Beginning a new journey

Life has a way of getting in the way sometimes.  In fact, that’s my excuse for why this blog hasn’t been updated in months.  There just hasn’t been time to sit down and write anything, nor did I really have much to share.  Thankfully, I’m hoping that’s about to change.  I’m exploring my calling.

Actually this journey started several years ago, I just didn’t realise it at the time.  Back when I was Chaplaincy Assistant at the University of Essex Anglican Chaplaincy we had a Vocation Sunday event where we had a range of different vocations pinned up around the room, and everyone was encouraged to wander round and see whether God might be calling us to something – maybe youth work, or full time ministry as a vicar, or prison ministry, or becoming a Lay Reader, or missionary work.  I looked at them all, of course, and my attention was drawn to Reader training.  With my Baptist background, I had no idea what a Reader was, and didn’t really see the point, so I put it out of my mind and moved on.

But, as the years passed, God brought up the concept of Readership time and again, with decreasing subtlety.  In the end, last year, God’s prodding got too much for me, and I made a promise to God that I would actually look into starting the process.  I prayed about it, I emailed some people, I had a couple of meetings.  And that, in a nutshell, is why my Thursday evenings are no longer free – I’ve started the training.

Well, sort of.  The Diocese of Bath and Wells actually requires Reader applicants to complete the Exploring Christianity course before actually enrolling for Reader training.  So that’s what I’m doing.  A group of us meets every week to discuss a topic and work our way through the basics of the Christian faith.

The first module is on Spirituality.  This week we were looking at the Desert Fathers – early Christians who retreated into the desert to get away from the ‘established’ Church, which was growing increasingly mainstream and lazy in their opinion.  They started as hermits, but soon attracted people to them, and thus the monastic lifestyle started, with a focus on private reflection and striving for spiritual purity.

I have to admit, I struggled this week.  Not because it was complicated, but because I couldn’t really connect with the idea.  Yes, I see the value in retreating from society to focus more on God, but you can take these things too far.  After all, if all Christians permanently retreated into the desert, the desert would be a very busy place!  There is a time and a place for everything, and in the case of retreats I think coming back is just as important as going in the first place.

There are several examples of retreats in the Bible.  Jesus spent forty days in the desert before beginning his public ministry, and that was a time of solitude and trial, as he was tested spiritually and tempted physically.  But that was never intended to be a permanent calling, it was a precursor to something greater.  If he had stayed in the desert, nothing would have been achieved.

And that prompted a question that I haven’t decided on an answer to.  Why would someone be called to a permanent retreat?  Surely that’s a selfish approach to faith, keeping it to ourselves rather than sharing it with the people around us?  It can be useful in the short term, but does a monastic lifestyle go against the call to spread the Gospel?  What do you think?  Leave your comments below!

One thought on “Beginning a new journey

  1. Hi Matthew

    Wow, so much to comment on, so little space!

    Firstly – great news! I remember that chaplaincy vocation Sunday event – it was one of the things that set me thinking about ministry. I remember talking to Julian about being a reader at the time, although not much came of it. Glad to hear that God has prompted you to make that step 🙂

    Secondly – on Spirituality. I’m doing a course on spirituality this year, we’re moving roughly chronologically. In the first few weeks we looked at the desert fathers. In their context, Christians were being persecuted and getting out into the desert could be an attractive option! But I think the main line of thinking was for holiness – to try and get out into the desert away from temptation so it was possible to live a more pure life.

    I think in many ways their attitude towards sin was to be commended, i.e. taking seriously the need to be rid of it. But it does seem that God calls us into community for a reason, and ridding yourself of everything (including the world) is counter productive.

    Also, the monastic lifestyle became a “higher form of life”, i.e. ‘spiritual’ over against ordinary lives. This is why they were pretty down on monastics at the Reformation – the priesthood of all believers and the sanctity of everyday work.

    Anyway, hope it all goes well for you … keep us up to date with how it goes!

    P.S. – training to be a reader… does this now mean you’re a fully paid-up Anglican? 😉

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