haddenham in Buckinghamshire.  Lawrence was looking for an assistant to support him in their office work, conference ministry and parish weekends.  He also said that the local church in Haddenham was looking for a part-time Youth Worker in return for providing accommodation in The Old School House on the idyllic village green by the duck pond.

Initially, I was hesitant.  I had wanted to travel and see the world or else, I wanted a down to earth secular job before theological college like my father had done.  Now I was being offered a church job, just 15 miles down the road! 

As I reflected though, I began to realise that I was being more than a bit churlish.  After asking God to show me what he did want me to do, I was being offered a job which would take me around the country helping to organise Charismatic Christian conferences while living in a beautiful village!  What on earth was I moaning about?

I accepted the job and got ready to move to Haddenham in the summer.

As the time approached however, I began to realise that it would have been a good idea to get more information first.  Everything with Anglican Renewal Ministries was fine, but the church youth work was turning out to be a real hornets’ nest.

First, I was told that the old Youth Worker had lost his faith before he left.  Then I was told that he had also left his wife and children.  Then a few days before I was due to move in, I was told that I couldn’t, because his wife and teenage children were still living in the Youth Worker’s house – the house I had been promised.  

When I asked a few more questions, I discovered that the church was in the process of evicting them so that I could move in, and that the two teenagers were leading members of the CYFA group I was there to lead.  Things were going from bad to worse.

Instead of moving into the Old School House, I found myself being put up by Lawrence and Margaret in their spare room with a pull-out bed above the office.

And it didn’t stop there.  As if the CYFA group didn’t have enough reasons to hate me already, I then discovered that the old Youth Worker had been accused of having an affair with a member of the church before he left – someone who I had to work with in another area of church life.  Whether this was true of not, I never really knew, but the suspicion was enough to evoke all kinds of feelings of anger and betrayal in the CYFA group.

While there were several aspects to the youth work, the most significant was the CYFA group for teenagers.  They were a good group of young people, but the experience of losing their old Youth Worker – and for two of them, seeing their parents split up and their dad move away – had left deep pain which could easily develop into scars.  Adolescence can be volatile at the best of times, but adding in the hurt and anger took this to a whole new level.

Within a few weeks of starting I was on the receiving end of both tantrums and tears, which were quite understandable.  I began to see that these teenagers needed someone caring and dependable, but also consistent and firm.  What was needed was a cushioned brick!  Someting they could kick out against, but which would offer love and care to them, whatever they said or did.

It was hard work and as I look back, I am so grateful for one family in the village who offered me care and support in the midst of the early chaos.  Pat and Ron had two kids in the youth ministry.  Their son was in CYFA and their daughter in the younger Pathfinders group.  Pat worked part-time as the vicar’s secretary and I think she saw how I had been ambushed. They regularly had me round for coffee, meals and place to crash.  Without them, life would have been so much harder.

As time went on the old youth workers family found alternative accommodation nearby and I moved into the Old School House.  It was empty and I didn’t have any furniture, so I was dependant on people in the church donating bits of furniture they didn’t need.  The CYFA group helped me move things around and make a home and we started meeting there.  They even helped me in my home-brewing! We did things together and gradually the wounds began to heal.  Smiles and laughter began to replace the frowns and suspicion.

One of the best things we did was a Custard Election to raise money towards a CYFA activity holiday in Devon.  For those who don’t know, a Custard Election is the most corrupt form of democracy ever.  We had four candidates and after church for several weeks, we sold votes for each candidate. People could buy as many votes as they wanted and after an agreed time, the candidate with the most votes would be unceremoniously drenched in custard.

The candidates were John the vicar, a CYFA member who was also a Sunday School Teacher, a retired priest, and me!  Every Sunday we would announce the running total and then encourage people to buy more votes for the person they would most like to see covered in custard.  It was a big financial success.

In a final twist, someone handed us a blank cheque in the final seconds of the election, with the instruction to level up all the votes.  We were all going to get covered in the wet, yellow, sticky stuff!

