A priest also represents the church both to its members and to the world. I am excited about showing everyone that church can be different from stuffy old pews and boring services, that church can be modern and exciting without losing itself and its traditions in the process. I am very passionate about letting every member of the church have an input, I believe in being an enabler more than a leader and I hope to include as many people as are interested in realising their vision for the church. At the same time I believe that the community of the church can only work as a unity and I know that my own obedience to the principles of the church and through these to my bishop is a large part of maintaining this unity.
The Eucharist has a special place in worshipping God. It is a great thanksgiving, a celebration of the great goodness of God where God meets his people in the closest way possible. In the Eucharist, we realise our identity as God’s loved ones and an opportunity to be guided into a fuller realisation of the calling of the church. During the Eucharist the congregation comes together as a community, is reminded of God’s word and life and his gifts for us, experience an age-old ritual that connects generations of believers, receive God himself and are sent out with his blessing as missionaries. Praying the Eucharistic Prayer is something I feel quite passionate about. The Eucharist was first celebrated by Christ and the shared meal with God at the table is an inspiration for me every Sunday and being able to share this with others seems truly awesome.
Good Morning. As you can imagine I am a bit nervous, standing in front of you like this for the first time. And I am even more nervous because I will be unconventional, radical even right now: I will be sharing my thoughts on how I read today’s gospel with you and standing up there behind the lectern would imply that I know more than you and am trying to teach you, which is not what I am doing. However, if I am standing down here, Andrew and Richard are at my back. And apart from that making me even more nervous, I also don’t want to develop a crick in my neck trying to look at them once in a while! So, here is the radical part: Andrew and Richard, would you please come and sit down here with us?
Coincidentally, being unconventional and even radical is a big part of what I read in today’s gospel. Jesus tells us a story of a shepherd and his sheep. He calls them, they come, and they certainly don’t listen to the thief climbing over the wall, they only listen to their shepherd. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? All is good, the sheep are safe and everyone lived happily ever after. Right? I don’t see this in the world as it is today. Not at all. It is more like the opposite of what I see!
There has to be more to this story. So let’s have a closer look. One really important image in this story is humanity as a herd of sheep. This image is used again and again in the bible both in the OT and NT. We are quite used to it by now and most of the time we take a look at what the shepherd does. Today I would like to take a look at the sheep in the story. Sheep are rather simple minded, they follow each other, panic at the slightest provocation and all of these mean they sometimes run over the edge of a cliff. We, the humans, can be quite similar to this: We focus on the easy-to-understand things in life, follow each other – listening to the same music, wearing the same clothes and so on – and sometimes this actually leads to our own destruction.
Being German I maybe have a special relationship with this behaviour. My grandfathers were volunteers for the army in 1939. They were excited to defend their country and restore its honour which they felt had been destroyed at the end of WW1 and the following years. They had seen the economic successes of Hitler and the 3rd Reich and were looking forward to a bright future for Germany and for themselves. But essentially they were good people. And so I grew up with one grandfather telling us children over and over again how stupid he had been and that he regretted nothing more than signing up for war. The other never spoke to me about his time as a soldier nor, as far as I know, to anyone else. I can only imagine that it was too painful for him. Only after he died, did we find some letters he wrote to his sister during his time at the front and in prison just after the war. The letters started off very happily, war was all sunshine and fun. But bit by bit the tone changed and though he couldn’t very well tell his sister explicitly, it is obvious that he lost his faith in the war and realised that it had been a terrible idea.
My grandfathers only realised what their mistake when it was already too late. They were caught in a flood that was just pulling them along and they could not find a way out. Of course theirs is a rather extreme example, but aren’t we all sometimes caught up in something we know is wrong? A lie leads to more lies until we have woven a tight net we can’t seem to escape, gossip divides us from each other and building a bridge across the divide becomes impossible, we do something even though we know it’s wrong. We literally cannot help ourselves.
So now, instead of it being happily ever after, everything is all doom and gloom? We always follow the herd and it leads us away from the shepherd towards the thief?
No. If there was no hope, there would have been no Jesus! The point I see in today’s Gospel is this: Jesus calls for us. Then, when the watchman opens the gate and the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, they follow him.
