What does it mean to be a deacon?

I am currently pondering on this question and thought I’d share my thoughts on this.

Being a deacon in the Church of England is not something particularly well understood. Many people assume that once you are ordained, you are a priest but that isn’t so. On Saturday I was ordained as a deacon.

The word deacon is from the Greek, Diakinos, and simply translated means helper. In Pauls letter to Timothy, he talks about the need for overseers and deacons in the church and the type of people they need to be (I Timothy 3: 8-10, 12). They are to be trustworthy, have been Christians for a while and to be sober, not imbibing too much wine. Why?

Because their role is to serve the people of God and to ‘keep hold of the deep truths of the faith’ (I Timothy 3: 9). In the service last Saturday, I declared, amongst other things, that I would be ‘a faithful servant in the household of God, after the example of Christ, who came not to be served but to serve’.

In practical terms, this means making sure people in the church feel supported and being prepared to get stuck in with the cleaning up after services and the more menial jobs. I may now be a Rev., but that doesn’t mean I get out of the washing up!

In his prayers for us on Saturday, the bishop prayed that we would ‘follow the example of Jesus, who washed the feet of his disciples, and set the needs of others before his own.’ We are also called to ‘work with the Bishop and the priests’ (no going out on a limb, we must be part of a team), to ‘proclaim the gospel in word and deed, as agents of Gods purposes of love….. searching out for the poor and the weak, the sick and the lonely, those who are oppressed and powerless’. Just a few things to do then!

After my rehearsal for the ordination service, I really felt the weight of those words and the magnitude of what God had called me to. It weighed heavily on me all afternoon, and I could suddenly understand why people ran away from their retreat (legend has it the former Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres did this!).

Fortunately, It is recognised that being a deacon is not an easy calling to follow and that we will need Gods help to do it. Therefore the Bishop prayed that we would ‘pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit’. As a visual reminder of this, I decorated a tile at my local pottery place with the words the Bishop used: ‘send down the Holy Spirit on your servant Carol’, for the office and work of a deacon in your church…

Being a deacon is also a training post and I will be supervised by Nick Hill, the Vicar at Reading Gateway. It will be his job to guide me over the next year as I learn the ropes in the hope that I can be ordained priest in a years time. Yes, this is not the end of it! In fact the next 3-4 years I will still be training and even when I have finished my essays for CMS, I will still have reflections to write until I am signed off as fit to be a Vicar.

In a years time hopefully I will be ordained as a priest, but for the next year I’m a deacon. Hopefully this helps you understand what I’m doing for the next year! If not, come back to me! Thanks!

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On being ordained…

I thought I’d jot down a few of my thoughts here about why I’m being ordained tomorrow for anyone who is interested. It’s been a long journey with many twists and turns and very few people know it all.

It started in the spring of 2008 (I think) when I was on a quiet day at Douai Abbey. I was the childrens worker for my church at the time and had booked a room in the monastery for the day to spend some time with God. This was something all staff at the church were encouraged to do once a month or so.

I was lying on the bed when I had a picture of me standing at the top of a hill in the middle of the countryside. As I stood there, I felt God standing next to me , saying ‘all this is yours’. It seemed a strange thing to say in a way but I understood it was not my land but the people in it who were my responsibility. As I stood there gazing out at this pastoral scene, I saw a double decker London bus come up the hill. It stopped in front of me and I felt God say to get on and He was going to take me on a journey. So on I got, and the bus went down the hill and into the valley.

When I asked God what this image meant, he said he was calling me into leadership in the church. I wondered if that meant ordination or something else, I wasn’t really sure. I kept the picture to myself and mused on it for a while, wondering what it meant. Over the next few months I shared the picture with a couple of close friends and asked them to ask God about what it meant. They all came back saying ordination. I was not best pleased! I had a sense that my husband would struggle with this and would not want me to do it.

It took me about 6 months before I shared it with Chris and yes I was right, he was not keen! So I told God that for me to explore this calling, Chris had to be happy for me to do so and He had to change Chris’ heart.