The following Sunday, the CYFA group arrived at The Old School House very early.  We had gallons of custard to make!  On the old cooker in the kitchen we mixed, stirred, and poured custard into bucket after bucket.   Then after the morning service, the whole congregation gathered on the village green for the spectacle.  It was wonderful mayhem and despite the mess, the cold, and the stickiness, it brought us all together.

There were other good moments there too.  St Mary’s Haddenham was the first church where I rode my motorbike up the central aisle of the church during a family service one Sunday (to illustrate a point in my sermon, of course!)

 It was also where I learned that when preaching, it is better to quit while you are ahead.

I was preaching on the church as the Body of Christ and we had an old overhead projector with a big screen.  I got all the children to join me at the front around this OHP and asked them what I needed to draw a body.  I then drew their answers on the OHP, gradually forming a body on the screen.  It all started well – two legs, arms, a head, eyes, ears, etc – but just when it was complete enough for me to say thank you and move on, I asked one too many questions; “Is there anything else we need?”

There was a young boy who was stood right next to me, and his mouth was right next to the radio-mic clipped to my shirt.  As he opened his mouth, the mic amplified his voice many times over, and his words boomed and echoed around the church; “A willy!”  There was a moment of awkward silence followed by raucous laughter around the church.  This gave me a moment to think, and I quickly drew a belt on the figure on the OHP, saying the only thing which came into my head, “He’s wearing trousers!”  I got away with that one.

As the year came to a close, I reflected on what I had learned.

The first thing was starkly obvious – don’t do that again!  Don’t underestimate the problems which may lie under the surface of an idyllic, picturesque village or a successful church.  Always look carefully and ask lots of questions before saying yes.  It would be lovely to think that all posts in church ministry are honestly and accurately described by parishes, archdeacons and bishops.  Unfortunately, that is very rare in my experience.

When advertising to fill a vacancy, churches are just as prone to give into the temptation to ‘spin’ their story as politicians making a speech, or estate agents describing a bijou property.  Accentuate the positives and play down the problems – worse still, don’t mention them at all.

This is particularly true when looking for a new vicar.  I have nothing against open recruitment but by its very nature it is competitive.  Each parish tries to write a more attractive profile than competing parishes, and applicants try to present themselves as better than the other candidates. It is much better to have an open and honest appraisal of both the parish and the clergy than to shadow-box around facades. Having found out what lies beneath, God may still be calling a particular person to a particular parish, but at least everyone commits with open eyes.

The second lesson is not to give up on people who are hurting and angry.  Patient, persistent love can change situations, even lives.  It won’t always work, but that is ultimately up to them.  The CYFA group in Haddenham put aside their anger and found a new joy.  Not everyone will be so open, but Jesus brought together a group of diverse men and women with lots of reasons to be dysfunctional and angry with each other. Through his patient love, all except one found a better way of living.

Haddenham’s final lesson for me was much more recent – just a couple of years ago in fact.  I was visiting the headquarters of CMS (the Church Mission Society) in Oxford to find out more about their work.  During the day I was introduced to a woman who suddenly went into a kind of quiet shock before saying, “You’re Benny Hazlehurst?!”  She then went on to tell me about one Sunday morning when I had gathered the children round me in the service at Haddenham.  I was playing my guitar and leading a song, and that was the moment when, as a young child in that group, she decided that she wanted to be a youth worker.  Now, having been a youth worker for many years, she recalled that moment and it brought me such a blessing.  I had no idea that I had inspired someone in Haddenham towards ministry until that moment, many years later.

The lesson?  Never underestimate what God can do through you, even in the difficult times, and even when you may never know.

Next week – Anglican Renewal Ministries…

Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Embrace

I have been very struck by this painting over the last few days.  It hangs in the Farmhouse at Lox Lane Christian Centre near Shaftsbury.

My first reaction was “That’s something I could do with!”  The warm embrace of Jesus; an ordinary person being gathered up into his arms; the sense of security it conveys; the moment of wonder it implies.  Above all the simple, uncluttered love which flows out of this precious moment.