I’d like to talk a little bit about this calling from Jesus. When I was writing this sermon I was not sure I could do it. This was not because I don’t have the ability to speak in public or because I didn’t think my English was good enough but that Jesus calls me the same as all of you. I don’t know more than anyone else!
I have a confession to make. When I asked Andrew and Richard to come and sit down here I didn’t really do it because of my neck. I asked them because Jesus calls them the same as everyone, there is no one called more or called less, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a priest, postulant, come to church regularly or never at all – Jesus is calling you!
You might not realise you are hearing Jesus’ call. Rarely do we experience this call consciously – it only happened twice in my life, both of which were the most awesome experience and really changed me. The clarity and understanding of the beauty of God’s love and forgiveness were truly amazing.
Most of the time though, we don’t get that but we still can hear the call. God is talking to us by other means and they can be anything: other people, poetry, songs, hymns, really anything. For example, when we had the vision day, the young people decided to start a home group. There was no bright light shining down from heaven but I know it was still God calling us to do it. And you being here today is also answering God’s call, no matter what other reasons you might have. My family is here to support me, yo0u might come every week or for any other reason but today Jesus called all of us together to experience fellowship with each other, praise God and to listen for his call.
Often we cannot hear Jesus calling us. We are too caught up in our lives, we are distracted by our own lives. My grandfathers were full of pride for their country, anger at the other countries and seduced by their desire for the acceptance by others.
I wish there was a recipe to follow that works for everyone but there really isn’t. There are as many ways to open up to God’s calling as your imagination permits. They do all have one thing in common: We need to pay attention! We need to make sure that we are NOT too distracted to hear it blasting in our ears.
Because we can be sure of one thing, no matter whether we have experienced it or not:
Jesus calls out to every single one of us because he knows that, as sinful as we are, as many mistakes as we make, we are worth it and we CAN get it right! Jesus believes in you!
He believes in you so much, that he died for you on the cross and defeated death. Jesus loves you and he believes in you and he is calling for YOU!
I was really nervous. Really, really, really nervous. As in cannot breathe nervous. The only other time I was as nervous was just before my oral examination in Chemistry when I knew I didn’t really understand everything and, worse, hadn’t really prepared the way I should. Except this time, I was going to bare my sould in front of people I harly knew (plus my family and friends, with whom I would have to talk to again, too!). I was a wreck. The first half of th service just passed me by, really, I was caught in a haze of anticipation. Would they laugh when I was trying to be funny? Would they be touched by my personal input? Would they think I was being too radical (I didn’t think I was but the congregation has some rather conservative members). Then, the gospel was read and it was my turn.
I got up. I was wearing jeans and my faux leather jacket because I wanted to show
I don’t know if you have ever written a speech. The only ones I have given before were presentations at school or university, with power point slides, very technical requirements, none of which were inspiring the audience but mostly the dissemination of information. I had been successful at that but in preparing my first sermon, I quickly realised that this would be very different.
You are supposed to put yourself into your sermon. Your own thoughts, your understanding, your private recollections are really the only way to make it truly meaningful to your audience. And this is frightening. The idea of standing in front of a lot of people you know and will continue to know and basically undressing your soul for them is not something I relished doing.
When I was given the gospel for the day and it turned out to be John Chapter 10, I was stumped. I had nothing to say. I only had a question: Why is the world not perfect if we answer to our shepherd?
Thankfully, the Minister had a good idea – why not talk about that question? So simple and so great. Once I had that theme decided on, thing just flowed. I am lucky in that my mother is something of an expert on the art of rhetoric and for two months every night in bed I played with what I wanted to say. I even had a first version written down about two weeks before I was supposed to give the sermon and had planned to practice it on my friends – that never happened. I was too chicken and it didn’t feel like I had gotten it right yet.
I am one of those people who will start something in good time, get a first draft with plenty of time left and then won’t finish until the last minute when the pressure is on maximum. Accordingly I completely rewrote the whole thing on the Sunday morning at 9 o’clock (the service starts at 11.45h), practiced it in my hallway, rewrote some parts again on little note cards (there was no actual text until after I had to hand it in to the DDO) and left for church at 11am. I was nervous like you cannot imagine as I pulled up in the car and entered the church.
