It’s the season of ordinations and on Facebook I’ve noticed that a great many of my friends have been posting about the anniversaries of their own ordination. So I added mine. On Friday, 1 July, it was 33 years since I was ordained deacon; today, St Thomas’ Day, it is 32 years since I was ordained priest.
Inevitably you look back at the photos that were taken on those occasions. For younger readers of this we were using ‘cameras’ with ‘film’ that needed to be taken to ‘Boots’ to be ‘developed’. You then had to spend a few days, maybe even a week before you could go back and collect them. Dylan Thomas uses a lovely but tear jerking phrase at the beginning of his play for voices ‘Under Milk Wood’ in describing the photos on the walls of the rooms in Llaregyb of the
‘the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead’
It’s a bit like that looking at the photographs of all those years past – Mum in her hat, aunties then alive who are now dead. There’s the inevitable wondering as well, where have those years gone.
It took me a long time to get to the point where I was able to face up to my sense of vocation. I knew that God wanted me to be a priest when I was just 14. I was worshipping at the church where we had always gone, All Saints Wigston Magna. It was (and still is) a lovely mediaeval church in the heart of a not so wonderful industrial village on the edge of Leicester. I was in the choir and by that stage I think I was singing alto. Anyway, it was a June afternoon, the sun was shining and I was walking through Willow Park from where we lived on Carlton Drive to the church for the rehearsal before Choral Evensong. I was just passing the cricket pavilion (as I write this it is as fresh in my mind as the experience was then) and I just knew, just knew, as much as I have known anything, that God wanted me to be a priest.
I didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. You have to understand that I was a very shy boy, with a small circle of friends, stayed a great deal around home, lacking in confidence, not what I thought God was after and there was a lot I didn’t know about myself.
It took me until I was studying for my first degree to really begin to tell others and to tell our priest what I had experienced. Those intervening years had been difficult because the call of God niggles away inside you. I love reading the passages in 1 Samuel and Jeremiah that talk about their sense of call. To each of us it will be different and particular, sometimes come through others, sometimes a growing realisation, for me it happened like this.
Yet, those words of Jeremiah still resonate for me.
I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’
But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you. (Jeremiah 1.6-7)
The 33 intervening years have been incredible. God has equipped me for the tasks I’ve been presented with in the most incredible way. But at the heart I remain, and I hope will always remain, the boy by the cricket pavilion with a consciousness of the very real presence of God and able to hear his voice in an instance. Because, if I remain authentically him then I won’t begin to imagine that I am doing any of this in my own strength.
If you know that God is calling you, to whatever it is, then all I can do is to encourage you, even if you think that you are the last person God needs – maybe God knows better.
Lord, you call us
and equip us.
Give confidence to all
who feel the persistent niggle of your call