But then I thought again.  When we are feeling down, hurt, angry or confused, there are times when we push others away rather than looking to them for comfort.  There have been times in my life when I have done this with God.  I kept God at arm’s length for some time after my wife’s accident 15 years ago.  My sense of pain and bewilderment meant that the warmth of God’s embrace was the last thing I wanted.  I wasn’t sure I trusted Him anymore and a hug or a kiss would not have made it all better.

Perhaps now, as I come to terms with cancer, I don’t want to be hugged by Christ, no matter how special that would seem to be.  I am not a very touchy-feely kind of person at the best of times and, as I wrote in my last post, I am currently fighting depression as the intensity of treatment gives way to the limbo of watchful waiting.

But as I continued to look at the painting, I noticed more than simply the embrace.  I saw his hands with the mark of the nails, still red and bloody.  I saw the crown of thorns still there, biting into his head.  This is a risen Christ that still bears the scars and the pain of his crucifixion – who still bears the marks of his own death.

This is a Jesus who understands pain, sorrow and confusion.  This is the Jesus who cried out on the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  This is the Jesus who was “despised and rejected, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” and who “bore our suffering” as he hung there.

It is this Jesus who gathers us up into his loving embrace.

So perhaps my first reaction was right after all.  I would like to feel the warm embrace of Christ afterall.  It is not an embrace which ignores the downsides of life.  It is not escapism into a world of fluffy clouds and impossible dreams.  It is the down to earth embrace of the man of sorrows, whose love brings light into the darkest places of our lives and which can melt the hardest of hearts.

The very last words of the Bible are these,

“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people.  Amen”

Perhaps today I would add –

The embrace of the Lord Jesus be with us too.  Amen

Monday, 2 April 2018

After Treatment

I started to write this post in our local hospice on Wednesday of Holy Week. 

Don’t worry, I’m not at death’s door or anywhere near.  I’m waiting for Mel who is having her regular family support appointment here.  Then we will be driving up to The Royal Marsden Hospital in London to talk to a researcher about a cancer genetics study which I’ve been invited to take part in.

Sitting in the hospice has prompted me to reflect on how I am coping.  After all, I am likely to spend more time here in the future – it may also be the place where I will eventually die.

I have now finished my cycles of ‘early chemotherapy’ plus two courses of radiotherapy.  On the positive side, my PSA has come down from the 300’s to the teens.  On the less positive side, the news from my latest CT Scan was mixed.  Some mets (tumours) have shrunk, some have grown, and there are some new ones.  Not quite the spectacular success I had hoped for.

The side-effects of chemo are fading, although some less than others and I am wondering if the tingling I feel in my tongue and fingers might be permanent.  The pain in my pelvis has returned after my first course of radiotherapy had successfully knocked it on the head.  Back pains are also more established.

One of the intriguing questions now focuses around which of my current symptoms are because of chemo and which are there because of the cancer.  My month signed-off work is drawing to a close and I need to decide if I feel well enough to go back.

The biggest challenge is a psychological one.

I have completed the initial treatment which was recommended when I was first diagnosed and now almost all of it will stop.  From having appointments once or twice a week for treatment, blood tests, scans and consultations, I now enter a new phase in which I will only see someone every 2or 3 months.  As long as my PSA keeps down, I won’t need the more intense treatments.  When it starts rising again, my oncologist will talk with me about what’s next.

This should make me happy and indeed I am happy to have finished chemo.  I am happy that my PSA numbers have come down.  I am happy that I should be able to live a relatively normally for a while…

...but I’m also scared.

While the treatment was full-on, it felt like everything was being done to fight the cancer, so I felt like I was fighting it too.  Now that I am entering a more relaxed stage, I feel like I have been parked in a side bay.  I feel quite alone and in danger of slipping into depression.  Getting over the initial shock, fighting the cancer and being determined not to give up has kept me going for the last 6 months.  Over the last few weeks I have started to feel this determination ebbing away.

