Tomorrow morning, I will be restating my ordination promises, and my bishop will say prayers affirming my ordination.
Preparing for the service
As a priest, I carry out ministry under the authority of my bishop. In recent years, that had been brought into question, through fears, misunderstanding and ignorance about my diagnoses, ADHD, Autism, Bipolar (that were all diagnosed in my 40’s, after I was ordained). The service tomorrow is really significant for me, as a bishop will affirm my ordination, with the full knowledge of my diagnoses.
The last few years have been really painful, I have felt isolated and silenced, I have found it hard to know how to find a way forward, or who to trust. Preparing for this service, as well as needing to know that my bishop supports my ordination, my ministry; I have also had to work out if I am still willing to be part of the Church of England, to continue working as a priest in an organisation that can accidentally cause so much pain.
Within the challenging times, the wilderness, I know that anxiety and fear have sometimes taken deep root within me. I have felt a deep tension, and have found it hard to see a way forward. My painting, Our Lady, Undoer of Knots, was painted from within that pain.
I’ve been reflecting on Psalm 51, that I say as part of Hopeweavers Morning Prayer every day. “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.”
This is my painting, based on the sculpture of the woman at the well, at Chester Cathedral.
As I prepare to restate my promises tomorrow, I am saying them, choosing joy, choosing life. I’m choosing to keep coming close to Jesus, allowing myself to be seen, to be known, to be loved. I’m choosing to use my will, my commitment, my determination, to allow my gifts, my strengths, my vulnerabilities, my challenges to be used, to serve others.
When I first made these promises, when I was ordained deacon in 2014, and priest in 2015, I didn’t know how costly they would be. This week, as I prepare for this service, I’ve been painting this image, reflecting on the life-giving water, the living water, the abundance of life. I’ve included the rainbow, a reminder from the story of Noah of God’s covenant with us all. A rainbow, that in more recent times reminds us of the wonderful diversity of humanity.
Ripples, because even something tiny, when dropped into water, makes ripples. Each of us, as we live our lives, as we share of who we are, are making ripples in the world around us. Ripples too, used in the Disability Conference last year, (Still) Calling from the edge. Ripples, centre, edge, moving from the centre to the edge, connecting, spreading, moving.
Tonight, I have needed to let go. To get through the pain of the last year, I chose an image of a sunflower as a symbol of hope. I created a large painted sunflower, and whenever I found myself dwelling / stuck / paralysed in fear, in confusion, in doubt, I started to stick new petals onto the sunflower. I am choosing now to trust those around me, to accept that I am accepted, to let go of my security blanket sunflower.
When I started in post here in Pennington, there was a parish profile. As with many, the profile was aspirational, and autistic me has found it really hard to reconcile the reality of the role in comparison with the description of the role. And then there was pandemic, which has changed things even further!
Tonight is about letting go, about release, about offering the fullness of who I am, to live in the present moment, to accept the fullness of life. So tonight, I have burned my sunflower, and the parish profile. It is with some trepidation, it feels as if I am starting a new job, working out how to live without the deep fear or judgment, without feeling that I have to prove myself. Wondering what it might be like, wondering what else I might need to let go of, and wondering what I might need to do differently, to live and work, with the affirmation of tomorrow’s service.