I have spent a few weeks as the Chaplain for the Selection Conference, a time when applicants for ordained ministry meet with a panel of people from across VicTas Synod in order to test their call to ministry. It’s a time of great challenge and vulnerability and is certainly one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. With the COVID-19 restrictions, this has obviously taken place on Zoom with all of its inherent challenges.
As Chaplain, my role has included leading worship for panel members and applicants, a total of 5 services over the weeks, and offering pastoral care. We have sung songs, thanks to Manningham’s quite extensive library of recorded songs, on Zoom while muted at home on our own. We have prayed using photographs I have taken whilst on my lockdown walks or in my back yard. And I have entered into pastoral conversations in Zoom groups, individual Zoom chats, email and on the phone. Wonderful conversations with wonderful people.
I remember back to when I was an applicant and the role of the Chaplain in that process. For me, it was an utter comedy of errors. It began on the Friday with a get-to-know-you presentation. We were told to talk about something we were passionate about, but which was not related to church. I took a netball and went through some coaching exercises much to the bemusement of the panel. The other applicants gave speeches about their passions and they spoke from the heart, and they were very good indeed. ‘Oh well’, I thought, ‘I stuffed that up! But there’s always tomorrow.’
The next day was Saturday and a full day packed with interviews and conversations testing a call to ministry. I took to Eastlink once more to drive from home into Parkville to the College for Theology and Ministry. In those days, I didn’t have a mobile phone as I didn’t need one. Half-way there, Eastlink was shut off as there had been the most terrible accident. Those of you who know me realise I get lost moving from one part of Westfield Drive church to another. I had never driven around that part of the city but somehow, and I still do not know how, I managed to get myself to Parkville.
Picture this. I get to Parkville thankful that I was not involved in the accident. I find a carpark space around the Melbourne cemetery and then I fall into CTM as the chapel service has finished and applicants are going off for their interviews. The panel members knew what had happened and greeted me as I arrived with ‘the news said it was a terrible accident, etc.’ They then invited me straight into my first interview…but the Chaplain was there offering a glass of water.
I had prepared for the interview, but what the panel got was Claire in all her rawness and honesty with no shields up at all. And that lasted all morning. And I thought, ‘oh well, I stuffed that up!’ The Chaplain was there though, offering cups of tea and words of encouragement, and just alongside laughing with me about my answers and being reassuring.
The following day, we each had a final interview with the whole panel of 15-ish people. The previous day had been an exhausting round of talking to different people, teas and lunch which were still interviews albeit informal, and team exercises – I really enjoyed that bit. The final Sunday interviews were the final chance to speak about something, to raise something, or to redeem oneself. Each applicant went in and it took ages. The Chaplain was there reading bits of the Sunday paper to me. By the time it came to me, my bum had barely touched the chair in the interview room before I was being thanked for my time and told I would be sent a letter in the next couple of days. I knew I had stuffed it up.
I wasn’t upset. I knew the process was one of discernment, not of right or wrong answers. I trusted the process and I trusted those on the panel to seek the guidance of God and to listen carefully. But I left disappointed that the weekend had not gone as I had planned. The Chaplain was lovely saying goodbye and that we’d meet again etc etc.
Of course, the letter arrived, I had been accepted and that Chaplain became a neighbour in my first placement, a trusted and wise colleague and friend.
And now I am the one trying to be the calm presence on Zoom, reassuring the applicants, laughing with them at their answers, telling them it isn’t about being right or wrong but about being who you are and being honest, about trusting the process. At the end of the conference I say goodbye and affirm that we will meet again, and I wonder if any of us will actually be neighbouring ministers one day, trusted colleagues and friends.
I honestly never want to go through such a fraught weekend ever again, but I learnt a great deal about who I am underneath everything, and who I am is good enough. No matter what decisions are made, I pray that those applicants know that they are good enough too.
Grace and peace,