“To be pilgrims means that men must perpetually return to the starting-point of that naked humanity which is absolute poverty and utter insecurity. God must not be sought as though He sat enthroned on upon the summit of religious attainment. He is to be found on the plain where men suffer and sin. The veritable pinnacle of religious achievement is attained when men are thrust down into the company of those who lie in the depths.”
Karl Barth – ‘Epistle to the Romans’
After a long and winding journey, I’m at one of those ‘mile-marker’ moments in life. After a nail-biting afternoon hitting the ‘Get Mail’ button on my email client every two minutes, I learned a few months ago that I had been ‘Recommended for training’ – which for non-Anglicans means I’m off to vicar school in September.
It’s probably come as a bigger surprise to me than anyone, I’d convinced myself it would be a “thanks, but no” by the time the email came through. I fondly remember many years ago when a mate from Church started going out with a young lady from my school. Somehow they realised they both new me, and when he explained how, she replied, “No way, can’t be the same guy. He’d never go to Church”. And here I am some 18 or so years later, getting ready to start training for a ministry in the CofE – like proper dog-collar and black-dress type ministry.
As with many milestone moments, I decided it would be good to mark this somehow. When I packed up my business as a brick-layer, I had my ear-pierced – harkening to an old Jewish tradition where a servant would have his ear pierced as a sign of dedication and commitment to his master.
A few months back I had the big privilege of being in a lecture with Jane and +Rowan Williams (former Arch-Bish). The subject was something like ‘Pilgrims in the pre-Constantinian Church’ (which is a lot more interesting than it sounds). In a very engaging lecture (they are both so good), I was fascinated to learn that the English word ‘Pilgrim’ comes from the Latin peregrinus, the title given to resident aliens in the Roman empire – non-citizens working in Roman cities. Equally interesting, the English word ‘Parish’ comes from the Greek paroikia – the migrant ghetto of a city, where all the pilgrims lived.
Putting aside the political implications of this terminology for now, I had a lot of interest in this observation. It reminded of the teaching in the First Epistle of Peter which gave some guidelines on what being a Christian pilgrim looks like (1 Peter 2:9-17). It also made me think about what it means to be entering a big and ancient institution, as someone who has felt like an ‘outsider’ for most of their life. Without entering into a long session of mansplaining about the miseries of being a white-working-class-male, let me say that this is a surprising and potentially uncomfortable situation for me.
So off I go, wondering how much the institution will change me, wondering if in my own small way I might bring some positive change to it. I can reassure you that it feels right. But if I ever start loosing my head or forgetting where I’ve come from, I’ve got my little tattoo staring back at me from my right hand – falco peregrinus – the peregrine (pilgrim) falcon. It’s worth mentioning that the word ‘pilgrim’ has a particular significance in the motorcycle club I belong to, and has been used a lot in our history.
The main reason I’m writing, is to say that you probably won’t be hearing much from me. I haven’t really been writing a lot on here for sometime. If finishing my degree in Theology, Ministry and Mission has taught me one thing, it’s that I don’t really know that much at all, especially when it comes to the Big Boss Upstairs. As I go into my training, I’ll try not to forget who I am and where I’ve come from, and will allow my life experiences to inform my thinking, but I don’t really feel in a place to be broadcasting my ideas around (I’m taking some steps back from social media too). I’m trying to take a beginner’s attitude, rather than march in like Johnny-Know-It-All (like I did when I started my degree).
You might here a few odd thoughts or shares of other people’s ideas from me, I might even publish some of the findings from my studies, but it’ll probably be quiet around here for a while.
See you around, love ya.
p.s. I’m best friends with Ben Affleck and I’m wicked-good at solving equations on chalk-boards.