Preaching gives a priest the opportunity to speak out. They can take the time to explain a biblical concept in depth, enlighten the congregation of a misunderstanding, and inspire them. I hopefully will be able to convey Christ and to bring heaven and earth to each other. In this role the priest is a messenger from God to his people. He brings hope – and this is hard work, time-consuming and essential. It is necessary to keep the own imagination and hope alive in order to inspire others and to dream dreams of what could be with God. I need to keep it simple so that I will be understood. My regular engagement with scripture will teach me to listen to scripture in the light of the ordinary events of the day. My experience with preaching is rather small but it was a great experience to share God’s word and how I understand it with people I care about. Though it was frightening at first to expose myself in this way, I found out that the response is certainly worth it. I believe that sharing my passion for God’s word and mission on earth is one of the reasons I exist and I know that this will be something I will always do. However, I am well aware that there is much I still need to learn in order to be able to give truly inspiring speeches and even then not every sermon will be great. Also, my life outside the church will be watched carefully by others. I will be judged by many people’s ideas of what is right, quite a few of which will likely be contradictory. While I don’t relish this, I am ready and going into this with open eyes. I know that in the end I need to stay true to myself and my own conscience.
There is something really powerful about having someone’s full attention and knowing they are listening to every word I am saying. It is no less powerful to give someone your full attention and listen to every word they say. You connect with the other person, you get to know them on a new level, no matter what you are talking about, and a new understanding is found. All of this makes listening one of the most important things we can do for others. Listening alone can make a huge difference in someone’s life and sometimes it is the only thing left to do.
Jesus told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Unfortunately this is hard and gets even harder if we don’t know anything about them. Caring about some nameless and faceless person is infinitely more difficult that caring about someone we know. Therefore I believe, that one part of our Christian calling should be to know as much as possible about the people we meet so that we might love them. If we love our neighbours, we want to be there for them and help them when they need our help. Again, if we don’t listen, we don’t know what they might need and we don’t know how we might help them. Sometimes the best help is just listening and being there.
At University I joined a Nightline, a listening service run by students for students. That means students sit at a phone at night waiting for their fellow students to call, to talk through a problem they are experiencing. This can be anything, from stress with an assignment to a break-up or even worse. By talking it through with the volunteer, the student has someone when nobody else might be available, they can clear their mind and sort through their options. The idea for it was born in Exeter more than 40 years ago and has spread rapidly. The first German Nightline was founded in 1997 and now there are 15.
As a Nightliner I was able to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with being there for someone who is going through great turmoil, and it has pressed upon me the importance of also listening to others “in real life”. In our society we learn much about how to express ourselves to others. We tend to forget that without people receiving the information and seeing us for what we are, there is something important missing. What is point of being able to tell everyone exactly what you think if nobody is listening?
As a Christian I feel that it is part of my calling to achieve a better understanding between people. I hope that by supporting and promoting the art of listening we can make a difference in how we see each other. I am sure that if we listen to each other’s needs, it will also change how we treat each other and the world will be a better place because of it.
I will need to know and articulate the voice of my hearers, no matter how familiar or unfamiliar this might be and there is no substitute for being close to my parishioners – forming personal relationships is absolutely essential. Having the opportunity to form meaningful bonds through a common relationship with God is one of the best parts of being a member of the Christian community. As a priest this will be both more easy and more difficult than it is now and I have already felt a difference after announcing my intentions in the chaplaincy. A priest can be confidante and guide for those who feel comfortable with him or her. On the other hand, friendship can be difficult for the priest as their role in the community is rather exposed and he or she is by many seen as different from others. I would therefore pay special attention to making sure that I stay approachable, join in with the community at whatever they do (I will even go to cricket games!) and what defines them. At the same time I will need to keep an open ear toward issues that might come up within my parish. One parish can be home to more than one community and it is important that I am there for all and everyone. I need to be able to speak up when things are not right and to stand on principle whilst being flexible. Experiencing friendship and love in the relationship with others is necessary to my emotional well-being and spiritual life. Making connections with others is a great source of satisfaction and a source of strength. Even if some connections are fleeting at best and others are contrary rather than nice, without other people around me I cannot make do. Making a difference in somebody’s life is something I aspire to and in my experience a great way of doing this is by showing that I care (and I do care) and by listening to them. As a priest I would have much opportunity to use the skills I have learned throughout my life and this is something I look very much forward to. I don’t lose faith in others easily and I am able to see both sides of an argument even if I am personally involved. I think this will be very important in maintaining good relationships.
