You don’t just have a story – you are a story in the making, and you never know what the next chapter is going to be. That’s what makes it exciting. (Dan Millman)
It is a well used cliché that our lives are made up of of chapters. I suspect like many clichés, that it is so because it is true.
Although I can look back over my life (as many of my previous blog posts do) and identify the different chapters and the significance of them, I wasn’t aware of these things whilst those chapters were being written. In recent times however, I have found myself becoming increasingly aware of life whilst I am living it. Over the last 6 or 7 years I have found myself being increasingly present in the moment and becoming acutely aware of the life that I am living and the chapter that is being written. In the U.S version of ‘The Office’ a character called Andy Bernard laments “I wish there was a way to know that you are in the good old days before you have actually left them”. I honestly believe that recently I have found myself doing just that.
Two years ago I was working as Youth Coordinator at St Tees in Lancaster and I knew at the time, that I was in a special chapter in my life. There were painful things happening within my life and many challenges but the blessings were clear. Kate and I were living in Sedbergh, which is a stunning part of the world. Our relationship continued to develop and grow as a constant source of blessing and joy. I was working in a job I loved and with a really special group of people. I knew that I was living in ‘the good old days’ in the present. Life was full of purpose and joy, I was serving and working within a place that I felt that I belonged. It was within that time that I felt a call that would lead to that very chapter coming to an end and a new one beginning.
It started with a simple question in my mind. That question was ‘What is next?’, Life was so good that I felt it absurd I was questioning what was next. The question developed greatly over the next few months and eventually led me to responding to follow a call to ordination within the Church of England. One of the main things that led me to deduce that it was a call from God was that I was really happy with how life was and wouldn’t in myself pursue an avenue leading to that changing. I wanted to pursue the call in the knowledge that if it was right, I wanted to be obedient to it, and if not then I was happy with where I was at. The process went on and I was recommended for training and the end of the current chapter was in sight, as well as the start of a the new one.
As I looked to the future I was confident that it was the right thing, but was filled with uncertainty and doubt. I didn’t doubt the call, but doubted how I would cope with the work and also about living in community with other Ordinands, who I was convinced would be more prepared for this chapter than I was. At the same time I was leaving a place where I felt that I belonged, I was filled with purpose and understood the vision that we were working toward, and the culture I was living within. I was genuinely excited about all that was happening with STY:LE (Youth Ministry) and the direction that ‘Resolute’ (Youth church) was moving. St Tees was embarking on a building project aimed at serving the community to a greater degree. The feeling of loss was much more prominent than any excitement about the future. I feel this was largely due the fact that I didn’t have an insight into what I was going to. It was uncharted territory for me and I had no frame of reference for what the next chapter would hold.
That chapter began by almost mourning the loss of what I had left behind and endeavouring to figure life out where I was now. That took some time. For a term the things that I was uncertain and insecure about beforehand were prevalent. As time went on these uncertainties dissipated and I found myself not only being able to cope well with the level of work, but that I was learning so much from it. Along with the benefiting from the work I also found myself benefiting hugely from the community. I came to realise that we had far more in common than I envisaged, and rather than seeing the differences we did have as barriers, I found them to be a huge resource. It is fair to say that during my time at Cranmer Hall I have learned as much in the common room as I have in the lecture hall.
Last summer, eight months after starting at Cranmer hall plans and discussions were in place to leave. I received a letter from Bishop Julian informing me that after prayerful consideration they felt a curacy in Clitheroe, Lancashire could be the next chapter. After visiting a couple of times and speaking with the Vicar and some of the team, I also felt that it would be a good fit, but more than that, I felt a genuine excitement and it really felt right. After more prayerful consideration and reflection the incumbent and I agreed that this seemed to be the right course of action, and that Clitheroe would be the setting for the next chapter of my life.
That was formalised over the summer and I started back at Cranmer hall in the October. From that moment there has been an increasing sense of contrasting emotions. There has been a tension within me of a real excitement at what the future holds and again a sadness of leaving a chapter that I have enjoyed and learned so much. I am genuinely excited to be a part of Blackburn diocese and to be working at St James’ in the beautiful town of Clitheroe. These feelings though, run parallel to feelings of sadness at the thought of leaving the community where despite being uncertain of how I would fit in, has become a huge symbol of belonging and support. It has been strange to hold these two things together. With each excitement filled thought of the future, of serving and fulfilling the call that I so strongly feel, comes the painful realisation of all that I will leave behind.
The thought of leaving Durham as with leaving Sedbergh/Lancaster two years ago provides a joy in the fact that the thought of leaving brings a sense of loss. Being ready to leave and finding it easy to leave are not the same thing. I am ready for this chapter to end and for a new one to begin, but knowing that this chapter has brought so much, learning, so many good relationships, so much growth and so much formation brings with it a sense of sadness. I feel blessed that this is the case. Before arriving and for a short while after arriving at Cranmer I would never have envisaged that the thought of ending my time here would bring some heaviness to the heart.
These last two chapters in my life have indeed been ‘the good old days’ and I look forward to going into the future to experience more of those in this next chapter.
Until then I have essays to do…