I received the letter today from the Bishop signing me off – my initial ministerial education is complete.
Like the rest of the world, the past 12-18 months have been like nothing I’ve ever experienced or could have expected, and I don’t think I can even start to do it justice in a short piece like this. But I did want to mark the occasion.
The massive thing about my curacy for me has been the discovery of Self Supporting Ministry as something other than Stipendiary-Lite, and this is a journey I am still on. “There is no one way of being a priest” (++Rowan Williams)
As for next steps – I am going to become an Associate Minister (SSM), and continue to explore workplace ministry in my new software job, and hopefully continue to publish my theological thoughts and reflections along the way.
For now it is celebration and a sense of achievement, and enormous thanks to all those who have walked alongside me on the way, not least of whom is my wonderful wife and children.
As I have now entered the fourth, and hopefully final, year of curacy, I thought it was about time for an update (seeing as this blog is supposed to be a record of my curacy journey)!
As I posted in the September last year, I have been trying to think and reflect a lot more about Self Supporting Ministry, and reading as many books as I can find on the subject (and there aren’t an awful lot). Part of the upshot of this was a realisation that I needed to give my day job (and ministry there) more respect – it isn’t something I can just fit in on top of a leadership role and parish ministry.
So my final year of curacy is going to have a somewhat different shape – instead of working 4 days a week in paid employment, and then spending on day a week at church doing parish things, I am rather going to continue in my 4 days a week at work (albeit different days), and then have the other day a week to build in some time and space. To be honest, curacy has been a real struggle in terms of my own head-space, and I have found it really hard not having time on my own to process stuff. I guess the final straw came for me when I realised that I wasn’t giving my best at work, or behaving in the way I wanted to towards my colleagues, because I was essentially running on empty.
I’m anticipating that this change will allow to me to be a bit more intentional in both resourcing and exploring what (priestly) ministry in the (secular) workplace might be about.
In practical terms, it means I have now stepped back from parish ministry and being a member of the staff team at church (which has been an interesting experience in itself). I am very much still a licensed member of clergy, and continue with leading services and preaching – these are things which I believe are at the heart of the ministry God is calling me to. However I am no longer particularly involved in the pastoral and occasional offices, or indeed any specific area of ministry, or church governance (except that I still serve on PCC and Deanery Synod).
Of course, this beautiful new plan was all pre-covid19 – and while I have indeed stepped back from parish ministry, it has been replaced with a perfect storm at my paid job, and home schooling on my days not at work, as well as supporting my wife as a front-line worker. The picture since the start of term in September has been slightly better – work has calmed down, and I have had a couple of Fridays to myself; but to be honest life is still pretty tough in our household, as I know it is for lots of households.
My “365” project has had a fresh lease of life recently, since I started almost entirely using my phone camera. It hugely simplifies the workflow (as the photos are auto uploaded from the phone), and also means I’m not lugging around my DSLR.
It does mean that the photos are more like snapshots, and perhaps less considered, but I’m quite enjoying the freedom of not really having many options around aperture, shutter, etc. It’s kind of the instagram philosophy I guess.
I use my Canon DSLR for filming stuff, and almost any external mic is a huge improvement on the built-in one, so this has worked well.
However, when I plugged either of these into my laptop for the broadcast, I had to boost the gain, which in turn introduced a hum/buzz, and it was also picking up some internal computery noises. No problem, think I – I have an old mixer with mic pre-amps, let’s use that, and provide a line level input to the laptop.
No joy at all – no signal. These mics both have 3.5mm TRS jacks (actually the SmartLav comes with a TRRS, but I have a converter). My Mixer has XLR or 1/4″ TS or TRS inputs, so I try various converters. Absolutely nothing.
I then discover that these sort of microphones (unlike, say, an SM58) need a power supply, in the form of a voltage between the tip and the sleeve – called a DC Bias. This is only around 3v, and if you try to run phantom power down it, you will most likely fry the mic.
I found a few old YouTube videos of inline power supplies people has bought on eBay – but my searches brought up nothing. Until I found this page: Powering Microphones by Tomi Engdahl. I had a look at his circuits, and thought to myself, “I could make one of those”, so I did, and it worked!
