As I said in the first post of this series, this young lady hadn't just been knocked back but had, more tragically, also been knocked down and the eyes of the beholder see those two words, 'I'm sorry'.
Having invited her to share her feelings and the situation following the conference in terms of engagement with those who had stood with her on the vocations trail and what she thought the letter had said I found myself in the midst of a real firestorm as the pain and anger and frustration and other stuff poured out of her. So much so that I'm not sure that I quite know where to start (it didn't seem right to ask her to wait whilst I got a pen and paper and wrote it all down, she wanted a pastor not a secretary!).
But here's the essence of it all:
From the closest to her on the journey the response was, 'Oh dear, we must get together when I'm free!'
Her supporting cleric, after some muttered words of comfort, then said that she wasn't expected to attend the church council (PCC) meeting and would not be expected to shadow them anymore in the light of the 'No' that she had received from the selectors!
Tears running like rivers my young lady went on to tell me how a few days later she'd had a call from a friend who had been at the PCC meeting where the Vicar had told the gathered audience how their candidate had 'failed selection!' Her friend rang to make sure she was O.K. and to invite her out for a coffee (what did we do before Costa I wonder?).
I have to admit that this is where I took the opportunity to mirror her pain, frustration and anger as the inept behaviour of her Vicar took a hold of me (I'm still available should the bishop consider creating the joint posts of diocesan hitman and arsonist - although as they weren't from our diocese perhaps that needs to be part of the Archbishop's Team: Over to you ++Justin). I can understand the confusion and pain felt by someone who has a congregation member return from conference and be wounded by the subsequent happenings but what I heard was perhaps the most downright pastorally inept actions I have ever encountered.
As we talked I realised that she had in fact been 'binned' by her leader and, like those who attempt to make the grey beret that is SAS theirs, she had effectively been RTU'd (returned to unit) - a single act that adds humiliation to the disappointment of the wrong outcome. It was now some weeks since the letter and although she'd seen a vocations person who had offered tea and sympathy and the promise of support in continuing exploring her vocation, the Vicar had effectively sidestepped her and because of this she had now absented herself from that church. The problem was that I couldn't blame her for doing so!
I asked who had contacted her in the church family and found that you could count those who had offered support on two fingers, the rest had kept their distance and, as her anger had risen, increased the distance to escape the fallout. Her own family were confused and wounded by the lack of effective support and her friends, some from other churches, were encouraging her to 'shake the dust' and move on where she could be used and loved in equal measure.
So I told her to go and challenge her Vicar over the response and the distancing and to ask how she was going to stand with her. I told her that it would be O.K. to cry, acceptable to shout and just a little too far to take a stick or sharp object (and at last I got a laugh!).
I told her that what she had shared was neither 'something else' (like Lay Ministry) or a 'never again' but was merely ('merely' here being at the same level that says Hiroshima was merely a bomb someone dropped!!!) an invitation to step back, read what was really written rather than the interpretation that had been taken on board, and return with the bumps in the road flattened. It was people pointing out issues that needed some tinkering with rather than an epic fail and the end of the world - just an extremely painful episode on the way to giving birth to a new ministry.
So we chatted a bit more and we prayed (the first Vicar to do that with her - how shameful is that?) and she left to visit her relative (looking like Marc Bolan on a bad day with all the smeared mascara and stuff - thinking now I ought to have told her :-( ) and hopefully return home to make an appointment with her Vicar.
And that's my conversation in a nutshell. Names, locations and the like have been changed to protect the wounded and the guilty alike (who says I don't do Grace?).
And I'll end this entry with a plea: Brother and sisters, if you see someone caught up in journey to vocation then handle them gently; correcting in love and guiding with hope and the understanding that whatever part of the journey they are on, there but for the grace of God it could be you!
Deal with them as you would wish to be dealt with.
Encourage those who are discerning their call and pray for those who work with them.
And best of all, ask God what your calling is and have the courage, like my young woman, togo forward with it and to continue even when other make that journey harder - for we are all weak and flawed at times: That's why we need Jesus, innit?