Monday, 11 June 2018

What is expected of me?

Bear with me on this one - I need to tell an anecdote but it does get to a point eventually!

I had a weird day yesterday (Sunday 10th June 2018). I got up to go to the cathedral to acolyte and I already knew something was wrong. On Friday we had our summer party, and though I did not drink or stay up particularly late, I still had a long day (including taking two classes at placement) and an energetic party. Then on Saturday I got up at 4.45am to catch a train to Cambridge, where I spent a full day reflecting on my trip to Johannesburg in September before getting the return train to Durham, getting back, cooking/eating, and going to bed.

So I already knew Sunday, yesterday, was going to be a bit of a struggle. I was tired, but to start with I only had that odd ache that's not actually painful in my head and face, if you know what I mean. I arrived at the cathedral, and the others in the serving team came in one by one, and we ended up in a different configuration to the plan - I was altar server rather than acolyte, and I was to administer the chalice for the first time.

But my theatre background did me some credit, being able to roll with these punches. But I got a much bigger 'punch' when one of the team came in, sat down, and opened with "You are always so rude". Startled, I asked for clarification, and thus began a strange conversation that I did not really have the spoons for (if you don't know this phrase, see this explanation) but I got through anyway.

It was about my conduct towards this lady, namely not noticing her, such as not responding to her 'Good morning' to the group when she entered, and other times that she listed off when she had seen me at college or in town and I 'had ignored' her. Now, I had met her only once before as far as I could remember, so I tried to point this out - is it not a reasonable thing that I did not notice her when my brain doesn't know her face well enough to recognise it in contexts where it is unexpected? That didn't wash though.

She then tied it to ministry, checking if I was an ordinand at all. At this, I got super nervous. She was tapping into one of my self-doubts that I've have since I decided to become a stage manager, let alone a priest - I have always struggled with a) recognising people and b) being observant, which leads to situations like this where people think I'm 'an arrogant snob' ignoring them, or that I don't care to remember them. Particularly, people expect a priest to be the exact opposite, and this lady expressed real concern that I wasn't the type of person who should be becoming a priest at all.

I defended myself to a certain extent, reassured her that I would never have snubbed her on purpose and it had never been personal (I genuinely don't remember ever seeing her outside the cathedral! Make of that what you will), and thanked her for her feedback which I made sure she knew I appreciated. But I was mortified that I had upset her with my behaviour, intentional or not.

Reeling, I lined up with my candle in formation and by the time we sat down for the reading, I had a nasty headache. I tried to concentrate in the service but I was shaken, seriously disturbed, with all sorts of thoughts swirling like sand stirred on a river bed in my mind. But by communion, I was distracted from my crisis of vocation by increased pain - after the distribution I was almost panting and I realised this was the onset of a migraine, which I have experienced only 3 or 4 times previously.

We got up at the final blessing and I could not stop tears leaking as I gritted my teeth to finish the service. I made it up the aisle, and out into the vestry, and after some curt goodbyes, stumbled home, took some codeine and buried myself in bed, relived from the intolerable pain and falling heavily asleep. I woke hours later, and had a peaceful afternoon and evening.

But as I returned to bed at a more traditional time last night, I was beset with the doubts of the morning. I had resolved in my woozy state in the service that I surely needed to turn my life to be less self-centred and more focussed on others, but how can one become more observant, and better at recognising people? Is that something I have control over, something it is even possible for me to improve?

Being recommended for training gave me a boost of self-confidence, but really, being an ordinand hasn't allayed any of my doubts about my suitability. And I think this encounter shows the high level of expectation laity put on clergy (I actually wrote mine here) and the personal investment even a fleeting relationship leads to. Even of an ordinand, who from my perspective is still laity and a work-in-progress, the capacity to live to this higher standard is expected.

I don't dispute this, I suppose I just had not truly absorbed it, that I am basically already an echelon of clergy. That's weird to digest when I'm not getting ordained until 2020. How much do I give myself some slack and how much do I hold myself to account here?

This is part of a greater discussion about feedback and by whose authority, whose standard should I be held up against, and it's complicated. It's hard to find the balance of judgement of what to take onboard and what to hear with a pinch of salt. Where do I go from here? Do I reassure myself that I am doing the best I can or knuckle down to try and change my behaviour to fit in with this lady's expectations of clergy? How do I reconcile the knowledge that I am called as I am with the gifts that I have to offer, with the understanding that discernment and training is a process of learning/gaining knowledge and skills, both of my innate gifts, and of others that aren't as natural that I need as a priest?

How much of priesthood is shared, and how much is unique I suppose is my question. Who gets to tell me 'a priest should be like this' when I am discerning what kind of priest I will be, and if I am not meeting people's expectations as an ordinand, how much of a warning bell is that for my focus in improving myself for future ministry?

I am grateful for this feedback, for another perspective of my behaviour, and for a glimpse at one of the pressures clergy are under. But it has set me spinning. So all I can say at the moment is - God help me.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Video: Self-care as an ordinand (Know Thyself)



"Nosce te ipsum." - Ancient proverb

"This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man." - Hamlet Act 1, scene 3

Thursday, 8 February 2018

LGBT ordinand


A sermon by a bisexual ordinand
 in a school chapel, 
speaking on LGBT history month.*

*including my story, bisexual nuns, Peru, Frida Kahlo, and textiles.

Video has no visuals, just the audio, as I was at a school, so cannot show the footage that includes the children. My audio equipment failed, so the sound is just the inbuilt camera mic - I recommend putting on the subtitles (button bottom right of the video) to follow more easily.