October Blog -'To be (real) or not to be: that is the question'
My name is Anina and as of the start of the summer, I have been working with St Mark’s Church as your Curate. I am often being asked these starter questions, so here it all is in one go:
How are you finding it so far? “Wow! / Amazing / varied / a privilege…. it started on such a high with the ordination service and my first week I felt so carried in God’s joy and peace. I love the variety and don’t think I would ever get bored. #blessed”.
How long have you wanted to be ordained? “Getting ordained has been a dream-come-true as I have felt this sense of calling for many years; well over a decade. I first went forward for ordination 13 years ago, but was told ‘not yet’ by the panel. God brought the subject back up with me several years ago, but this time, the door swung wide open at every stage so here I am!”
Have you just moved to Chester, or…..? “No, I grew up in Chester and have spent all my life here apart from 3 years when I went to study at Exeter. After I came to faith (PTL), I started going to St Michael’s church in Newton and then joined Christchurch’s church plant before moving 10 years later to St Paul’s then St Peter’s”.
What does your teenager think about you being ordained? “Well, she’s already got one ordained parent, so the concept is quite ‘normal’ and she’s really supportive of me. We’ve brought her up alongside a passion for those on the edge / unchurched / de-churched and I’ve always thought it’s great for her to have the experience of being able to sit and talk to anyone and everyone”.
Did you and Hennie know each other before? “Yes! I’m thrilled to be working with Hennie after having seen her at church prayer events over the years but never having really got to know her. For me, she was the first female priest I had ever met and this eye-opener gave me such a sense of hope for women in leadership. It is possible to be fully who God created you to be; in Hennie’s case, pioneering and feminine, contemplative and charismatic; enjoying pets, shoes, people, colour, nature, walking, art; without having to deny our Eve-ness and pretend to be a man in what appeared to me to be an ‘Alpha-male’, extrovert only environment”.
So…. although all of the above is 100% true, especially the bit about Hennie, it is the glossy social-media version of the reality………
Meet the real me…. What God calls His “beautiful chaos”. My true self-ie. Greying rapidly, dark under-eye circles snitching of years of insomnia, unruly hair, over-plucked 90’s brows. The real me is a champion spiller-of-food -down-my-front, passionate, heart over heels, dad-joke cracker and dad-dancer, whose average day looks spookily like an episode of Miranda. Totally in love with Jesus but often clinging on with blind faith and sometimes journeying deeply and questioningly about His missus. Single Mum of one de-churched, equally quirky and beautifully chaotic daughter who was named after a character from Lord of the Rings (I blame the hormones) and whose middle name is unique because we made a spelling mistake when we registered her at birth.
Being honest with you, dear reader, this year has been the hardest one of my life so far. Coming to terms with the fact that my relationship of nearly 30 years was struggling, having surgery for skin cancer on my face then having to go back before another 2 panels for gruelling interviews for Pioneer status as well as Incumbency alongside full-time study and writing essays was just the start. Additional health scares in the family with both sets of parents increasingly needing support whilst our daughter is at the apex of teenage-dom has also added to the bowing pressure of life.
Approaching the end of 2019, my life is totally unrecognisable compared to this time last year; doing a role I was not expecting to, with a house-move and new job to boot. However, looking back I see the unmistakable hand of my favourite of God’s personas: I like to call Him “Jehovah Sneaky”. He knows that if He had shown me all of what would unfold, I would have thought I had opened someone else’s mail and right royally freaked out. However, I am grateful that I will look back on 2019 also as the year I read the Bible from cover-to-cover, that I started counselling and love it, finally got ordained, enjoying questioning theologically what I have always swallowed like a big pill, becoming a hope-sommelier and that He is bringing the most incredible freedom and healing like I have never known before as a follower of Jesus.
I have just been really vulnerable in what I have written in an attempt to lead in the art of ‘being real’. This challenge to lead in ‘being real’ came to me after having had a lovely lunch with a family from church last month. We spoke then about masks and our temptation to hide behind our ‘Sunday best’ smiles and auto-pilot responses. Deep inside and threatening to spill over the edge in vulnerability, some of us have been desperate for connection, for prayer, for someone to speak about what they are going through, for a word of life or to see a crack in the beautiful porcelain veneer of ‘being church’. Getting up on a Sunday morning and staying at church is our best and most costly worship, our own alabaster-offering. This includes those in leadership at times, including me.
We are supposed to be real. With ourselves, with God, with one another. Church = gathering; family; brothers and sisters, broken-yet-with-hope in One who deals in making broken things completely new. We are image-bearers (whether we see it or not; whether we like it or not) of God out-there in the world and sometimes like Jesus, we cry, we hurt, we get frustrated, we grieve, life throws us curve balls. It’s what makes us human.
So…. may I encourage you (as I feel God is kindly inviting St Mark’s to do): as we sink into this season of ‘rest’ and emerge from our time away at the parish weekend. Let’s simply be. Let’s be fully human. Let’s be real – daring to show one another our scars and bringing these along with our fresh wounds, our past, our memories, our pain and our situations before our papa, our Father, our Daddy, our Abba as we meet together on Sundays and in the week and wait to see what He does next.