Classically Inclined

July 1, 2021

A curve in the road: some personal news

Filed under: Meta — lizgloyn @ 10:18 pm

Over the last year or so, those of you who follow me on Twitter with any degree of attention will have noticed cryptic references to doing Things Not For Work or having Big Non-work Things on the horizon. This has been partly because it was entirely possible that there would be no news to share in the end, and partly because – well, it’s the sort of thing which you only really want to make public if there is news to share.

That news is now confirmed, so I am both very pleased and a wee bit scared to tell you that I have been recommended for training for ordination in the Church of England.

I am anticipating that this will raise a lot of questions, so I thought that I would use an FAQ format to address the ones I’m assuming will come to mind, and quite possibly some that won’t. There will inevitably be some God-language in what follows.

Wait, what? Does this mean you’re leaving academia?

Very much no, it does not mean that. You are not going to see me running off to a residential college and thence to a rural vicarage any time soon.

…I have no idea how that works.

This is probably because you’re thinking of a priest as a vicar, that is, a priest in charge of a parish. There are lots of different ways to be a priest in the Church of England; some of them are really well known, like being a chaplain, and some of them are less well known.

You’re doing one of the less well known things here, aren’t you.

How well you know me, imaginary interlocutor. Yes, I am doing a thing which isn’t necessarily obvious and that I didn’t even know existed when I started this process. The PhD describing it was only completed in 2019, and the following book came out last year; it’s building on a very long tradition of Worker Priests, who originated in France in the 1940s and are still very active. The Worker Priests are priests who work alongside industrial workers on the railroads, mines and other similar hard manual labour, honouring the presence of God in that place. The place I feel I’m meant to be at the moment is a Priest in Secular Work – so a priest who has a ‘professional’ job, and does their priesting in that place. You can find Priests in Secular Work in all sorts of places – teaching, hospitals, accountancy, and, of course, universities.

What does that actually look like, then?

In some ways, that’s the million-dollar question, because given the wide variety of workplaces you might be in, there are no hard and fast rules – it’s very much dependent on context. In my case, Royal Holloway has a chaplaincy which I expect I’ll be more involved with in the future, but it’s also just about – being in the right place at the right time to do the right thing, and honouring the work of God done in that place. Certainly we all agree that helping young people come into their full potential as well as create new knowledge about the world is what we’re there to do; part of what a Priest in Secular Work does is frame that as as part of the bigger divine picture.

Isn’t that morally problematic?

It certainly would be if Priests in Secular Work weren’t really careful about professional boundaries – in fact, the same professional boundaries that we should observe with our students anyway because of the massive power differentials between us. I need to be very clear that this isn’t about trying to abuse that power relationship, or putting students under inappropriate pressure, or indeed trying to replace the chaplaincy as the ‘designated’ spiritual support for students. Priests in Secular Work in these kinds of roles see their ministry as operating much more with their colleagues, implicitly as much as explicitly; one of the really important elements of that role is that they are in exactly the same position when it comes, for instance, to restructuring and redundancies as anyone else, and have solidarity with that experience. The gift of valuing that work as part of the divine plan should be a transformative positive force for everyone.

Cool, so do we call you Rev. now?

No, you don’t. I have to go through a period of training first; then I do a curacy, get deaconed, then priested, and after that I’m all independent and so forth.

I am getting the sense this may take a while.

Yes, it will, and that’s as it should be. I should point out that this whole ‘are you meant to be doing this?’ process has been going on since my late teens, so this has been on the back burner for Some Considerable Time. I won’t be starting training until September 2022, in part to try and give us as a family a normal year (whatever that looks like now) with normal patterns of school and work, which we haven’t had so far due to my sabbatical and the COVID-19 pandemic. My training will last for three years, part time in evening classes, and then the curacy will be another three years.

Yes, that is a while.

It is! And that’s a good thing! Because it lets me do it alongside staying in academia, which has been deeply intertwined with the call to ordination for the last two decades, and it lets me work out precisely what this Priest in Secular Work thing looks like in my context at a sensible speed.

Back up a bit. How do you get selected for ordination training?

That part has been going on for the last two years in various ways. In my diocese, you start by seeing an Area Vocations Adviser, then the Diocesan Vocation Adviser, and then you go to your Diocesan Director of Ordinands, who spends several months having a sequence of pretty in-depth and challenging conversations with you. You also do something called a Priest Project around what it means to be a priest, chat to people who are already priests, undergo a formal psychotherapeutic assessment, have various meetings with people who know about this stuff, and do some training around DBS and safe-guarding policy. This all culminates in a Bishops’ Advisory Panel or BAP, except due to the pandemic mine was actually a TODP or Temporary On-line Discernment Process; in practice this meant that instead of three residential days being observed and interacting with other folk in the same position, I got two really intense conversations on the Friday before half term.

That all sounds pretty thorough.

Yes, you do get put through the ringer – but, on the plus side, by the time you get to this stage, you know it’s the right choice.

Liz, you are very supportive of LBGT+ colleagues/colleagues of colour/women – how does that fit in?

Let’s put it this way – there’s God, and there’s the Church. The Church is an institution; like all institutions, it has its problems. Let’s face it, I’m coming from academia, I know about institutions with problems. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth keeping the good stuff and being part of transformation, regeneration and, yes, doing God’s work. Things are changing in both the Church and academia, slowly but surely, and the way to keep that change happening is to keep working for it. So that’s what I’m going to do, using the values I’ve always held, which are grounded in God’s radical love for each and every human.

But Liz, you once said an unkind thing/made a mistake/swore in public/approve of a thing I strongly disapprove of! How can you be a priest?

Well, that’s the miracle of it all, isn’t it? We are all of us human and we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Being called to priesthood doesn’t mean there’s anything special or perfect about me, and thank goodness there isn’t – I wouldn’t cope with the pressure. But I have faith in the God who forgives me my sins, and picks me back up and dusts me off when I fall flat on my face (as I so often do). I fully expect that people will disagree with me – but the key is not letting that disagreement get in the way of doing the work which so sorely needs doing.

1 Comment »

  1. Cheers, Liz—this is really great news! I think this work will be very meaningful to you, and I think you’ll be wonderful at it. Congratulations and best wishes for a rewarding, if challenging, path ahead.



    Sharon L. James
    Professor of Classics
    Affiliated Faculty in Comparative Literature, and Women’s and Gender Studies

    Comment by James, Sharon L — July 1, 2021 @ 11:29 pm | Reply

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