Friday, 9 October 2015


I need to take a step back to the discernment process that led, somewhat surprisingly, to me being deaconed and then priested. Actually 'surprisingly' is too mild a term. By the time I came out of that wash I expected a resounding "No".

In our diocese you went through a fairly long 'fellowship of vocation' process. We met regularly for training and were allocated mentors. If your mentor felt you were a suitable candidate the next step was a day spent with a psychologist.

The inkblot test
Mine was a Catholic nun who began with a Rorschach inkblot test. Not sure if it is still used but this is a process whereby the subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded. They are then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms or both.

To quote Wikipedia, some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly. 

The image card is held up and you have to quickly say what it represents to you. The presumption being that you have never seen it before.

The nun was such a nice woman I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd played the Rorschach game several times at parties, where the interpretations were far from holy. BESIDES I really, really wanted her to tell my bishop I'd make a great priest.

A Rorschach inkblot card

The system is named after the psychiatrist who introduced it back in the 30s. I also didn't have the heart to point out that he subsequently had serious doubts about its usefulness.

So I gave her nice holy interpretations like "monks dancing in a circle holding hands". To give the good sister her due, she did tell the bishop I had a tendency to view the world with rose tinted glasses. But then she also told him that I was so upset by my divorce that I'd started wetting the bed. Silly woman had read her handwritten notes incorrectly - it was my younger son who had been affected.

In all it was an interesting day. After one of many other tests she asked if I knew I had an eccentric genius IQ. Surely all only children born of doting parents know that?

Discernment committee

Ah well. At least her report got me to the next step - the discernment process. This is a full day in which you are interviewed by small teams on various aspects of your life. The teams meet at the end of the day to discern if you should be deaconed and also if you should go forward for priesthood.

I knew I'd blown in with my very first response.
Question: What will you do if you get turned down today?

The correct answer, with eyes humbly downcast, should have been: "I will accept it as God's will." But the joking retort just flew out of my mouth before I could stop it: "I'll probably have a nervous breakdown!"

In the 'good stewardship' session I admitted I was born to shop (despite being broke). In the health session I had to be honest:  instead of exercising, my preference was to lie down until the feeling passed.

Well at least the outcome proved that Church does have a sense of humour.

Shot to hell
Looking back I am aware that by the time I was deaconed my spirituality was shot to hell. Too much time and effort had gone into juggling my life and impressing folk who had no concept of my busy work load. It is a constant refrain from so many self-supported clergy.

Part of the problem was that my bishop at that time had advised me to change Spiritual Directors. The suggestion was well meant and he was among the best directors, but I'd travelled too far and too deeply with my first. I still turn to her. 

It was an important lesson. Find one that works for you and your personality type.

A short-lived deacon
I'd heard tales of desperate-to-be-priests being held in deacon limbo for years. So it was a huge relief to only wait 5 months. Frankly, except for that crossed deacon's stole and the long white dress, life as a deacon was no different from being a hard working lay minister.

The Jazz in my heart
Naturally, as a died-in-the-wool kugel, I had my chasubles and cope specially designed. One well meaning fellow ordinand did warn me that it wasn't a good idea to have a gold saxophone embroidered on the top left of the front of my green one. Advice I ignored. 

I am a John Coltrane fan and the Trinity is the jazz in my heart.

Invaluable advice that my bishop did give me was that as an extrovert I would be the exception, not the rule, among clergy. He shared that he often felt holier in a large assembly that in a silent retreat. I came to understand that no one spirituality fits all. It's okay to prefer progressive jazz to an organ recital.

Soon after I celebrated with a quarter cow and lots of chickens it was time to party again. The parish catered. I was grateful and my bank manager was happy. 

DRC makes history As I write this,  news has just filtered through that the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa voted 102 to 88 in its synod in favour of ordaining gay ministers and blessing same sex unions. Real history in the making and placing the generally conservative protestant denomination well left of us Anglicans.  

I suspect the Methodists may just pip us to that post as well. 

In case you are wondering, the rest of our global Communion is not in step with our Episcopal cousins. Nor is it likely to be in the near future. Meanwhile the hurt and pain among our gay and lesbian clergy escalates. 

The dithering is cruel.

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