It does give a bit of a “thump” when you plug it in, or turn it on, which I guess is due to the capacitor (presumably I have the wrong sort), but it provides a solid, if slightly low, level from the smartlav to the mixer pre-amp. I wonder if 3 AAs might have been a better bet, and 3V is a little low. Or maybe the 2.2K resistor is to high (or low), and provides too much (or too little impedance)? I confess I lose my way a little with microphone impudence, but figured it was worth a shot, as I was unlikely to blow up either my microphone or the mixer from 2 AA batteries.
My final circuit is shown below. I ordered all the parts from CPC Farnell, as follows:
Black ABS Potting Box – 100x50x25mm
Black Potting Box Lid – 100x50x25mm
3.5mm Jack Socket, 3 Pole
6.35mm (1/4″) Jack Socket, 2-Pole
2x AA Battery Holder
Rocker Switch, DPST,
LED, Blue, 3mm, 3.5V
300 Ohm Resistor, 0.6W
2.2 kOhm Resistor, 0.5W
Capacitor, 10 µF
I originally designed it with a single 3.5mm jack, however the order quantity was 2, so I decided to have a stereo 3.5mm output option, with the rings of the 2 jacks directly connected (shown in blue).
The only purpose of the LED is to show when the box is switched on.
A days work drilling out the mount holes for the LED, jacks, and switch, and the job was a good ‘un. It was all a little bit tight in the potting box, and I don’t think a 3 AA battery holder would fit inside, but I’m quite happy with it, and it even works!
A few weeks ago, I was praying with someone, and I had what I believe was a prophetic word from God for them. While it was for them personally, it came back to me this morning as a much wider word for our times.
The essence was about seeking God in the “micro” choices. In the right now. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen in 3 months, 6 months, 5 years, or even next week. Just here. And now. What is God saying to you about the next 5 minutes, 30 minutes? How are you going to be aware of Him, and be full of Him right now? What choice are you going to make about what you are going to do right now.
I think this is a key question for our time, even before Covid-19, but especially since. It seems so much of our “go to” is a device – at least it is for me and my household. Switching on the TV, flicking through BBC News app, checking e-mail, Twitter, Instagram, … How easy to grab for the phone, or laptop, or remote when we have 5 minutes ‘spare’, and are not sure what to do. It’s easy to live live at a hundred miles an hour, and to try and cram as much as possible into every second.
“Devices” aren’t inherently bad – in fact they have been almost literally a lifeline for some people, and hugely important for society. It is astonishing to me that my working and church life has become virtual/online almost overnight. Never-the-less part of my Lent this year was giving up video games (Candy Crush, or Mario Karts, or whatever) – in part because I recognise that it easily becomes something I reach for when I’m bored, or tired, or feeling insecure, or anxious, or trying to put something off, or avoiding something, or there’s a “y” in the day, or it’s after 9am, or … The thing I really noticed was how much extra time and head space this freed up, even though I thought it was only 5 minutes here and there.
The truth is we are constantly faced with choices about how we use our time. Every minute, every second, every breath is a gift from God. Every day we have choice moments – “what am I going to do next?”. Perhaps it’s living with an extremely energetic 9 year old, but I get “What can I do now?” several times a day! Each of these moments, these cusps, are a chance to try and hear the Spirit’s whisper in our ears. “Do nothing for a bit”. “Why not go outside” (if you can). “Do the crossword”. “What about that TV programme you wanted to watch?”. “Pray for you family”. “Make a menu and shopping list for next week”. “Play a game of cards”. “Make that phone call you’ve been putting off”.
I’m not suggesting a super-spirituality – just a kind of walking with God throughout the day. The truth is that I know full well when I am doing something I shouldn’t, or wasting time, or neglecting my responsibilities. But I also have days when I am much more aware and present. Where I’m not reacting to the day’s events, or how I’m feeling, but making intentional choices – pausing at each moment, before each activity, and asking the question “is this what God wants me to do right now?”
The backdrop of this all is of course anxiety – even before Covid-19. Worry about the future. Constant activity. Jesus response to this is “Do not worry”. God’s gift to us is peace.
Some practical pointers, then, from my own experience:
Firstly – slow down! Rushing from one activity to another is a sure fire way to increase stress and anxiety. Just pause between one thing and the next. If you do have a fixed time for something – like a live stream, or a meeting – don’t try and cram in lots of extra stuff before it. Instead be ready for it a few minutes early, and be still. Even something as simple as boiling the kettle or going to the loo can be a pause point – resist the temptation to pick up your device!!