It makes me reflect on the psychological stages of living with cancer.  For me, they have been as follows:

Chapter 1:  Initial shock

The panoply of tests, scans and biopsies to see how far it had spread;  waiting for the results;  the mixture of shock, denial and endless questions when they came back;  slowly adapting life expectations, plans, hopes and dreams as reality sets in;  telling family, friends & work colleagues and managing their reactions to the shocking news.

Chapter 2:  Full steam ahead

Getting used to hormone therapy, radiotherapy and the cycles of chemo; the regular round of doctors, nurses and specialists asking me how I am coping; the hope that the inconvenience and side-effects are all worth it; the determination to get through each day, each cycle, each phase and carry on with life as fully as possible.

Now I’m in Chapter 3

I’m not sure what to call it yet but it feels like a big let-down.  Apart from the hormone implants, I will have nothing to steel myself for.  Every few months I will have a blood test and wait with baited breath to see if my PSA has started to rise.  The intensity of chapters 1&2 and the adrenalin which went with them is gone.  Its bit like the morning after a great party, when everything is silent, and you are on your own again, nursing a mild hangover.

I have already seen the clouds of depression circling overhead.  I am less likely now to respond to messages from friends, preferring to be on my own.  That’s not helped by feeling tired all the time.  It would be so easy to slip into the deep padded cushions of apathy and give up. I have suffered depression before, and I know the signs.

The challenge is to adapt to this new pattern without succumbing to the cloud’s dark shadows – to take advantage of the lull in treatments – to live a little more instead of a little less.

I  finished writing this post in the afterglow of Easter.

Circumstances did not allow me to join in the events of the Passion this year.  Maundy Thursday was spent at the Royal Marsden Hospital and Good Friday driving back to Dorset.  But yesterday in our village church, the joy of the resurrection broke through the gloom.  I found myself looking at the stained-glass window of the risen Christ, knowing that now is the time when our faith bears fruit.  After everything was thrown at him on the cross; after he was laid in a dark, lonely tomb; after all hope was lost, he rose again!  Life once more entered the darkness and dispelled it with light.

His resurrection gives me hope.  I will not succumb to the dark clouds and I will ask God to raise me up again for this next chapter.  Above all, I will remember his resurrection promise, “And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Saturday, 24 March 2018


Crossing the Line - part 19

While at university, my path towards ordination continued.

I met with my DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands) in Manchester when I was at home with Mum and Dad and in my second year, I was deemed ready for ACCM (see below for explanation!)

The Church of England selection conference for ordination is a strange animal with many names.  These days it is called a BAP – with apologies to friends in the Midlands and Northern England where this means something entirely different!  In the past it has also been CACTM and ABM.  In my day it was the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry (ACCM).  Whatever the name, it has changed little over the years.  It’s a three-day residential selection panel, that can feel like being in a human goldfish bowl.   As well as interviews with the selectors or advisors, there are group exercises and written pieces of work.  You are observed almost all of the time to see how you relate to others and express your faith and calling.  You are expected to sit at different tables each meal time to ensure that all the selectors get a good look at you.  The only times you are not being observed are in the regular acts of prayer and worship.  It’s a bit like a spiritual version of the TV series Big Brother, with Bishops Advisors instead of cameras.

Before I went however, there was still one thing on my mind that I needed to sort out.

At one of the university Christian Unions meetings I had heard a preacher called George Verwer.  He founded a missionary organisation called Operation Mobilisation (OM) in the 1950’s and was a compelling speaker.  He asked us what Jesus last commandment was, before he went back to heaven.

The answer is found in the final verses of Matthew’s Gospel.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28)

George argued that this last command calls on all Christians to be missionaries.  So the real question is not “Am I called to be a missionary?” but rather “Am I called to stay at home?”   His challenge went further, arguing that unless you hear God calling you to stay at home, your Christian duty is to go into all the world, because those were his last instructions.

