GUEST POST:// Catherine Haydon is a second-year ordinand at Wycliffe Hall. Originally from the glorious North West, she was an RE teacher in the Midlands and consequently has a large collection of I-can’t-teach-today DVDs. She also spent two years on the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme.
Recently I returned to my Oxford home after spending the Easter weekend celebrating with my parents to find the following message written on our fridge whiteboard: Vicar school = Always Lent, Never Easter. I share a house with five other female ordinands, and after what had been a particularly tough term for me since Christmas, it was nice to know I wasn’t alone in my slight sense of despair! I know without a doubt that I’m in the right place doing the right thing, but that certainly doesn’t mean it’s easy, or that I always enjoy it, or that I even want to be here half the time! Don’t get me wrong, there’ve been some incredible moments so far; I’ve been stretched and challenged and grown in ways beyond understanding, and I’ve met people I can’t imagine not having in my life, but theological college is hands down the toughest thing I’ve ever put myself through (and I spent five years teaching teenage boys in a previous life!)
I love a good moan (I’m a Northerner, it’s what happens when you grow up with so much rain) and this year’s Easter weekend moaning revolved around my mother’s inability to pick a colour so I could get on and paint her kitchen, and the amount of social media posts I kept seeing on Good Friday and Holy Saturday which announced ‘Don’t worry, Sunday’s coming’. I realise I’ve probably insulted half the people reading now; this is why I’m only a one-off feature on Hannah’s blog. Yes we are an Easter people, yes we live in the light and the glory of the resurrection, yes we need to be telling people about the sure and certain hope we have and speaking light into the darkness of their lives, but sometimes we just need to sit in that place of sorrow and grief and anguish and despair and uncertainty and confusion, in the in between and the nothingness and the overwhelming sense of emptiness those first followers of Jesus must surely have felt.
In my experience, the church isn’t always very good at doing this; so often we want to be able to offer comfort and try and fix problems, and in our haste we can be clumsy and say things which aren’t helpful, when what we probably need to be doing is simply sitting with people in their pit. My dad has a degenerative neurological condition, and to say it’s been a rubbish couple of years for our family would be an understatement. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that God has a bigger plan, or that he won’t give me more than I can handle, or that we just have to have faith and God will heal Dad. I must confess my responses now are slightly less polite than they once were. The best response from people have been those who said “I’m really sorry, that’s rubbish, what can I do?” The answer is there’s nothing anyone can do, and what I need is for people to just be with me. To listen to me rant and rave at God and the world, to drink wine and hold my hand while I have a good cry, to just be with me without words in that Saturday feeling of being lost and confused and as sad as sad can be.
This Easter, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that my whole life at the moment feels like three long years of a Saturday. Maybe not the depths of despair that Mary Magdalene felt as she stumbled to the tomb, but the feeling of being in between, of feeling pain from leaving one life but not yet being in the new one, of the ego bruising de-skilling confusion and loss of sense of self identity that college brings, of the now but not yet. It’s always Lent and never Easter.
But then God started reminding me of all the little Easter’s I have been having over the last eighteen months, of all the ways in which God’s still been working in my life and categorically hasn’t abandoned me. I think about the times I’ve sat in a lecture and learnt from some truly incredible tutors, of the life-giving joy I found when I discovered feminist theology, of the communion service when I was brought to my knees at the realisation of the depth of Christ’s reconciling love (I’m a low church evangelical, weeping at receiving communion was a new experience!), of countless hours in the pub laughing hard with friends, of my prayer triplet soul sisters who hold me together, of plastic cockroaches hidden in each other’s beds and wrapping the entire kitchen in brown parcel paper and other practical jokes that the Bursar needs to never find out about, of my wonderful placement chapel community who have embraced me at their table and welcomed me into their family without question or hesitation and taught me what it truly means to be church, of the sheer joy and peace that comes from being obedient to God.
College is hard, there’s no denying that, and it’s definitely true for me that God has often felt distant, and confusion is rife; I seem to be having an existential crisis on an almost daily basis! But we serve a God who never abandons us, even in the longest of Saturdays, who has defeated death and risen again, and who offers us glimmers of Easter hope even in the longest of Lents. Alleluia!
Are you an ordinand? Would you like to write for ‘Confessions of a Trainee Vicar?’ Use the ‘Contact’ page to get in touch, I’d love to hear from you – and I know others would to!