In the meantime I was a busy wife, mum and childrens worker and life carried on. At some point, I started getting people asking me if I was going to be Ordained. I used to laugh and say ‘I doubt it’ even though I knew God had called me to ordination.

Eventually I spoke to my line manager and said I thought I was being called to preach. He spoke to the Vicar and I was invited to speak at the 4pm service at my church once a term. I enjoyed the process of preparing a sermon and crafting a talk. After a little while I even started enjoying doing the preach itself.

More people asked me if I was going to be ordained and I continued to laugh it off. In 2013, a friend of mine seriously challenged me on it and I began to see I couldn’t do nothing, so I applied to St Mellitus to study theology part time. Despite my line managers assurances that it was a dead cert. I wasn’t offered a place. I wondered if I’d heard God wrong, if he didn’t want me do study theology. It took a while to recover from the no but eventually I felt God was calling me to further theological study and specifically ordination. I remember going to speak to the curate at the time about my calling. He seemed shocked as to why I’d want to be ordained and tried to put me off. However he did give me a reading list of books to read to help me discern my calling and he was able to reassure Chris that being a vicar’s husband wasn’t such a terrible thing to be!

I started reading some of the books. An early one made me wonder how on earth I could ever be a Vicar and I couldn’t see how God would call me to something so boring! Later on I did read others that got me a bit more excited!

In 2014, things went a bit pear shaped at my church. I’d been struggling with the misogynistic attitude of my Vicar for a while and the way he treated women on staff, when I found out he was having an affair. It shook me to the core as I wondered how a man of the cloth could do this. I found myself hating him for the lies and deceit he had caused not only for himself but the woman who he’d got involved with. Soon I found it impossible to see myself as a Vicar as I didn’t want to do anything that would aligned me with him. I stopped preaching and eventually we left that church in order to heal.

Moving to a new church in Pangbourne seemed to spark something off in me. Within a few months of being there, I saw an advert for an exploring vocations service at Christchurch cathedral. I went along. After the service, the Dean put on a drinks reception for people. I chatted with others on their vocation journey. I loved hearing their stories about how God was calling them into ministry and it made me hopeful that it could also be true of me! When I came home I said to Chris that I thought I couldn’t ignore the call any longer. To my surprise, he vigorously agreed with me and said ‘I had to pursue my call’. I marvelled at the way God had changed my husband!

Eventually I contacted the Vocations Advisor at the Diocese and asked for a meeting. It turned out to be someone I knew from my days of being a childrens worker who’d gone onto being ordained herself. She got me quite quickly and soon was referring me onto the DDO.

I was allocated a DDO after 3 or 4 months and began seeing this lady once a month to discuss why I thought I was being called to ordination. I could tell that she couldn’t really see why I was there. At one point she told me she couldn’t see me as a typical Vicar! And I thought well, I don’t want to be a typical Vicar, I want to be Carol!

After a few months, she stopped seeing me and asked me to wait 6 months before meeting her again. I understood why she said this – I was in the process of complaining against my ex-Vicar to the church authorities and she felt it got in the way of what we were doing. I didn’t agree but I had to wait.

I kept asking God if He still wanted me to be ordained and he kept saying yes, so I had no option but to wait. In the end we picked up our meetings again. Soon after this, I saw an advert for a CMS Pioneer open day & felt God was saying to go along.

I went to the open day and remember sitting there as Jonny Baker who headed up the programme listed all the different characteristics of being a Pioneer. I could agree with pretty much every one and realised I was a Pioneer. This led to me signing up to doing a years course and gaining my certificate in Pioneer leadership. This really helped me explain who I am to my DDO and I believe was crucial in getting her to recommend me to BAP (Bishops advisory panel). In 2019, my paperwork went forward for BAP and I was allocated a date in March 2020. I practiced my presentation and got myself ready for a two day residential selection conference.

However it never happened! 3 weeks before I was due to go, Covid struck and we went into lockdown. The Church of England took a while to reorganise themselves but eventually in July 2020, I had an E-BAP over zoom when I was interviewed to see if I was a suitable candidate for ordination. 10 days later I heard I had been accepted for training for ordination.

