I was asked to create a 15 minute reflection on my informational journey through college so far and was allowed to be as creative as I liked. I decided to write my journey out with key events and periods and set those periods to music I enjoyed. Partly as an excuse to play death metal and ambient Black metal at my deputy head, but also partly because music is a massive part of my life and I don;t get to use it in my ministry as much as I’d like.
So if you want the full scope of this piece click the links to the music for each segment and have a listen. If you don’t got time don’t bother, but you’re totally missing out…..
So I understood the brief to be a reflection on how I’ve developed and been formed over the past two years or so and how that has affected my perceived identity in Christ and ministry
A massive part of me is music. It is my culture, and before I came to college I lived and breathed Heavy Metal and Punk. The music I listened to shaped my dress sense, my politics, my ethics and my world view and once combined with my calling to priesthood created the strange, sometimes baffling, concoction you see before you.
So, unfortunately for you, I’m going to take us on a musical odyssey through my personal journey and musical tastes.
Pre-College – Crass – Securicor
So I’ve just got through selection and chosen to come to this college – It’s far away from home, it’s really exciting, a new adventure. Some people are worried. “I’ll be the only liberal/catholic/metal head/whatever up there.” They say “I’ll really have to stand my ground” they warn “you won’t make any friends” they over worry. It’s ok I like a challenge……
All packed up with too many books I know I probably won’t use, but take anyway, I head up the M5 with my letter of recommendation telling me that the church has recognised my call to train to be ordained.
It’s a mix of nerves and excitement and anticipation and… doubt?
Arriving – Gama Bomb – Wrong stuff
Then we get there. Unpacked and settled in and I’ve met people I’m still friends with (amazingly) and probably will be for many years to come. Not bad for the only liberal/catholic/metal head/whatever, which of course I’m not.
Then Welcome week starts. A whirling, cascading bombardment of information and handouts. And that’s nothing compared to when lectures actually start. Daily prayer and worship schedule, meals at set times, lectures over an hour and a half long! Get a life outside of college too?????
How does anyone keep up with all this?
It’s ok, I’m pretty sure I can do this.
Block teaching is done, role playing in the third lecture? I hate role playing. OK one comfort zone left….. Bible study I’ve not done much of that that should be good… Doctrine now we’re talking, the nuts and bolts of our faith….. History? I’ve done all this before, just go with it…. I love Common Worship Daily Prayer, controversial I know… so that’s ok.
I’m pretty sure I got this
Then, the wheels come off
The wheels come off – Rotten Sound – Alone
you know when you have so much going on and it all just crashes and your head feels like it’s going a million miles an hour? Yeah that’s grindcore…. Also what happened to me about 4 weeks in
I’m lost – Drudkh – Forests in Fire and Gold
About half way through the firs term I had a major lapse in confidence. I was miles from home, with no friends outside of college who weren’t Christians (which has never happened to me before) People held very different views to me on politics, theology, the bible, sexuality, gender….
A few colleagues laughed after they asked to hear my calling story and I told them about how I believed God was calling me to pursue Social Justice with the same fervour as Jeremiah. That stung a bit….
I was told in a lecture by a class mate that they “don’t understand how you can be a Christian and not believe the Virgin Birth” When I finally felt brave enough to put my hand up in class and explain the issues I had with the virgin birth…– It’s ok Regan’s got my back
It’s ok though. Even in the darkest most desperately confusing of times the Spirit is there, you’ve just got to find Her. Like in the music, under all this noise and incessant rhythm there’s a hidden under lying melody line, played on the most unsurprising instrument, the bass. You’ve just got to listen hard and tease it out.
But still the background noise is overwhelming at times… questions like
Do I belong here?
Does God actually want me to be a priest?
Is God even there?
Slowly Remerging – Amebix – Days
It’s not all doom and Gloom and psalm 88 though. Here and there, there are little glimpses of positivity, the Kingdom and of God poking through the darkness. Slowly I begin to rebuild what has been lost, I learn how to look after myself, put safety measures in place, I begin to rediscover my voice. Moments like accidentally taking the piss out of the visiting Bishop in front of the whole college at Ash Wednesday morning prayer help, but I’m not quite there yet.