This turned everything upside-down for me.  I had assumed that missionaries were the special few, called by God to a special task.  George Verwer was saying that we are all called to be missionaries unless God tells us otherwise.  I felt challenged and began to pray.  Was God indeed calling me to ordination in the Church of England or was he calling me overseas?  I needed to know.

The answer came from one of the few times that I have actually heard an audible voice.  One day at the end of my prayers I heard the words,Read Ezekiel 3.”  That was it.  No burning bush or blinding light.  No clap of thunder or vision of heaven.  Just a simple instruction to read this chapter of an Old Testament book about the prophet Ezekiel.

As I opened my Bible, I had no idea what I would find.  It was not a book or chapter I knew well and although I must have read it at some point, I couldn’t remember anything about it.  I was, therefore, utterly amazed by what I found there. 

“Son of man, go now to the people of Israel and speak my words to them. You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and strange language, but to the people of Israel – not to many peoples of obscure speech and strange language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you.  But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.  But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are.  I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious people.” (Ezekiel 3:4-9)

 It is part of the story of God calling Ezekiel to ministry.  Chapters 1 & 2 set the scene and in chapter 3 was the answer to my question.  There was no ambiguity – it was in black and white in front of me!  I couldn’t believe it.   As I read and re-read the chapter I realised that just as Ezekiel was called to his own people (the people of Israel) so God was calling me to my own people.  The realisation also came to me that this would not be an easy task.  “If I sent you to great nations that spoke difficult languages you didn’t understand… they would listen to you… but your own people will not listen.”  I wasn’t sure what this meant yet, but one thing I knew for sure – God was calling me to stay.

So early one March morning in 1984 I set off for my ACCM.  It was a long journey.  I had to travel from Oxford to Riding Mill in Northumberland.  It took 3 trains, the tube, and a 15-minute walk from the station at the other end to get to the retreat house.

The only preparation I received for my selection conference was the instruction “Go and be yourself lad, you’ll be fine.”  Compared with the way Dioceses prepare people for their selection conference today, that was decidedly minimalist!  So I went as myself, dressed in jeans, trainers, T-shirt and denim jacket, with my Adidas bag slung over my shoulder.

On the last train from Newcastle I noticed someone smartly dressed in his three-piece suit & tie and with his professional looking suitcase.  When I got off at Riding Mill Station he got off too, and started walking up the road to the retreat centre.  When I followed, I sensed him getting a little nervous at being followed up these deserted country lanes by a denim-clad stranger.  He started to quicken his pace and I thought of trying to catch up with him, as I was sure we were both heading for the same place.  Then I thought better of it.  If he was scared now, what would he be like if I started to run after him.  I slowed my pace to allow him to get away!

On arriving at the retreat centre I was looking at the visitors’ book and working out how to register, when I heard a voice saying, “Are you just leaving?”  I turned around and saw another smartly dressed man who had clearly taken one look at me and thought I couldn’t possibly be a potential ordinand.  What a welcome!  He turned out to be another of the candidates, not one of the selectors, but I couldn’t help feeling a bit out of place.

If I am honest though, it didn’t really bother me.  It may sound arrogant, but I knew God was calling me to be a priest, right down to the depth of my being.  I know that not everyone feels that way.  Many go with a much more questioning approach, wanting to test if this is for them, but I knew.  As a result, I wasn’t worried about getting a ‘No’ at the end.  If that happened it was the selectors who would have made a mistake, not me.  I would simply wait the statutory two years before I could try again.  Although this may seem arrogant, it wasn’t.  I didn’t think that I was God’s gift to the church.  I knew my weaknesses far too well for that.  I just knew, despite all my faults and failings, that this was God calling for me.

As the three days progressed I noticed that the other candidates did progressively dress down and if I am honest, I dressed a little smarter, putting a proper shirt over my T-shirt!  We almost ended up meeting in the middle.