So finally in September 2020 I started my formal training for ordination as a pioneer minister. This meant two years of study, mostly at Church Mission Society, and some at Ripon College Cuddesdon. Lots of essays, residentials, presentations, placements and reflection later and here I am in 2022 waiting to be ordained tomorrow!

I hope this gives you a little insight into why I am being ordained. It is a call from God that has been affirmed by both the local and national church. If you have any questions about it, please do ask.

Me just before my rehearsal for ordination on Wednesday in my cassock.
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An ordinand’s musings

Several people recently have asked me how college / training is going. Usually I respond with a fairly short answer which varies on how I’m feeling that day. ‘Good‘, ‘challenging’ or ‘interesting’ are my usual replies with some added detail if that response gets a positive reply! But I thought a longer answer might be helpful for anyone who’s interested.

It seems crazy but I have already done 8 months worth of training. In that time, I’ve had placements at two different churches, preached 2 sermons, planned and led two services, attended two ‘memorable’ PCC meetings, done countless pastoral visits, picked up and dropped off food parcels for people, prayer-walked my socks off round a parish, shed a few tears, had 9 sessions with a psychotherapist, attended lectures (mostly by Zoom due to Covid) on subjects as diverse as liturgical dress, baptism, the Eucharist, leadership as a woman in a patriarchal society, missional ecclesiology and how to share the Bible in today’s context, celebrated with people as they’ve heard good news, grieved with people as they’ve received bad news, mourned the loss of a parishioner who took her own life, discussed possible curacies with my DDO (yes already!) and had some very silly moments, including being compared to a gold statue from the children’s TV programme Trumpton when coming out of the vestry door!!

On reflection this all sounds like good training for being a priest in the Church of England! It certainly shows the variety of what I’ve been involved with over the past 8 months. But how much does it convey the reality of what it is like? I guess the mention of psychotherapy and tears as well as laughter may give a clue.

The truth is, it’s been – and I suspect will continue to be – a real rollercoaster of emotions. The relief of finishing an essay you’ve been working on for weeks; the tension as you submit it on the online system and pray it’s ok and isn’t going to fail the plagiarism test; the stress when you can’t find the books you need (made worse by the libraries all being closed during a pandemic); the sinking feeling when you realise you’ve upset a parishioner; the elation when you hear that someone you’ve prayed for for months is free of cancer / had their baby safely / finally found a home for their elderly parent etc; the shock, disbelief, confusion you feel when someone has a stillbirth / takes their own life / dies prematurely / develops anorexia etc all takes its toll on one. I suspect I will have a few more silver hairs at the end of this process than at the beginning!

Add to that the fact that since my Gran died (at the grand old age of 101) last August, I have been trying to deal with a whole range of emotions from grief to anger as I try to process some stuff that happened in my childhood, it has been anything but an easy journey. There have been times when I’ve been tempted to give it all up, to tell God I can’t do what He has called me to do and He needs to find someone else to do it! There have also been times when I’ve caught a glimpse of what is to come and got excited about what He might be calling me to do.

Yet despite it all, God has brought me through each stage, each difficult emotion, each struggle and so I am still here! He has put people in my way who have (and continue to) help me massively. My wonderful mentor Sheila, a kind and perceptive psychotherapist called Kath, some dear friends (you know who you are), a gentle and wise Vicar called Joy, and a veritable army of people who pray for me. Not to mention my long suffering husband and children! Without all of them, I’m not sure where I’d be.

But ultimately it is God who keeps me going. And to Him I will always be grateful. The journey He has called me on is not easy but I hope it will be worth it. I will come out different on the other side (what Cuddesdon calls ‘formation’) but hopefully in one piece! Scarred maybe. But whole.

If you are the praying type, I’d love it if you would include me in your prayers for the next 13 months until I (God willing) am ordained. If not, I hope that this at least helps you understand what happens when someone trains to be a priest. It is certainly not for the faint hearted.

