Confessions of a Trainee Vicar

Reluctantly Residential. Why I Was Wrong

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GUEST POST:// Ian Sarginson has just finished two years training at Cranmer Hall. He’s due to be ordained deacon on the 29th June in Blackburn Cathedral before serving a curacy at St James’ in Clitheroe. He is originally from Billingham in Teesside and is married to Kate who is a teacher. Before training he was a full-time Youth Co-Ordinator at St Thomas Church in Lancaster. Most of his career has been in youth work and most of his church life was outside of the CofE and largely Assemblies of God and Elim.

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On a sunny Tuesday in March 2017 I arrived in Durham looking for Cranmer Hall. The day before I had been for an interview at St Mellitus NW and made up my mind that was where I would carry out my training. My DDO (Diocesan Director of Ordinands) had suggested that it was wise to at least visit a residential college. I reluctantly agreed and as Cranmer Hall was in Durham, a place that I knew and loved, and more importantly in the North, that is where I would visit. A couple of nice days in a beautiful city to give me space start planning for life on a mixed mode pathway at St Mellitus. I would think upon these things whilst ticking the box of visiting a residential college, what could go wrong?

During that first afternoon at Cranmer hall I was talking to some people and although they were extremely friendly and welcoming, it became apparent that we were from very different church experiences and traditions. As lovely as the people were, and they were, the thought of living alongside people that were so different to me was unsettling to say the least. I didn’t even know what the name for a cassock was, let alone had I ever worn one. I quickly deduced that ‘these are not my people’ and I really needed to be amongst people that think the same way as me when it comes to the church and how it should function. There was, however, another voice, a voice arguing to the contrary, a voice suggesting that I may be sharpened and dare I say it ‘formed’ to a greater degree if I was living, learning and serving alongside people with different understandings, expressions and theology, all day every day. I just couldn’t shake or ignore this voice and later during a phone call to my wife, I was explaining this and she said “We are moving to Durham then?” and I replied “I think so”. I did however still have the issue of a BAP (Bishops Advisory Panel) to go attend, where a decision would be made whether I would be recommended to train at all. That recommendation did come and in the August we moved to Durham.

I arrived with so much apprehension. Apprehension around the academic side of things – I had never gone beyond sixth form previously and here I was at Durham University in and amongst one of the worlds leading theology departments. I was apprehensive about my lack of knowledge of Anglicanism which had also been identified at the BAP. There was so much uncertainty and it was more than a little overwhelming. After two hours of the first day I was looking around thinking ‘What have I done?’ and declaring under my breath ‘I knew that these were not my people’. As the term wore on I was suffering massively from impostor syndrome. I had no idea what I was doing there, everyone else seemed so much more educated than I and certainly so much more ‘Anglican’. Most of them actually knew what ‘Antiphonally’ meant!

Not only was I doubting whether I belonged in Cranmer hall but whether I was right for the Church of England at all. During prayer I would ask God if it was really his voice that I had heard when I visited and whether this was indeed what I should be doing. I spoke with my wife and my tutor and they were really helpful in helping me see that many of these feelings were to be expected. Both reassured me that there was a place for me and that I needed to be myself.

In the second term everything started to change. I quickly realised that most people if not all, were feeling similar things to myself. We all had insecurities, it was just that sometimes they were related to other things. This was really reinforced when I was having a conversation with someone who was expressing how nervous they were about doing a missional event at the Cathedral. They told me that they were nervous about working with people that don’t come from a church background as they hadn’t had much experience in this area. I was nervous about the academics and the lack of real depth of my theological knowledge which this person was strong in, they were nervous about the very thing that I felt comfortable doing. The playing field suddenly felt level and I started to think that maybe I wasn’t a total impostor.

From that point I tried to learn as much as I could in the lecture hall and also in the common room. I would listen to lectures, read books and write essays and seek to learn all that I could from them. They would increase my knowledge and cause me to consider or indeed re-consider my thoughts on all things theological. In the common room I would frequently ask questions of my peers. I would ask questions about their theology, their tradition and why certain things were so important to them and why others weren’t. Many of them would also ask the same questions of me. It was a hugely fruitful part of being at residential college. I was surrounded by people that I could learn from all the time just by being around them. Relationships grew and  developed and at the end of the first year I recognised that although we were all different and that we didn’t always agree on everything, that these indeed were my people.

There were many things that I found helpful in my journey at Cranmer. The placements were broad and varied as per my BAP recommendation and I learnt something from each of them. The leading of services held no fear for me at all except one…Choral evensong. It just wasn’t my thing. I wasn’t keen on wearing robes, I didn’t want to sing, it was all a bit formal and I was so close to not doing it. The email was written and then deleted. I didn’t want to do it through fear of embarrassing myself but more so through the fear of compromising the integrity of the service by ‘getting it wrong’. Just before I sent the email to request not to do it I was struck by the thought that it is always a privilege to lead others in worship and who was I to worry about how I felt about my singing. It wasn’t about me. At that point I decided to give it all that I had and do it to the best of my ability. I wanted to give it as an offering of my worship.

I loved it! Everything went well, the choir were amazing and I felt that I had given something that wasn’t comfortable to give, which made it feel more sincere. I gave from my insecurity.

These are just a few of the significant moments that show a formational arc through my time at Cranmer hall and led me to a place where I feel that there is indeed a place for me within the C of E. Others had seen it and stated it, but now I felt it. This isn’t me advocating one type of training over another. I am a huge champion of all types of training, but this is simply me identifying that residential training at Cranmer hall has been massively beneficial for me.I am still currently reeling from loss of leaving Cranmer Hall. I am extremely excited about what the future holds and feel one hundred per cent that I am ready to leave, but it isn’t easy and that in itself has to be a good thing.

Whilst at theological college certain terms come up time and time again. Ones such term was ‘formational’. Theological colleges make up part of the formational process and we are often remined that things are intended to be formational.

The last couple of days have been a time of reflection and in this time I deduced that I can confidently say that I have indeed been ‘formed’. I have been formed through placements, through the rhythms of prayer and worship, through the study and through the community.

I am not claiming to be ‘ready’ and to have everything sorted but I don’t think that is the idea. My knowledge has increased, even if it is only in so much as to now be able to acknowledge how little I actually know , My understanding of the church and it’s future leaders has increased as well as my understanding of myself. Most importantly my faith has grown. It has grown to a point that I can stand here and say that if God has indeed called me to serve him, then he has called me as myself and that is all that any of us have to offer. My faith has grown to a point that I firmly believe that God can use me.

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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!

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