As you know, I am a scientist. and as such I have had my problems with the Bible. For years I bought into the myth that you either belived it all or you believed nothing. I know better now.
First of all, it’s not a book, but many books. Second of all there is no agreement how many books are in it. Third of all, we don’t really know who wrote any of it (except for a very few books).
A priest is called to proclaim the gospel to the community he or she lives in. In order to be able to do this I will need to be immersed in scripture, to literally marinate myself in it so its essence can be spread around. I will therefore be diligent in prayer, expose myself to scripture systematically and prayerfully and will study with regard to deepening my faith. A priests combines a passion for God’s word with a passion for living in God’s world and lives with attentive wonder. I will point out God’s work to others and listening to both the parish and God will help me to grow stronger and more mature in my ministry. As part of my prayer time, I read one chapter from the Old Testament and one chapter from the New Testament as well as a psalm each day. Only by truly opening ourselves to the many ways God communicates with us can we do his work in the world. Scripture for me is one of the most immediate ways God talks to me. Many times have I come to him with a problem, exhausted, tired or also happy and found some answer, comfort or joy in the chapter or psalm I was reading that day. Just as many times I was taught a lesson or inspired to be a better person through reading scripture. As a priest I will have a better understanding of scripture, both what it means and better skills to find meaning in it. Combining what I read in the Bible with what I am experiencing in the world and in my life brings me comfort and insight not least into myself.
When I first heard about the concept of a home group I could only snort. Clearly these were crazy people who had nothing better to do with ther life than get together and feel important because they were being good christians. Well, I was wrong. Very, very, very wrong. Idiotic even.
No, I am not married and I never had children. But organising a prep course for first communion and since then leading the Sunday School services in our chaplaincy have provided me with a small group of great kids with whom I get to learn and worship about once every two months.
As a priest I will be leading the communal worship of my community most of the time. It is a double calling to be worshipper and leader of worship in order to transform all. Not only would I lead a service though, I would be responsible for setting the tone of the worship of the community for which I need to be a liturgist at the technical level as well pay attention to the life of the world in my community so that the worship can express the intensity of God’s interaction with the world. Actually, I am a little overwhelmed by this. I don’t know very much about liturgy at all. I guess I will learn this at college…
I would tend to the worship of others as well as my own. In leading worship, my prayers will be an important source of information for others. I will have to walk the thin line of providing both the comfort of the familiar and the challenge of being out of one’s liturgical comfort zone which might well lead me out of my own comfort zone. It would be my responsibility to understand and apply the theology behind the liturgy used and to enable the understanding of others through it.This will be especially difficult since many people will just be sitting there, letting the words wash over tzhem without really listening to what is being said. As long as my expectations aren’t too high I should be fine!
Worship is a gift from God and I am called to share this gift with a specific community in a specific place at a specific point in time. This means that in order to make the community’s worship relevant, I will need to pay attention to the community I will serve, to the culture, newsworthy events and personal happenings. In my worship with this community I will have the chance to express the intensity of God’s interaction with the world. This will require me actually relating to my congregation. Oh bother! Me, the one with the odd music tastes, reading books that nobody else likes and being addicted to American TV Dramas! I will have to step things up a little… or possibly use my excentricities to good effect!
I have had some experience in leading worship, in a home group setting, reading in church, writing intercessions and praying with my Sunday school children. I found it both exhilarating and difficult. Leading worship means that there is a chance that I am the only one truly taking part in the worship. This can be both emotionally and spiritually exhausting. Isn’t there an easier way to meet people than sitting through a service being bored for more than an hour each Sunday? Porbably I am being very harsh. On the other hand, when there were others truly worshiping alongside me, leading them in prayer is meaningful and important. I have always felt that praying with others brings an additional level of immediacy to prayer and while I wouldn’t miss my personal praying time alone, prayer with others is also very important to me. Leading others in prayer regularly and having the chance to be a vessel of inspiration through God’s word is something I am very much looking forward to. And the children are the best!