Secondly, make a list of everything you want to do, or need to remember. I am a huge fan of lists, and trying to remember everything in your head is another source of anxiety and stress. It also helps with living in the now. I’ve finished my crossword – look at list – ah yes I need to put the slow cooker on for supper this evening.
Finally when things start to feel overwhelming, when your chest tightens, and tears threaten, you could try something like the “Apple” technique from AnxietyUK (and posted on BBC News). This seems to me to very close to prayer – or at least could very naturally lead into prayer.
Try practising the APPLE technique which encourages you to Acknowledge, Pause, Pull back, Let go and Explore..
Acknowledge – Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
Pause – Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Just pause and breath.
Pull back – Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
Let go – Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
Explore – Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.
What a strange Easter morning it is though, stuck as we are in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown. Much much more to be said about all this, about church, about community – but the inspiration for this post was when I was awoken at about 4.30 this morning.
You see, the more Easters I have, the more I feel that we jump the gun a bit. It took the first disciples a further 50 days before the joy and release of the resurrection took hold. Immediately after Easter, they continued to be in “isolation” – a frightened community hiding behind locked doors, unable to meet in public or understand what was going on, and most of all what part God was playing in it all. Our most reliable sources for Mark’s gospel end at verse 8 of chapter 16. “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.”
In the early hours of this morning, an emergency vehicle siren sounded out over Harrogate. It may have been more than one – it was hard to tell – but it was very eerie, and unusual. As I lay in bed, in semi-darkness, listening, it struck me as being very close to that first Easter Sunday. The tomb was empty. It’s like going to put flowers on a grave, and finding it has been dug up and there’s just a hole. And surely word would have got back to the authorities pretty quickly about the empty tomb, and I’m sure they moved in.
My point is not to diminish just how extraordinary Easter Sunday was and is, and that it is a time of great joy of celebration. Of course it is.
But it is also an event within a much wider story, that ranges at the very least from Good Friday to Pentecost. To be unsettled, scared, in isolation, hopeful but not really sure what it’s all going, or where and when it will end is part and parcel of the Easter story.
To know that something extraordinary is going on, and God is on the move, yet to also have doubts and fears is the walk of faith. As followers of Jesus, we live in the “now” and the “not yet”. With the joy and certain hope of the resurrection, while at the same time living in the occupied (but defeated) territory of sin and death.
So as we continue in lockdown, under the shadow of covid-19, we also know this is not the last word. Easter Sunday of all days gives us hope for the future.
May you all know God’s blessing this day, whether in houses full of joy (and chocolate) or full of tears. May you know the hope of the resurrection, even in the midst of confusion, fear, boredom and isolation.
At my work we regularly have business development sessions, where we review performance, do some forward planning, and so on. We also usually do some organisational development – around teamwork, communication, that sort of thing. Last summer we had a session on culture, and the organisational culture in particular. Now I am lucky enough to work in a company that has a very healthy and positive culture – we have a high level of transparency, trust, encouragement, cooperation, and a low level of passive aggression, sabotage, negativity, secrecy, politicking, and so on.
All good stuff.
But then one of my colleagues observed that if we were talking about computer code then it’s sometimes a different story. It can be opaque, aggressive, trying to catch you out, kick you in the backside and laugh about it (metaphorically).
This notion was something of a revelation to me. He is absolutely right though – computer code does have a “culture”, and I don’t just mean the resulting piece of software. Ok, so most of us have used software that seems straightforward and intuitive – it does exactly what you want, and you get the desired effects without even having to think about it. And I imagine that most of us have also used computer programs that could have been written by Satan himself, seemingly designed to frustrate us and make life miserable.
A similar thing can happen with the actual source code of the program. It can be a helpful and co-operative; easy to understand and maintain, you can have confidence that changing one bit here isn’t going to break something over there. Or it can be obstructive and difficult. A spaghetti tangle of interactions, where it’s almost impossible to understand the logic, and you can be pretty sure that changing one bit is going to have a completely unexpected side effect in an unrelated part of the system.
Park that thought for just a minute, as we move to another thread.