The selectors were astute but kind, and they did their best to put us all at our ease.  My interviews went well, although I was a little disturbed by my educational interview because it was far too short.  Almost as soon as I walked through the door, the selector told me, “You’ll be alright; you’re at Oxford” and to all intents and purposes that was the interview.  While reassured to hear I would be ‘alright’, I did wonder if that was a little presumptuous.  Maths and Theology are miles apart and I hadn’t written essays since I was 16.  How had he come to this conclusion without asking me a single question?  It partly stuck in my throat because in those days, the only selector with a veto on recommending a candidate for ordination was the educational selector.   I wondered whether he gave a much harder time to candidates who had not been to Oxford.  It all felt a bit too elitist and cosy to me.

The two other things which stick in my mind about my ACCM Conference were nudity and drinking!

There was a group exercise called 10 minute topics.  Our names were drawn out of a hat at random and we each had to choose card from the coffee table in the middle of the room.  The cards were face-down and when you turned over your chosen card, you read the topic you had been given.  We then had 10 minutes to introduce the subject, then chair a group discussion and sum up at the end.

At 21, I was by far the youngest person in the room, and my name came out of the hat first.  I approached the table, chose a card and turned it over.  It read “Beach nudity – harmless fun or moral outrage?”  I almost burst out laughing.  Looking around the more elderly group I was in, I took a deep breath and launched into the subject.  Why couldn’t I have got one of the easy topics like fox hunting, pacifism, or euthanasia?!

Outlining arguments from each point of view, I opened it up for discussion.  Silence.   It was like trying to get blood out of a stone or discuss nudity at a Church Council meeting.  Half of the room were too embarrassed to speak and the other half were worried about saying something which would place them in a negative light with the selectors – either too judgemental or too permissive.

After a bit of encouragement, one brave soul opened his mouth and began with the words, “When I was in the south of France…”  Thank you God!  Then others chipped in and it went well in the end.

The other memory I have is from the second evening.  We had been told by the selectors that attendance at Compline (night prayers) was optional and we could choose whether to attend or not.  So on the second day, a small group of us took the selectors at their word, missed Compline and went to the pub instead.  After we ordered our drinks and sat down, we noticed one of the selectors was also in the pub, sitting at another table. Was he having some time out too, or was he there to spy on us?  Initially we all felt like we were back at school and had been caught sneaking out, but then we relaxed and enjoyed our evening.  We did swap contact details and promised to let each other know if got through of not – a kind of straw poll on whether nipping down to the pub was seen as a black mark at selection conferences.

The three days came to an end and we all went our separate ways, knowing that the decisions lay with the selectors’ now.

During the long journey back to Oxford I couldn’t believe how tired I felt.  I was exhausted and more than that, a kind of depression set in.  As the adrenaline levels fell away, far from feeling close to God and eager to know if my vocation had been recognised, I felt down, exhausted and alone. 

Working as I do now in encouraging Vocations, I now know that this is common among people who go to BAPs today (Bishops Advisory Panels) but I think it is still underestimated.  Parish priests and supportive friends would do well to know that most candidates will need more encouragement after a BAP than before it. Candidates also need to know what to expect and be allowed to cut themselves a little slack after attending one.

About ten days later the phone call came from my DDO.  I had been warmly recommended with two conditions; that I finish my degree at university, and that I didn’t go to theological college straight from university.  I should spend at least a year doing something different first.

I was over the moon!  It was 5 years since I had first filled in a form to explore ordination and now I had been recommended for training.  I also welcomed the time out before theological college with open arms, having already decided that there were lots of exciting things that I would like to do.  My mind went back to my father who was told the same thing after his selection conference.  It was suggested that he should go and work in a book shop, but instead got himself a job on the shop-floor of a steel works.  What would I do?

With my parents in 1984
Telling my parents was a particular joy.  They had always been very careful not to influence me in any way.  Ever since I told them at 16, they had been totally neutral and had never expressed an opinion, for or against.  Now, as I told them my result, they were openly overjoyed and finally told me they thought God was calling me to ordination all along.

When our little group from the pub let each other know our outcomes, guess what?  We had all been recommended.  In the end, neither beach nudity nor drinking had been a barrier to any of our callings being recognised – perhaps they even helped!