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About

This blog is for occasional musings that are too long for Facebook! Who am I? A wife, married to the long suffering Chris; a mother, to two wonderful teens; a daughter, sister, friend…but most of all, I’m me! How do I describe myself? An adventurer, passionate, excitable, lover of Jesus, at times inconsistent (I’m working on that!), encourager, empathetic (most of the time!), oh and would love to change the world into a better, kinder, more spiritual place with no war or poverty. But that’s enough about me!

Hope you enjoy my posts, but more importantly, let me know what you think!

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A pioneer in the making…

Christmas student group photo

Some of the group with the Imam and Amina

Ali & Eli with one of the local ladies from Flavours

I’ve had a lot of people ask me about the course I’ve been doing recently and I’ve found it really difficult to sum it up in one sentence! So this hopefully will explain a bit more about the course and why I’m doing it, for those of you who are interested!

Last September I started studying with CMS (Church Mission Society), based in Oxford, for a certificate in pioneer leadership. This is a year long course (the deadline for the last piece of coursework is 30th September 2019) that aims to help equip students with the theology, mission and ministry needed to be a pioneer in the Church, whether that’s the Church of England, Methodist, Catholic etc.

A pioneer is someone who wants to find new ways of doing church with people who currently don’t engage with what the church has to offer.

If you’re an Anglican, you may have heard of Fresh Expressions, which hopefully will give you some idea of what pioneering means. Fresh expressions is the Church of England name for new ways of doing church. Messy Church comes in that framework, as does cafe church, church in a pub, forest church, playcafe church and lots of other things besides. If you are interested in finding out more, than take a look at Fresh expressions website – http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk.

Pioneers in general are people who love starting new things! They love getting people together, dreaming dreams and seeing how God can be worshipped in new and exciting ways, that draw people in who currently don’t do church.

The course leader at CMS, Jonny Baker – who’s a bit of a legend at this stuff – has been involved in Grace Church based at St. Mary’s in Ealing for the last 23 years or so. He describes it as a ‘creative group of people to share life and faith with’. The way they do church won’t be something you see on Vicar of Dibley or Songs of Praise, but it is somewhere to meet with God in a different yet accessible way.

The course involves me going up to Oxford most Monday’s for lectures and then a whole stack of reading, thinking and writing to be done at home during the week. It’s equivalent to doing the first year of a University degree, which is why I disappear at times under a stack of books as a deadline is nearing!

So far, I’ve done three modules – Theological Reflection, Mission Church History and Mission and Evangelism – and have three more to do. We start Pastoral Care next Monday, then after Easter have ones on Spirituality & Discipleship and Introduction to the Bible.

Each module comes with coursework, as there’s no final exam. These range from essays, theological reflections and presentations to portfolios. So far the biggest piece of work has been a 2,500 word essay. Having not done any marked work for a course for 20-plus years, it’s been interesting to get back into academia! I have yet to have feedback on my work, except from my learning mentor, so I have no idea if I’m doing it at the right level, but hopefully it’s ok!

I am absolutely loving doing the course. I am learning so much and really enjoying both the lectures, fieldwork (we went to Newbeginn House in Birmingham last weekend to see how they do church), and just being part of a fantastic group of people.

All the students on the course are Christians involved in church work in some way or form. Some are training to be ordained pioneer ministers, others are working for their church in some kind of lay capacity, either as youth workers, children’s workers, pastoral workers etc. Others like me don’t have an official role at their church but are exploring what God is calling them to do. All feel called to be pioneers. It’s fascinating being with such a eclectic group of people who all want to do something new.

If this is something you might be interested in doing yourself, do take a look at CMS’ website, https://pioneer.churchmissionsociety.org/courses/common-awards-certificate-theology-ministry-mission/. There are open days for the course starting next September coming up on the 25th February & the 30th April. I went to one of these last year and can highly recommend it.

I hope this helps you understand a little bit more about what I’m doing and why! Please feel free to ask me more about it though.

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Why do we need a Reading Family Support Hub?

Thank you for visiting my page. If you are wondering what it is all about, then please read on and I will attempt to explain!

