Toby, until recently a parish assistant at St Chrysostom’s recently went on a Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP). A BAP assesses whether the advisers think a person is suitable for training for the priesthood. Toby, we are delighted to say, was recommended, and here he writes about the experience of being on the BAP.
Shallowford House, in the middle of the Staffordshire countryside, stands right next to the main train line. Within large grounds, complete with a croquet lawn and chickens, the house is an ideal place for a retreat centre.
I was fortunate to have a large en suite room complete with desk and several comfy chairs. The house comes complete with several meeting rooms, a library, large kitchen and dining area (the food was absolutely fantastic!) and large open chapel where worship was held three times a day throughout our stay.
After arriving and unpacking I ventured out to meet my fellow candidates. We began with the inevitable icebreaking activities. We were a varied lot with young and old (two others in their early twenties included), male and female, high and low church, former parish assistants, readers and church wardens. All were friendly and open and we relaxed into each others’ company, though one or two drinks in the bar afterwards also helped!
Day two started with the group presentations which involved everyone trying their hardest to be confrontational whilst still remaining painfully polite to one another. Going sixth out of eight allowed me plenty of time to get the hang of the group for my turn chairing the discussion which helped. After that I had two of my three interviews. Interviews not really being the right word for them as they were all very relaxed and more like intimate chats with each of the advisors. Rather then being put on the spot I was asked a question and we discussed the answer together.
With my second day being jam packed with things my final day was a lot calmer and more relaxed giving me plenty of time to write my pastoral exercise and walk the grounds. My last interview was just before lunch and as I’d finished my pastoral exercise I was free until 4pm so could unwind after the intensity of the three days.
I was advised to act my self at the conference and thanks to the nature of the people and the relaxed nature of the interviews I felt perfectly able to. I wore clothes I was comfortable in including my high top trainers, the same ones I wore under my alb at my last service as sub-deacon (I did stop short of wearing my stripy red trousers though!). I was honest and open and felt relaxed enough to talk about how the punk band The Dead Kennedys had helped me discover radical Christianity and that I find it easier to find God and the Christian message in The Death and Return of Superman, then I do in other contemporary and classical fiction as well as talking about the more serious side of my vocational journey.
I think that was what helped me the most; making sure I was relaxed enough to be my self and to not be afraid to completely share myself with the advisors.
We often try to think that they are looking for the perfect model ordinand and we try and act like this fabled non-existent person but as my mum pointed out, God has called you, not the perfect ordinand, and if the advisers meet this “ideal ordinand” they haven’t met the person that God has called.
The three day conference was probably the most stressful and intense three days I’ve ever experienced. However, they were also some of the most enjoyable three days I’ve ever experienced. And thankfully I won’t have to go through it all again!