Crossing the Line - part 12
It was also in my early teens that I first sensed that God was calling me to be a priest.
Soon after I was Baptised in the Holy Spirit, I began to get the strangest sensation. It was like someone tapping me on the shoulder and I silent voice almost whispering, ‘I want you to do that’. It happened in church during the communion prayer, or the sermon. It happened when I read the Bible and came across the story of someone being called by God. It happened in my prayer life when I was thinking about the future.
There was only one problem. I didn’t want to do it.
When I was little there was a time when, like lots of other boys, I wanted to do what my dad did. By the time I had reached the grand old age of seven however, being ordained was the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I had seen how hard my father worked and the uncompromising grief he was given by some members of the church. I had seen the strain that put on my parents’ marriage and on us as a family. I had seen how little he got paid and lived through the winters in a house we could not afford to heat. All these things had brought me to the very definite decision that it would be the very last thing I would ever do.
The tapping on my shoulder was not welcome. The silent whisper was not welcome. So the response I gave to God was plain and simple. It was a definite “No!”.
I started to search around for what I might want to do with my life.
First, I was going to be a lawyer. I was good with words and could be quite persuasive in arguments. Lawyers get lots of money. That will do nicely. But as I thought more deeply, I found things I couldn’t reconcile. How could I defend someone who I knew was guilty? While I knew that our legal system requires defence for everyone, I knew I couldn’t do it. What would I do if I was being asked to help a client exploit loopholes against the spirit of the law? I soon realised it wasn’t me too.
Then I wanted to join the RAF. I went to see the recruiting officer who came each year to our school but then the thought of civilian casualties from indiscriminate bombing or human error became something I was not willing to live with.
I wanted to be an engineer. Making things that improve the world we live in. I lived with this idea for a while but I couldn’t get excited enough to be sure I could spend my life doing that.
And so it went on. Lunchtime after lunchtime in the school’s careers room trying to find the thing which fitted my gifts, personality, principles – and which I would enjoy doing. In the background, all the time, was this tapping on the shoulder and my very firm answer – No!
The argument went on for 2 years.
God: I want you to do this…
Then one Saturday, I remember that I went with my parents to a Day of Renewal in Manchester. I even remember the church where it was held – Church of the Holy Family, Failsworth.
The day was a wonderful celebration of faith. It was so life giving, so real, so inspiring, that in the back of the car on the way home, I started to have a conversation with God in my head. It went something like this:
Me: Oh God, I really want to tell people about how wonderful you are; about your amazing blessings are and how good it is to be a Christian.
God: … silence…
Me: But Lord, it’s so difficult to tell people about you. At school I get ridiculed because of my faith. People who were friends don’t want to know, and I’m not brave enough to talk to strangers. It’s so hard.
God: … silence…
Me: I know… if I got ordained and wore a dog collar, it would be easy – because everyone would expect me to talk about you!
As soon as I had said this, I realised what I had said! I immediately started backtracking…
Me: Oh no, God. I didn’t mean that. Don’t get any ideas now…
What followed was remarkable. It is one of the very few times in my life that I believe I actually heard the audible voice of God. The first thing I heard, in the back of my parents’ car, was a chuckle. An audible laugh which only I heard. Not a laugh that was patronising or dismissive, but a gentle, warm chuckle.
Then I heard God speak just one word to me…
... and I as sat in the car, on the way back to Blackrod, I knew that he had.
There was no getting away from it. I knew that all my protests and arguments were useless. They had been as effective as King Canute by the sea, telling the tide not to come in.
I didn’t make any big public statement. In fact, I didn’t tell anybody for quite some time, but I knew deep down in my heart that God had indeed got me. The tapping on the shoulder continued, except now I didn’t say no. Instead, I asked God how? And as I lived with this sense of calling, as my defensiveness melted away, I found myself realising that this did indeed fit. It fitted my gifts, my personality & my principles and as I began to embrace this call, I realised that it was the only path in life which I would genuinely enjoy.
So when I was 16 years old, I filled in my first form for Manchester Diocese, asking to explore ordination. I remember looking at the completed form thinking that my handwriting looked terrible. I didn’t know if I’d even answered the questions properly, as they were designed for someone much older and wiser than me but I had done it, and from that day onward, I knew this would be my life.
As reflect on this now, in the light of my recent diagnosis, and recognising that my life is going to be much shorter that I had expected, I am so glad that I said ‘yes’ all those years ago. I am so pleased that I didn’t keep arguing, or put it on the back burner, or file it away marked ‘maybe one day’.
Following God’s call has led me to the most amazing, challenging, times and places. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am so happy that I heard God chuckle and heard that immortal word…