Firstly let me introduce myself a little! My name is Carol Atkins and I’m married to the wonderful, long-suffering Chris. We have been blessed with two lovely (most of the time!) teenage children, Ben who is 16 (currently sitting his GCSE’s) and Becky who is 13.

I have worked with families, first as a children’s nurse, then as a children’s worker at my church and now as a family worker for a local primary school, for the last 21 years. Time flies! I have been a Mum myself for 16 of those years. So I have seen family life from all sides!

I get how difficult it is being a family in today’s world. So many challenges, decisions to make and things to do. The constant questioning, ‘am I doing the right thing?’ Should I give little Jonny more of this or less of that? Should I talk to school about what happened yesterday? How can I get my teenager off their phone? (Answers on the last one to me please!). On top of that, fewer families are managing with only one adult working outside of the home, meaning that the pressures are increasing. There are fewer and fewer stay-at-home parents. And more stressed out parents, trying to be a worker and colleague, as well as a parent and partner. It is not easy! Finances are getting ever trickier. The number of families who have at least one parent working but are still relying on food banks seems to be increasing daily. Parents are struggling to feed their children in the holidays when free school meals aren’t available. So many families are in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation. The list goes on!

Regardless of their social status, ethnic background, beliefs or anything else, families are finding it hard. It is more and more common to hear of families splitting up, children having to spend time with one parent on alternate weekends, parents struggling with mental health issues, addictions, housing issues, domestic violence, etc etc. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers (far from it, as my teenagers will tell you!), I do want to help.

The last nearly three years working as a family worker in a school have taught me many things. But one of them is that it is often the small things that can make a real difference to a family. Someone just sitting down with a cup of tea and listening to a Mum pour her heart out for an hour. Playing with a toddler so a Mum can make that all important phone call. Listening to a child explain how scared they are of what might happen after school. Making a suggestion to a stay-at-home Dad about how to organise the morning routine. Writing a letter explaining why you think this particular family warrants bumping up the council housing list. Referring a child to a voluntary sector organisation to get them some additional support following a bereavement. None of these are big things on their own. Yet, they can have great results, especially, when teamed up with prayer.

While I can’t pray with families in school unless they ask me to (& as yet, it’s never happened!), I am able to pray for them on my own afterwards. Often after I’ve prayed for a family, I will have parents come to me and say ‘you know after I saw you, this and this has happened and things are so much better now’. Or ‘what you said to me was just what I needed to make me realise I had to make some changes’. While I may have pointed out that they were struggling and could do with some help, often all I have done is listened and then prayed like crazy afterwards! Prayer changes things. I am often astounded by how my little prayers make such a difference.

My churches vision is ‘to see Reading transformed by the love and power of Jesus’. No small vision! But I believe it can happen. And I want to see that happen for Reading’s families. I would love to see families released from the bondage of the enemy and able to be the best Mum or Dad that they can be. To be transformed by the love and power of Jesus, whether they know it or not! For relationships to be restored, for families to be healed, for children to laugh again, for parents to enjoy being parents!

But I can’t do it all on my own. I need help. If we get together and work as a team I know we can make a difference to Reading’s families. In Romans chapter 8 it says ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’ (v.31). God is for us, He loves all of us and wants to use us as Christians to help transform Reading’s families. Lots of us.

Will you be a part of it? Is God calling you to be involved in this project in some way? Maybe you would be happy to sit and listen to a parent over a cup of tea? Or pray for the families & the work? Or babysit for a family so they can attend an appointment, parenting class or counselling session? Or use your digital skills to creat a website to advertise the hub? Or use your creative skills to design a logo for us? Or be prepared to apply for grants for us to fund this work? Or fundraise for us? Or use your accounting skills to make sure the books are in order? Or be an advocate for us in different churches around Reading as we seek volunteers? Or be on the look out for a venue (maybe a small shop unit in the centre of town) for us?

If you think you might be able to help or if you’d just like to know abit more, please get in touch. Email me at carol.g.atkins@gmail.com or pm me via Facebook.

Let’s work together to see Reading’s families transformed by the love and power of Jesus.

Thank you for reading!

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