The Last Few Weeks

The last few weeks of this term (and my first year of seminary) are under way… As a fantastic end-of-term gift, three out of five profs have made 80% of our mark to be determined by papers and presentations due within these final weeks. It is less fun than it sounds.

Earlier this term I did some writing for the blog on the Diocese of BC website. It was published this week: What I learned from singing…

Enjoy.

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Off and Away

I’m off on another adventure!

Today I leave, with a group of others from London-area, to spend the next nine days in El Salvador. We will be UN observers at the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador and then will have the opportunity to visit PWRDF partners there: the Cristosal Foundation and CoCoSi. I’m looking forward to learning more about the work that these two partners do.

I may have been quiet on here as of late, but I have been writing! Stay tuned to justgeneration.ca (or like it on Facebook!) to see updates from me as I am able to send them back from El Salvador. I do not expect to have regular and amazing access to the Internet there, so sending blogs and photos back to justgeneration.ca will be a priority over putting them up on this blog. A large story will come when I return, however!

In the meantime, I am anticipating warmth for the first time since…. August?! In a temperature change felt only when I moved to Australia (or on extreme chinook days in Southern Alberta!) I’ll be going from a balmy -19C (-30 with the windchill, I’m told) here in London to a gorgeous high of +32C in San Salvador today. Bring it on!

O Oriens

I can’t remember where I first heard the sonnets of Malcolm Guite. I bought his book Sounding the Seasons earlier this year but decided to wait until the beginning of the church liturgical year before pulling it out to read. This morning over coffee I opened it for the first time.

This is from his The Great O Antiphons series for Advent.

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dawn, Easter Morning, over the Salish Sea

O Oriens
 
First light and then first lines along the east
To touch and brush a sheen of light on water,
As though behind the sky itself they traced
The shift and shimmer of another river
Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;
The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.
Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice
Are bathing in it now, away upstream . . .
So every trace of light begins a grace
In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam
Is somehow a beginning and a calling:
‘Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream
For you will see the Dayspring at your waking
Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking.’

Self + Image

The thought first occurred to me when I was meeting people at my new job for the first time.

“So, what brought you to London?”

     “I’m studying at Huron College”

“What are you studying?”

     “Theology”

And just like that, I am the Christian kid. I can see it happen. I am immediately in one of two boxes: the “oh brother, here we go” box or the “interesting, tell me more” box. My time on the West Coast has conditioned me to assume it will always be the former, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised when that hasn’t always been the case.

It is strange for me to be reconstructing myself in a new place. I knew very few people in London before moving here and so have been starting over in a lot of different ways. A lot of the things that were central to my way of life and who I am in community are no longer with me. I am re-finding myself but also reconstructing myself and reconstructing the self that others see.

In my last job in Victoria I was just another person working alongside people with similar values and beliefs. It was over time that it “came out” that I was a Christian and, for the most part, people were pretty cool with that. In fact, it became a great way to break down some of the bad stereotypes of Christians not caring about marginalized populations. However I was able to start from a place of presenting myself without the preconceived notions of who I should be as a Christian person. In my new job I don’t have that and it feels like an added pressure or weight on me as I go about my work.

Every church that I visit in London soon discovers that I am a new theological student and suddenly I am no longer looking for a place to call home and worship but am seeking a potential field placement for second year.

School is the other place where I find myself having to forge an identity. I rewrote a paper three times before submitting it today. It was a reflection paper that was meant to delve into the question “What I bring to ministry” but I did not agree with the starting point for the paper and thus struggled with the whole thing. How does one gracefully reject the premise of the first paper submitted for a course, make a good impression, but not present a false self? On a graded assignment? (That reflection papers can even be graded is another source of tension for me.)