Sex and Gender course and change of calling – Husker Du – Girl Who lives on Heaven Hill
During the Sex and Gender course one of the tutors did a reflection on inhabiting “edgy” places with God, that same day I had the sense that God wanted me to inhabit “dark” places with Him. That even a preacher gave a sermon on exactly the same topic. LIGHTNING BOLT! A sudden new understanding of my calling.
I’d always believed God had brought me out of the “dark” subcultures I’d always lived in to bring my experiences into the wider church. Now I know I’ve been taken out to be sent back in. To preach the Gospel to the Goths, the punks, the weirdos, the pervs, the people who believe the Church and God do not want.
My Calling became fun and exciting and dangerous again. It was about taking risks for a faith I believed could generally change the world in a dangerous way by shaking the foundations of our unjust society to it’s very core. It was about being me, in all black, with tattoos in a Napalm Death t-shirt and a Bible in one hand with a beer in the other.
Summer – Against Me! – High Pressure Low
The year ends on a high. I’m getting back the confidence I’d lost, a renewed sense of calling and the knowledge that I’m already a third of the way through my training already.
Back home people are seeing changes in me. I begin a pastoral ministry with friends and I end up having God conversations whenever I go to the pub, which is quite often, usually with complete strangers, which is kinda weird.
I had a two week placement at a Fresh Expression of church full of people like me where I got to try out my new calling. I spent most of the time bbqing, drinking beer and listening to the Cricket all the while telling people about Jesus. Priesthood was fun!
A kid gave me a hand written note which said “changed my views on vicars and church, as all the one’s I grew up with at y church ere serious ‘boringish’ strict old people”
After the summer coming back to college I felt invigorated and excited – like I’d finally arrived in this community properly.
I’d practiced this new sense of calling and it felt good and God was working and people were recognising not only that but a change in me. New course were exciting, old friendships were growing stronger, the new intake was… ok. There was a real sense of this being where I belong.
Prison – Negura Bungent – Þesarul De Lumini
The most important thing I have done formationally over the past two years has been my placement in a maximum security prison.
It is an awful place. It is dark, nasty, claustrophobic, violent, cold, sterile, going in sucks the life and soul out of you. I saw human rights violations, I met some of the worst criminals the meida would dare tell us about, people with no hope, no chances, no future, nothing to live for, every other conversation was about suicide, people genuinely feared for their lives if they left their cells. I almost cried and bottled it on my first day in there. I don’t believe in Satan, but this is a truly satanic place.
It is also a Godly place.
The chaplains do a fantastic job, they bring light into the darkest of places. I met Holy people form other faiths spreading hope and love and at the Eucharist I stood shoulder to shoulder with rapists, murderers, paedophiles, drug dealers and worst and yet knew around the Lord’s table we were all equal and all forgive and all covered in God’s “disgusting” Grace.
There was hope there – like the music, even here there is an underlying melody line, you just have to listen for it.
I’m back baby – Metallica – Hit the Lights
After my experiences in the prison and the college this year I feel well on my way back to becoming the person God wants me to be in ministry. I am more confident, I’m finding my voice, I am unashamed of who I am, my background and the Gospel.
I’ve been getting good marks, I’m now “unofficial” chaplain to the Rock Soc, Been a small group leader, Social Justice Secretary and done a massive project on BDSM and the Cross.
Life is almost as chaotic as when I first arrived, but I am more in control or rather more willing to let go of control knowing I’ll be alright
Here I am now – Crass – Big A little a
Now I’m back to where I was. I am back to the person I was. Yet I am now more of the person I am then I was. I have become more fully who I was all along. I’ve also learnt that priests in their ministry need to be willing to take hold of the chaos of life and help steer it. They need to be able to tease out the hidden melody lines God is playing under the background noise of the world and never be afraid to join the song of the Gospel, even if you don’t like the music style.
Finally – I’ve been very open here, which I’m not used to doing. I really struggle with talking about myself, certainly about my gifts and achievements though I was given a quote with really spoke to me.
“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you”
Taking from this quote I think that as priests we have to remember that with God building us up we must be bold and confident in who we have been created to be so that we can then in turn be bold and confident in the message that we bring.