Over the past year in particular, I have been thinking a lot about what it means for me to a minister (or priest) at work. This is absolutely not a liturgical or ecclesial role – I am paid to be there as a software engineer and application developer, not a vicar. Never-the-less, in common with all Christians I believe this 9-to-5 is a part of my calling and vocation, and therefore surely my ordained ministry must/should/could encompass this as well? There are a couple of ‘soft’ answers to this; about being a Christian/priestly presence, about building up my colleagues, about ministry to the structures at work, especially where there is injustice or inequality. About being a prophetic voice. While I absolutely agree with all of these; they would also all be true if I was a fisherman, or a management consultant, or whatever. There are also easy answers around the output of the work; if I were a doctor or a teacher, or worked for a Christian company creating worship software, these are all clearly directly working towards the Kingdom of God.
Is there some way in which I, as a software developer, have a specific ministry?
So my thoughts turned towards the specifically priestly ministry, which Jim Francis draws out of the Ordinal in 3 distinctive strands: “bless”, “reconcile”, and “nurture”. I get these three (and again, think they are common to all Christians) – but what might blessing, reconciling, and nurturing actually look like for me, in my workplace?
Hold onto that thought for a moment as well, as there is one more piece of the jigsaw.
Another colleague recently pointed out that when I write code at work it is not “my” code. I don’t own it. It is the company’s intellectual property, and it may have a lifespan well beyond my time at the company. It is likely that it will not be me who is the next person to edit it. So when I submit a piece of code for peer review, and they suggest some changes, I have to take that seriously because it’s not my code, or my baby (however much it might feel like it). Furthermore, the principal way that I interact with my colleagues (and indeed our customers) is through the code I write. If I write code badly, that causes pain for my immediate colleagues, as well as those to come. On the other hand, if I write code well, that can be a source of blessing to my colleagues. They can pick up a method I wrote, easily understand what it is doing, and why I wrote it that way, and make whatever modifications they may mean to.
It is at this point all these thoughts collide – that the code itself can be ‘nice’ or ‘nasty’; that part of my calling is to be a blessing to my colleagues; and that my code is principally consumed by those colleagues… and you are probably already way ahead of me.
Is it too much to leap to the notion that one of the ways that I can exercise a ministry at work is by writing blessèd code. I don’t mean consecrated, I mean code that it is means of blessing. I mean that when someone I work with opens up something I have written, it can be a pleasurable experience? A joy to see beautiful, well crafted, and elegant code that is a blessing to work with?
And we don’t need to stop there.
The end result (i.e. the piece of software itself) can also be blessèd – a joy and blessing to use. This is potentially a ministry to both our customers, and our technical support team.
Or to move the opposite direction, code can also be “cursed” – again not hexed, but rather a curse to work with, bringing pain and torment. I have certainly seen enough of that code in my career. But even “cursed” code can usually be ‘saved’. It can be re-written or refactored into blessèd code – and might this in turn be a picture of reconciliation and redemption?
And if we are working to create a blessèd environment within which to be joyful and fruitful in our labour, that is something of the Kingdom of God, surely? I don’t think anyone would question that turning a scrapyard full of stinging nettles and old tires into a wildflower meadow, or even an allotment, was bringing about something of the Kingdom of God – order out of chaos, life out of death. I’m not sure that it’s any different for code.
And it doesn’t stop at code either. If you write protocols or instructions, if you run the IT network, if you’re in charge of the laundry – all of these things, potentially never seen by anyone outside our organisation, can be the basis of a ministry to colleagues, a means of blessing and advancing the Kingdom of God.
Or they can be the opposite.
Anyway, apologies for such a long and unstructured post – this concept has been brewing in my mind for many months now, and I am going to write a proper article on it at some point, but I felt like I was going to explode if I didn’t put it out in some form!
My new “rules” for the 365 have had the opposite of my intended effect!
I had hoped they would spur me on to take more photos, but actually there have been two times already when I haven’t taken a photo because I alreeady have “today’s”, and at least one time when I haven’t taken on Saturday just because it was Saturday. I think partly as a result I haven’t taken one at all for two weeks!
So I am abandoning the new rules, and going back to my old rules, which is as many as I fancy a week, and if they’re not posted on the right day that’s ok.