I know that all I can do is “be myself”. However self is formed in relationship with others and when new relationships occur, especially a lot at once, self has to adjust. It is a lot like a mobile: when some of the figures shift, all of them must move around until a new balance is achieved. It is hard not to be reactionary and head to one polar extreme when faced with something so different from what feels normal. It is tempting to be someone I am not just to make the point of what I am really not…

I came to Ontario to challenge my West Coast worldview. I guess I am getting what I asked for!

Looking Forward

This can probably be filed under the category of “rant”. Also, under the category of “Gillian is procrastinating from writing a paper”.

I am constantly asked what kind of church or other setting I would like to end up in once I have completed my studies here. The question came up again this week with someone at school and I think that I gave my most coherent answer to date. Reflecting on my answer later at home I realized I’d still gotten it wrong. Or, rather, the question we are asking is wrong.

So I put the question out on twitter and continued to think about the subject.

 

I was surprised when I was interviewed by the Diocesan Committee on Ordained Ministry last year to be asked questions about parish specifics: size and location of where I might want to work, whether I would like to be full- or part-time, paid or unpaid. While I understand that they have to work out if the diocese even needs more priests, I had hoped that they would have had a more forward-looking view of things: Will this model of ministry that we have inherited over the last five billion years (only a slight exaggeration) still be functional and/or relevant when I am finished? When I shared this observation with my bishop, I added that I did not really want to leave my job, move across the country, and go to school for three years in order to maintain a status quo that is broken. (Or, as Dr Horrible says: “Because the status is not quo!”)

It is broken because we are spending more money on maintaining our buildings than on active ministry. It is broken because it isn’t working: the average age of people attending (mainline) churches is increasing and the number of people attending is decreasing. Soon we are all going to die out. Die out, that is, unless we can figure out a different way to do things.

So don’t ask me what kind of priest I want to be when I am all done. Instead ask what your community needs and let us work together to figure out what we can do and where a priest might fit into the mix.

Approved and Accepted

Spring is in the air, summer is not far away, and changes are afoot.

Some of you may know that this last year has been a year of a lot of change and transition for me. My temporary full-time position came to an end and so I took a two-month leave and ran away to Africa to hang out with my sister in South Africa for Christmas and New Years. I came home to working two jobs on a casual/on-call basis and have been working (nearly) full time hours at that for the last four months. I’m going to keep doing that for the next two months…

…and then I’m moving to London, Ontario!

Let me back up a little bit further. A little over a year ago, I embarked on a fairly intense process of intentional discernment with the idea of determining whether or not I am being called into a position of ordained ministry – that is, to be a priest. That process has entailed both one-on-one conversations with my spiritual director, the priest at my current church, and the Anglican bishop of my diocese as well as group discernment (what I have called reverse group counselling with myself as the lone ‘client’ and a whole group of people talking with me), formal interviews, and weekend-long assessments. It has been both exhausting and intensely rewarding.

Three weeks ago I had a full weekend ‘retreat’ (aka Church Big Brother) with a group of other candidates from across British Columbia where we were in conversation with assessors from all over the province. Their job was to assess our competencies, strengths, weaknesses, and gifts for ministry. The resulting report heartily recommended that I be approved for training and ordination as a priest.

Step two: school. A funny thing happens when you say you won’t do something. You frequently end up doing it. My standard response to the question of whether or not I would do a PhD when I announced I was doing my MA in Counselling was, “No, because I’d like to be done school by 30.” Well, here I am, past that, and going back to school, not for a PhD but for another Masters. Yesterday I received my offer of acceptance from Huron University College (on the campus of Western University in London – anyone else see the humour of me moving east to go to a school called Western??) to begin study towards a Master of Divinity degree, starting in September.  This is a three-year program approved by the Anglican Church of Canada for training postulants for ministry within the Anglican Church.

As much as I am loathe to leave Victoria – I love it here – I am looking forward to living back in Ontario after nearly 20 years! I’ll be closer to family and friends than I’ve been in years and am looking forward to exploring a new corner of the country. Now all I need to do is figure out how to get my stuff from here to there and collect boxes to put it all in!