Prayer is the ground on which my relationship with God stands. As I said before, my praying has evolved slowly, and the more I pray, the more I want to and the more I need to. Of course this has not happened over night but over years.
In 2010 I started praying intermittently, feeling slightly foolish when I was praying. I had never truly prayed by myself before and it was a very new experience. It felt like I was saying these (often not very meaningful words) into thin air and there they just vanished. I had a few good experiences, too, when God’s presence was very tangible and his comfort and support manifest in the words I was reading. And so I realised, that it helped me be at peace to talk to God and I prayed more regularly. Eventually I designed my own daily prayer with a psalm being read in the morning and two readings from OT and NT in the evening. The Daily Office provided by the CoE was too stuffy and structured – and also too long! – for me at the time.
In 2013 I also started a prayer diary, after our chaplain suggested it in one of his sermons (see, some people really do listen!). Writing down my prayers helps me to focus and think about what is important for me at the time. It helps to make my prayer seem more real and shows me when God answers my prayers. Also, it gives me a way to trace how oftyen and how regular I pray. If I miss a day or two, I ask myself why and try to not let that same reason divide me from God again.
Around November 2013 I discovered “Time to Pray” on Amazon and I feel using it gives me the structure and routine I need while leaving me with the free space to make the prayer a time I can open up to God and his word. It is based on the Daily Office but I use it creatively, with my own Bible readings and reflections. Sometimes I ignore it and just talk to God. mostly though, it is very helpful to have a framework on which to base my prayers. Praying daily has helped deepen my relationship with God and reach a new level of commitment. At the beginning prayer was very much a chore I had put on myself, now it is something that I look forward to.
How do you pray, I get asked – by friends and also (more scary) as part of my application form by the DDO. I can of course describe the structure of the prayers I say in the morning and evening (basically an adapted version of the daily office). But does this really answer the question?
Actually that’s exactly what I wrote on the application form. But to my freind I said something very different. I pray, I said, using a structured prayer every morning and evening. This I do every day. Sometimes, I feel God there with me and sometimes I don’t. I use the structure to guide me in what I want to say. So there is me saying that I am sorry, thanking and praising God for the day and then, of course all the pleas and requests. I use beautiful language that has been passed down for centuries and even millenia. I use modern language that really hits the meaning I want to convey. I use my own words to express my feelings.
But this is just a little part of my praying. because throughout the day I will also say little prayers of thanks and little requests as they come up. So when an ambulance goes by, I ask God to be with those they are helping. When I receive good news, I thank God. At mealtimes I say grace (silently if I am with others who don’t).
It is the combination of both, I told my friend, that really makes the difference in my relationship with God. Prayer is something that becomes more meaningful the more you do it. As your relationship with God grows, so does your need to communicate with him. And now, prayer is something I just do, without even thinking about it. And my life is so much richer because of it.
Worshipping God is the most important part of a priests calling, being the inspiration for and informing all of his or her other activities. Worshipping God is taking a step back from the preoccupation with ourselves. It is deciding again and again to give God my soul, my life, my all. Through praying we give and receive love from the one source of all things and we proclaim this love to the world. Worshipping god and regular prayer is immensely satisfying. They can give me a feeling of accomplishment, of having helped when no other help was possible. Prayer gives me a connection, to God but also to others. As a priest I will continue with worshiping God regularly and it will help me to continue giving my life to him. Much of my life I did not know to pray or how and the journey of learning how to talk to God was long, full of stumbling blocks but also with great accomplishments and gratification. Prayer has become something I do like eating and drinking and I cannot imagine doing without. Sometimes I find it difficult to get started but for this reason, I think, there is the Daily Office. in this set text of prayers I can get started even when I don’t know how and it gives me a framework with which to work when I am uninspired. At the same time it is the moments during the day when I give God a quick thank you or please that can be the most meaningful.
Like I wrote on Friday, there are many hoops to jump through when discerning your calling to priesthood. Not least of this is a thick pack of papers and book chapters given to me by the DDO with an A4 list attached at the front detailing the many essays I needed to write before my interview. One of them is not so much an essay but an application from. This is fine, until you see questions along the lines of: Describe your journey in faith. How has your prayer life developed over the years? Describe your life so far. Who are the people imnportant in your life and how do they support you?
