GUEST POST:// Alice Watson is a soon-to-be Deacon in Peterborough Diocese. She has just finished three long years of training at Cuddesdon and so is excited about the next stage of ministry. She is passionate about creativity, feminism, and social justice, and has just completed an MA thesis looking at liturgy and motherhood.
They say that before a caterpillar transfigures itself into a moth, in the darkness of the cocoon it completely dissolves, every structure of its body returning to some primordial genetic soup, a sea of potential. And that when it emerges, with wings, it retains memories from when it could only crawl. That, despite the complete biological meltdown, it remains the same being.
This transformation, this same-but-different becoming, this creative completion, is perhaps too easily transposed over onto formation, the dreaded F-word of ordinand life. And yet, as someone reflecting on my ninth, and final term of residential training, whose wings are perhaps beginning to poke through the weird shell of whatever this formation is meant to be, it does offer something. Looking back over this time, what strikes me most is precisely that sense of something oddly mysterious happening, that sense of ‘what on earth is going on, I thought I was a perfectly-already-formed-caterpillar, thank you very much’… Formation offers us that strange dissidence, of being called, caterpillar-like, and yet known and seen and believed in, as our true moth forms.
I assumed that these three years would be easy, I wasn’t really sure what God would do with me in this countryside cocoon of Cuddesdon. I thought maybe the work might be difficult, but, to be honest, once you’ve mastered writing 3000 words a week on 3 hours sleep a night, it’s not so bad really. It was everything else, everything so wonderfully dreadful, that stretched and dissolved the fabric of all my certainties.
I find myself more and more drawn to biblical metaphors of refiners’ fire and fullers soap, images I’ve only ever used before to explain the existence of purgatory, which probably reveals more than is necessary about these three years of formation. At least two years of flailing and fighting and falling down and getting back up again. Some seemingly terrible things have happened, and I have wished so often that they would change; the world, the Church, other Christians, God even. And yet, it is I who have been refined, edges that I didn’t even know were there filed off, conceptions expanded. And through all this, the joy has been overwhelming. It is this joy, the joy of God’s love, and the love of others, which has kept my cells reforming in this murky training period.
I walked in thinking that ministry would probably be easy work, and that I’d probably be okay at it, even if I was scared that I didn’t really want to. I leave knowing that, as a lovely friend put it, it is difficult beyond measure, hard and holy work, and that I will need all of my caterpillar memories, as well as my unfurling wings. And above all, that I walk into ordination, in my new, too-tight Deacon’s shoes, by the grace of God alone.
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!