Monday, 11 November 2013

The Call

The Poppy Girls: sang 'The Call' at the Festival of Remembrance
'It started out as a feeling which then grew into a hope, which then turned into a quiet thought, which then turned into a quiet word. And then that word got louder and louder, till it was a battle cry...'

When I first heard the words to Regina Spektor's song, made famous again this Remembrance by the Poppy Girls, I immediately thought of vocation. People have long tried to put into words the feeling that God might be calling them to something, not least those who are asked to articulate to the powers that be in the C of E, why they think God might be calling them to ordained ministry, which has to be done, of course, without coming across as a) rather unsure, or worse, b) cocksure.

Whether the call is to battle or ministry, Remembrance for me is preceded by an annual crisis of confidence as I juggle not feeling 'qualified' to speak about War; thinking it's all such a stupid waste of life; wishing I'd taken history at school; trying theologically to square the phrase 'ultimate sacrifice' with 'The ultimate sacrifice' (of Jesus) and pondering what my non-Conformist, pacifist forebears would have thought of me, an Anglican priest, leading an Act of Remembrance at all.

Every year I have my little crisis, Remembrance comes round, I do my bit, people are touched, and I know that somehow God has enabled meaningful ritual to take place, in which, hopefully, the maximum number of people have been able to connect, at whatever level is important for them, with appropriate themes of death, age, sacrifice, loss, grief, love, peace, resurrection and hope.

Because I'm convinced that other things, apart from the War dead, are on people's minds at Remembrance. Just a look at leaves slowly falling and you think of impermanence. Or the red petals at the Albert Hall, dropping like blood.

If you've lost anyone dear, if you're ill and thinking about death more than you'd like; if you're separated from someone you love by miles or by misunderstanding; if you're pregnant or a new parent, I do wonder if Remembrance becomes more poignant...and because of that, I know I can take part fully, personally, despite never having been to war and not really knowing anyone close to me who has been killed in war.

And so as a Minister of the state church, year by year, I reflect on the difference between being qualified, being competent and being called. Which is legitimate, for an ordained minister to claim, and which is not? And, like the chicken and the egg, which comes first?

As the song goes, 'it started out as a feeling, which then grew into a hope...' Luckily with God, He does make a 'call' reasonably clear, over time, with the right attitude. After 'the call' (as with most jobs, vocations or professions) you become 'qualified', and then hopefully competent. Or were you competent first, and that's why you though you might have a call (I'm sure I could do a sermon better than n...)

After public recognition of the call though (aka Ordination) it would be embarrassing if, after 'qualifying', you didn't become competent. I suppose that's what that big fat file of evidence in Curates' training is for. No one wants an incompetent priest, but if you ever have doubts about your competency, or feel unqualified in the face of something difficult, you can always return to the fact that, first, theologically, like everyone, you are called. And that's something to fall back on. 

However, feeling unqualified might turn out after all to be spiritually advantageous. Though I'd much rather go into a situation feeling 'qualified' (I have prepared for this, I have the right experience, I'm good at this) sometimes it's better for faith, to feel unqualified. Like the first disciples - uneducated fishermen, collaborators, doubters and zealots. In view of the greatness of God, the need in the world and our unworthiness, who's qualified for anything anyway? 

It may even be that as we're stretched, and challenged to deeper obedience, it's in the very areas of feeling unqualified, that God's Spirit can go to work more effectively. That way you're thrown back on God's enabling. And you remember that the calling itself will get you through whatever you have to do, be it Remembrance, evangelism, inner healing or whatever, right up to the point when 'the word (gets) 'louder and louder, till it (is) a battle cry...'
See here for great original version of 'The Call' (preferable).


  1. I like the concept of the call becoming louder over time, because the Church while acknowledging that call, can make it all seem a shabby lie. As for being competent, despite being able to demonstrate competence in many areas, the one that failed me at BAP, was that lack of competence in ministry, which or some obscure reason, I'd never been given the opportunity to exercise Having had no experience of preaching or leading even a Service of the Word, I was miles behind those at BAP, whose Vicars and DDO's had ensured that they were able to demonstrate their ample competence.

    If the Church treats people who come forward in good faith in such a shabby way, no wonder many are leaving disappointed and unhealed, and many like me, stay, but in some way, damaged goods, ignored by diocese and vocations teams and allowed to fester (if we allow ourselves too).

    I'm off - not to another Denomination, but to another diocese for a fresh start and even a go at discernment - with support this time and hopefully some form of Evangelistic ministry which takes me out of the church and into the community.

    This might well have been the correct path at the outset, but having taken three years of preparation and formation for Ordination, being told to ignore any other pathways as it would confuse the issue, it was Ordination itself that confused the issue.

    If I were to take anything from the Act of Remembrance that I was privileged to lead this morning is the acknowledgement from those there that they'd quite like me to continue doing so in the future, despite my moving on. That's some sort of affirmation that you won't get easily from anywhere else - people from the pews making it clear where they stand, whatever the church has decided.

  2. It seems a great shame that your original vicar didn't give you a chance to minister and develop your gifts, and that the DDO didn't pick this up. I hope your new Diocese is much more fruitful for you. God bless.