Saturday, 29 November 2014

Advent Eve: Review of the Year

I saw a tweet this evening that suggested that, at the end of a liturgical year, we should take stock spiritually of the year that is coming to an end. This has been quite a year, so here goes:


This time last year, I was crying down the phone to a friend, feeling useless as a mother, a priest and a person. I was working too hard, and had very nearly burnt out.

The last straw was being told off by my son's secondary school for not making sure he did his homework. 'In what time is this meant to happen?' I thought. 'In the hour and a half between picking up the younger ones from after school club and going to an evening appointment? That hour and a half when I also have to get tea, do the washing, and normally shout at the kids because I'm also frantically trying to print out the papers for PCC, or prepare the materials for a baptism prep session?'

I couldn't see how I was meant to do my job and be a parent, especially if doing the homework of three kids - or standing over them to make sure they did the homework - was also part of my job description. Was I going to have to resign to be a decent mother?

I struggled through Christmas, and then completely hit the wall in February. After a few sessions with a counsellor, I have made some sort of peace with my inner child, and got rather better at pacing myself. I've realised that a large part of the problem was adjusting from the pace of university life (10 weeks of exhausting sprinting, followed by four or five weeks of recuperation) to parish life (you don't get the recuperation breaks, so you have to go at a steadier pace). I was working at the sprint level - anything else seemed lazy - and was simply exhausted.

Now, at the cusp of a new liturgical year, I hope I am better at pacing myself for the long haul. I think so. I'm also better at dealing with criticism - kindly receiving it, and then laying it at Jesus' feet rather than taking it into myself and letting it eat away at me.

Spiritually, the experience has made me much more conscious of my total reliance on God. Psalm 23 - 'thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me' - has a new, deeper resonance for me now: I imagine myself walking across the hills relying on God's walking poles! 'With the help of God, I will'.

In the wider church:

The other thing that has shaped the year for me has been the final stages of the Women Bishops saga. This time last year, we were beginning to be hopeful that this new version of the legislation might actually get through Synod in a reasonable timescale. Just a year later, I can hardly believe that long, exhausting journey is finally over. (Well, nearly - we haven't actually had a woman appointed yet...).

July was great - tears of joy, and of relief, in equal measure. It felt like a weight being lifted from my shoulders when that vote went through - at last, no need to fight for this any more! The promulgation in November was much lower-key, a legal formality, but still a good moment.

But all this has brought a new and unexpected source of stress - I had no idea how draining all the speculation about who might be the first women bishops would be! I also had no idea that any of that would involve me personally. It seems ridiculous that people are naming me as a potential candidate - I know I am not on any official lists - but what was initially rather amusing is now becoming a serious embarrassment.

When the legislation first went through in July, a male colleague tweeted that he was pleased women priests would now have all the hassle men have with well-meaning parishioners asking if they were about to become a bishop, and I thought he was joking! But every woman priest I know has been saying the same thing in recent weeks, and it is all getting rather wearing.

Still, that is a small price to pay for the feeling of having played some small part in the major achievement of the Church of England opening all three orders of ministry to women on equal terms to men - hallelujah!

Spiritually, this is making me reflect on the nature of vocation afresh, and reminding me of my initial sense of calling to be a priest. Looking back on that initial experience from the perspective of twenty years later, is proving really interesting.

In the parish:

In the parish, I will remember this as the year of thinking and working on the concept of Shared Ministry. The best meetings of the year have been the evenings I've spent with the small task force convened to plan how best to go about implementing a Shared Ministry plan.

We prayed together, planned together, dreamed dreams together, and went about things slowly and steadily (NOT my natural modus operandi!), and we are finally being commissioned by Bishop Paul as a Shared Ministry Parish next week.

Spiritually, this has been a wonderfully affirming experience: I think we all felt the Spirit moving and guiding us in our meetings together, and I feel excited about what is to come as I begin to work with the new Shared Ministry Development Team that has been called.

What a year! I will remember it with exhaustion, with head-shaking wonder, and with - I hope - quiet satisfaction that it was a year that laid really solid foundations in God for the growth that came in later years.

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