You try answering those questions in less than 500 words (which I didn’t have to, thankfully) because just for one of those alone I wrote 2 A4 pages. And it still didn’ feel complete. One of the requirements in this process is, of course, complete honesty and I was but there is no way you can actually tell them EVERYTHING that has ever been important in your life. And true enough there were a lot fo follow up questions at the interview…
I also had to write my own obituary (basically my life in the thrid person in 2000 words) and an essay on the nature of the office of a priest and how I feel called to it. Then I also was supposed to write something short on the Anglican communion/ church of England, 300 words detailing how I fulfill the different criteria they look for (there are 9), something on the Bible, something on the academic study of the Bible and whether it is threatening and a sermon. I had to give the sermon, not just write it, too! I’ll get back to that later.
I got away with not writing all of the above (thank goodness!) but the ones I did write really helped me a lot in sorting through my jumbled thoughts, directing my exploration of my calling and I am grateful in that all of this confirmed my calling. It could have completely gone the other way! Writing these also caused me to discuss many of the questions raised with differnt people from my chaplaincy for which i am also very grateful. It strengthened these relationships and gave me new points to think about at the same time.
So, thank you CoE. This has been a great journey so far, yes, exhausting at times, and frustrating, but also immensely gratifying and fulfilling! Possibly everyone should do this once just to clear their head (but then, who would, if not getting a kick from God first?).
Becoming a priest in the Church of England is not something that you just do. First you go through a rigorous discernment process, both for the church to find out whether you are indeed the right person for this calling and for yourself to find out and to clarify your calling to the priestly office. The process differs from diocese to diocese and for the Diocese of Europe in which I find myself after moving back to Germany, it takes at least 18 months, though for most it is much longer. Currently I am at an in-between stage. I have not been accepted yet but have jumped through the first few hoops and completed some of the necessary steps. The first step (and this is the same no matter where you live, and, I suspect, no matter which church you worship with) is to talk to you local priest or vicar (here it’s a chaplain). In these conversations (and they should be several), you first discuss your sense of calling, he’ll give you some reading to do (the whole process will involve a lot of reading!) and guide you in your first baby steps explorations. If you are lucky, like me, your vicar will be supportive and helpful. The conversations can be really meaningful and help you to learn much about yourself and, incidentally, your vicar and his sense of calling. Eventually he will give your name to your Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) – or whatever the equivalent is called in your diocese. This is when the official process starts. In the Diocese of Europe you are first invited to an informal weekend in London, when you meet others interested in ordination, learn about the process, a little about the Church of England and visit some “typical” parishes. This is necessary because many of the participants have only encountered the Church of England in its chaplaincies abroad, these visits show them parish life in England. After this visit you go back to your chaplaincy. The PCC has to officially adopt you as a postulant before things can progress. You are given a thick pack of papers to read and a long list of essays to write. Then you are invited to an interview with the DDO. This just happened a few weeks ago for me. In September I will attend another conference, when there will be more interviewing, a presentation, group discussions and after that, I will (or will not) be invited to appear before a bishop advisory panel. That is when the final decision will be made – will I receive training or not?
I don’t know if any of out there had to go through similar processes. For me it has been both illuminating and a hassle – I do have a “real” job to do on the side and am living my life with all its many distractions as well as preparing for this. How did you experience your discernment period? Did your church make you jump through similar hoops?
I have been absent for quite some time and this is me, coming back to blogging. A lot has happened since I last wrote anything to you and I believe it is time to fill you in.
First, I have been back in Germany for almost 2 years, working for my brother in the office of his catering service, organizing events, personnel and administrative stuff. It has been a great two years of learning a lot, experiencing the real world and discovering what I am called to do with my life.
This brings me to the second change in my life and arguably the more important one. For the last year and a half I have been exploring my calling to ministry in the church of England. It has been quite the journey and I will tell you much more about this in the future I am sure. So far the process has been grueling but also greatly rewarding and I have learned a lot about me, my relationship to God and my faith.
So much for the update of my life. I am looking forward to sharing more with you soon.