I find myself having many conversations with people who tell me how they 'failed' or 'weren't selected' for ministry training in the Church of England. Stipendiary, Self-Supporting (SSM, the ministry formerly known as NSM) or Ordained Local Ministry (OLM) - they've been off and spent some time with assessors who have discerned that 'ordained ministry' is the calling presenting in the person before them (or at least not yet it isn't).
The problem is that what many hear is that, to use the words of one, 'Weren't wanted,' and this is not what selection does, says, or is. What it should be is an aid to help the person presenting themselves discern where they fit - after all, a square peg might well fit into a round hole but it takes lots of hitting with a hammer and damages the peg and the place you're trying to fit it. Better still to see and hear who they are and guide them gently into the right shaped receptacle for them. Less filing, banging, friction and pain all round.
So when someone I converse with on a fairly regular basis wrote, 'I offered for SSM and my offer was declined for perfectly good reasons. However, the report recommended me 'For Ministry in the Church of England' but with no caveat of which type of ministry?' I struggle a little!
I can understand the selectors writing, 'Not this one!' But when the response carries with it the additional words, 'But recommended for 'Ministry in the Church of England', ' I am a little at loss.
There are so many avenues for offering oneself as a worker in the Church of England, there are:
Ordained: Stipendiary Priests and Deacons (paid), Self-Supporting Ministers (unpaid Priests and Deacons), Ordained Local Ministers , Ordained Pioneer Ministers.
Lay: Mission-Shaped Ministry, Pastoral Care Ministry, Pioneer Ministers, Prayer Ministers, Spiritual Growth Ministry, Readerships, Worship Leading and Youth Ministry (to name but a few).
Other: There are so many opportunities to offer ourselves for roles at church (and other levels) and these are as numerous and diverse and the numbers of churches, ministries and people that we have. The key is to look, feel the match and put oneself forward.
The issue with my friend quoted here is that there appears to be neither parish or diocesan level support for them and their quest to be used and useful in the right place.
They say that they feel a call to, 'Proclaim the Gospel in a public-facing ministry role,' and this can be done in a number of areas, not just ordained, but lay and not just pulpit-based but on the streets in evangelistic settings, teaching (sermons are not the only place for this) - but without support and prayerful guidance, discernment and care, we leave those 'feeling called' confused and, as time passes, impotent, frustrated and perhaps bitter too!
The warning to the Church of England is that I meet too many who echo the words of the person thus far quoted:
'Perhaps I just need to pack it all in and sit in the pews like the rest and be 'done to', or go somewhere else. Unfortunately, the call persists'
They say that cuts have removed Lay Training from the menu for 2013 - 14 (which is pathetic and destined to diminish the numbers coming forward for training and finish off those like our writer) and that there is no one outside of parish clergy - who should be the first port of call and then be supported a diocesan level - to engage with or find succour and guidance.
Shameful, sad, frustrating and unbelievable.
We need to support and encourage those who feel they have a calling - it's what we do:
Equip - Train - Release - Celebrate