In terms of how I’m made and wired, I am definitely a pioneer. My pioneer selection process discerned that I had been starting new things, doing things in new ways, or doing things that weren’t supposed to be possible, for most of my life. And whilst I love that and enjoy it hugely, it doesn’t always endear me to people who have a much greater regard for the rules and protocols than I do. So I was surprised – *ironic understatement* – when I found myself being called into ordained ministry in the CofE some 8 years ago now.
And I feared it – I feared that I would be caged, constrained, squeezed into working in ways that were uncomfortable and unfamiliar, that my old ways that had always “worked” for me would be disdained and I’d be expected to conform, to behave, to adhere to many rules and procedures – in short that I would have to lose myself and adopt a different persona, and that this would ultimately mean that I would fail.
When I began training, I underwent a revision of my fears – people began to tell me that my skills and ontology would be helpful in a Church that is undergoing a rapid period of change around ministry and mission. I learned on my pioneer course at CMS https://pioneer.cms-uk.org/ that what was perceived as a negative by some could be re-framed as the “gift of not fitting in”, a term coined by Course Pioneer and now Director of Mission Education at CMS, Jonny Baker. I began to find confidence in who I was and what I was good at, and to encourage others in the same. In grappling with the still strange mix of pioneer gifting and training to be a priest in the CofE, I reasoned that God had called me into leadership in this church as I am and for a reason, and that this would surely make itself apparent over the time I trained and was a curate.
The parish part of my curacy is in a moderate Anglo Catholic parish, with a main church in a small Cotswold market town and in five village churches around the edges. The people in the churches tend to be white, middle aged and very middle class, including landowners and inheritors of family estates. One of our churches is in the grounds of a castle. All of this pushes me outside my comfort zone in huge ways, as again I feel somewhat governed by rules – about what I wear, how I behave, how I preach, the authorised words I use, lots of new and complex rules about movement and liturgy, and lots of social complexity around who has power and how change can happen in villages when many socially powerful people want things to stay the same.
In short, my gift of not fitting in now feels more like a curse than a gift and I ache to feel some normality and peace within myself, instead of repeated discomfort as every new thing is introduced. It makes me feel very de-skilled, very awkward, weak and vulnerable – particularly as it seems I make a large number of blunders and mistakes, borne of a personality which cannot cope with paying attention to detail for very long. I also find the lack of power and decision making a killer, combined with the very complex dynamics for getting anything done; the powerlessness is a total agony, for someone who was apparently recognised for an ability to make change and get things done.
What I need to remind myself is that in fact all of this awkwardness is the process that is associated with learning, growing and changing, and vulnerability is inherent within it. Instead of telling myself that I’m trapped here in this struggle, the fact is I actually chose to come to a church on the opposite end of the tradition spectrum to my own – so that I could LEARN! So that I could actively participate in and accept the struggle of opening myself and my views and opinions to a range of new ones, and that through the struggle of letting go and making room, I would grow and be changed. And this is not something that can happen with no pain or discomfort.
Brene Brown writes a lot on the subject of vulnerability and change and this article in particular refers to vulnerability and honesty during the process of change through education:
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/abc.21224/pdf In the piece, the author specifically refers to the discomfort of learning, but also encourages us to go beyond the first story we tell ourselves about the discomfort and feeling of failure. This was very helpful to me as I realised that what I was doing in my curate narrative was veering from one end of an argument to another. One day I took a view that said my not fitting in is a gift and therefore it’s who I am and the way God called me, and therefore the Church will / *must* at some point recognise that and let me get on with it – taking away the difficulty of the new environment and all its’ challenges and struggles. Then the other side of the pendulum would swing and bring with it huge insecurity – I’m in the wrong place; this parish work is trying to change me into something I’m not; there is no place for me here, I can’t belong and be myself; I’m bloody awful at this, what was I thinking?!; maybe I should work harder to change into who *they* want me to be …..
All of this argument, which rages in me most days, is underpinned by an urgency borne of insecurity and fear. My marriage broke up a year ago and I no longer have any financial support or another working person in the family to share the load of bill paying and keeping a roof over our heads, apart from my curate’s stipend. Most pioneer posts are not directly funded by the church in the same way as clergy posts – we are mainly paid part time if at all, and subsist of applying for grants etc. Vert few pioneers have a pension being paid into by an employer. And so I am very blessed to be paid as a pioneer and curate during my three years of training. But now, in the second year, I’m panicking about the future and what will become of us at the end. And putting myself under pressure to be the best curate ever, to achieve an A* in my parish work and my pioneer work. To never make a mistake because I see that members of my congregation get to assess me at the end of this year. GULP.
And all the while, underneath that narrative, is the narrative of shame and failure that stems from the shock break up of my marriage.
And so, as ever, identity and belonging are the roots of the struggle. And as ever, I’m back in god’s hands, sitting on his lap, being welcomed gladly as who I am – AND welcomed as a person who is going through several complex phases of change, growth and learning. And these are difficult and painful but also positive and healthful. I am learning from mindfulness to be curious about myself and my reactions to things, and also to be kind to myself and accept the kindness of God and of my friends, colleagues and fellow travellers while that happens. Ouch, and amen.