Saturday, 23 May 2015

Called? Back from Conference (and it's not 'Yes')

One of the most consistent things to come out of my conversations regarding those who have been to a selection conference is: 'Please don't just ignore us!'

I have encountered a few (well eight to be exact) people who felt that the message, 'Go away and forget about it all,' was the wrong message to give because whet they heard was, 'Go Away - you are a failure!' I am sure this was not the case but the fact is that there is pain and confused perception on one side and an almost embarrassed and, albeit well-meaning, something or other from those occupying the 'sending' side.

Then again others (four) have told me that all they wanted to do was be left alone to come to terms with the outcome and then return (or perhaps not) when they felt like it.

First and foremost we need to see the person before us. I have had conversations with people who shared their checklists with me and yet I felt that, laudable as they were, we merely turned a 'friend' into a candidate who we deal with as if we were merely replacing fallen books in a library! We need to communicate the fact that the person before us is not a 'failed candidate': They have not failed - they have merely not been selected at this time! We have a situation whereby, should they continue to seek to discern a felt calling to ordained ministry, they are in the position of 'Not Yet!'

Of course if the letter said 'Go away and do not come back' or 'have a look at Reader or some other form of ministry, just not ordained' the challenge is a bit different, but let's assume we're dealing with the 'Not Yet!' for now and have a think about what we do.

I'm effectively reading back and brainstorming and creating this as I go. It's probably wrong in some people's books but it's been the essence of supporting those who have had the 'not yet' badge pinned to them:

i.a Be honest regarding selectors and process - because to ascribe a lack of vision or anything that dismisses the selectors as a bunch of idiots is to question those who got a green light to continue! I have a great deal of trust in selectors and whilst we all have the potential to get it wrong, I think the system is pretty trustworthy. To undermine it in any way is to render the process, and the candidate before you, as having a lesser value. It's an outcome - that's it, the most positive and supportive way forward from it is now the important thing to be seeking.


1.b Be honest regarding the candidate and the report*  - Be careful you don't undermine the person before you either. The prize for this goes to the person whose response was to cancel the 'failed' candidate's room at a clergy conference and then proceed to effectively 'sack' them from shadowing them as, 'They were no longer suitable!' Yay, way to go on the encouragement and pastoral care fronts guys! 

ii. Expect emotions - but what emotions I can't say because I have encountered anger, defeat, unbelief, tears, resignation (of the, 'I knew this would happen,' kind) and more besides. The key is to be open to all and any and to be honest and supportive and to realise that you might just be the person on the help desk when the telephone rings and you have a frustrated or, worse still, bereaved customer before you! They will be exhibiting all of the Kübler Ross** stuff that you might expect when their is a loss:And you need to be able to deal with it just as you might had they called and told you someone they loved had just died!

I should add here that you should also be aware of your own emotions too as I have found some supporters on the journey to be more wounded and confused (and angry and bitter and cynical and ...... (add your own bit here) such that they are a bigger problem than the candidate themselves.

iii.Do not send them away - this is the biggest mistake I think I have encountered as it confirms the fact that the person before you (or in this case not before you) is not wanted. You think you're giving space, they think they're being binned! Get with them face-to-face and up close and personal (no George, not that personal dear . . . step back little!) and guide them to a place where the next step is not only theirs but is also beneficial to discerning the next step and putting aside the knee-jerk (often destructive) response.

iv. Be flexible - one of those who has dealt with returning candidates told me they always impose some breathing space and yet I have realised that for some this is the very opposite and the candidate is later found suffocated because they needed the oxygen of engagement and the hope that comes from regrouping and reassessing. Vocation, like combat, is often laid our and the paths are assumed to be straight, and then the first round is fired and the terrain is discovered and before you know it there's a bit of a rethink on the cards!

So there we are, some initial thoughts created from the experience and example of some that I have met. I hope it is helpful and that you see this as an invitation to internally discuss the stages open to you in supporting a candidate and externally with all, and any, who will do so (I'd love to because I want to be someone who helps restore the broken and testing vocation has great potential to be that thing that bears people!

Can we fix it?
Yes we can!

*If you have the report before you. The first engagement might not have that and even if it is in the hands of the candidate they have to show it to you (or permit you to have a copy).

** Elisabeth Kübler-Ross is famous in the grief, loss and bereavement side of being a minister. She listed five attributes that might, or might not, occur and even re-occur when someone has suffered a loss; and loss is about more than death of a person (it can be a career, a limb, a prized possession and much, much more besides - including the perceived, feared or realised loss of vocation and calling!):

The five traits are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.


UKViewer said...

A good, thoughtful post.

I accept that each of us is different, but the expectation of any candidate whether NOT YET or NOT EVER is that they will be afforded sound pastoral support, assessment and guidance on 'what next' not to be told to "go away, wait a few (six) months and than we'll see" how things are. The need affirmation that the vocation they had sincerely and genuinely felt was valid, wasn't just an ego trip and that sometimes an individual discerns differently than the mind of the Church (selectors). Particularly if they've been through a rigorous diocesan panel and had that vocation affirmed by the panel of 'Bishops Selectors' and the sending Bishop. Surely they can't all be wrong?

To be ignored an an embarrassing survivor or reminder of a mis-discernment or mistake makes the pain of rejection that much harder to bear for the candidate, who will quite justly question 'why are they bothering' with a church that is so cruel and uncaring (and yes they're words I used once upon a time).

I'm not sure that I have any more to add to this conversation - I've said sufficient and I realise that each time I contribute, I'm dragging the baggage out again and living that experience again. Enough.

Anonymous said...

Vic, if this is off the top of your head I'd love to see what you do when you stop and really think about it. Why the hell aren't you a DDO, you are more joined up in your thinking than mine :(

Vic Van Den Bergh said...






Peter O said...


Are there any rough figures for the ratios of those Accepted and those not (and the various different types of "not")?

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

The ball park figures I've had most quoted for BAP presents something around 75/25 (some quote 80/20) but I haven't found any 'official' figures. This is about the same for DAPs too but with these I understand that the 80/20 is closer (which makes sense considering the nature of the beast).

The big problem is that these 'statistics' apply to the whole population and cannot be extrapolated into a conference where sixteen may attend with, as one conference I am aware of, only six be selected for training. I have also heard from someone engaged in the process of a conference where those selected was almost all of those who attended.

A good conference where the people hit it off and work for one another will allow some of the borderline to receive good news whilst an edgy and fragmented constituent membered conference might cause a sad result to come about also.

Whilst I have trust in the process, I am aware of some outcomes which owe something to the selectors and/or the conference secretary - but that's also part of the process too!

Hope this helps - if you come across any statistics, don't hesitate to let me know,