Saturday, December 09, 2006

Personal Journey 11: A Setback on the Way

Most people in the UK will know of the BBC programme, the Office. It is being shown out here at the moment on BBC Entertainment. Tim in the very last episode says, ‘Life is not about endings, is it? It’s a series of moments.’ True enough.

Personal Journey 11: A Setback on the Way

I was appointed to Bedford College of Higher Education on a three year contract renewable by mutual agreement. There had been no question in my mind that I should seek renewal after the first three years, and I am pleased to say no question in anyone else’s mind that it should be renewed. However, as I came to the end of my second contract, I started to think about whether I should be staying or moving on. I found my teaching very fulfilling and liked the students and my pastoral ministry to them, but my ultimate goal was to be involved in theological training. It was around this time that Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where I had trained for ministry in the C of E, advertised a joint appointment as Chaplain of one of the local university colleges and as a Tutor at Wycliffe.

Those who have been following this journey will know that I had had mixed feelings about my time at Wycliffe. However, I had kept in touch, not least because my brother Charlie had spent some years there himself training for the ministry. Bedford was not far from Oxford, and I had often been up there to see him as he had been to Bedford to see me. While there were aspects of the system there that I did not feel comfortable with, I felt that there was a lot that was good and what is more that things were moving in a positive direction within the College.

In 1989, R T France had been appointed Principal. I thought this was wonderful news. France was a well-known and much respected evangelical, New Testament scholar. I basically bought anything he published. I still consult his commentary on Mark regularly. What is more France had been Vice-Principal of London Bible College from 1981. You will know from previous posts that my feelings about London Bible College were entirely positive, and I felt sure that anyone coming from the staff of LBC could only be for the good of any college they went to.

This seemed the perfect position for me. I had served my curacy in a large, busy parish. I had worked in a secular college as a Chaplain. I had teaching and lecturing experience. I was committed to theological training. I had even spent time in Oxford. I seemed to meet all they were looking for on both sides of the job. What more could I have done? I decided to apply.

I was offered an interview, which I enthusiastically accepted. This did not mean I assumed I would be offered the post. I am only too aware of how many good people there are out there, but I at least felt I had a chance. I enjoyed the day there and felt that I had something to offer. I also met the other two candidates for the post. You inevitably, at times like this, try to weigh up your chances. One of the other people being interviewed was from Durham, and I immediately liked and respected him. I could see him doing the job and thought he would do it well. I felt that if he were offered it, I would be sad for myself, but understand.

The interview went as interviews do on these occasions. Then towards the end one of the interviewers, a member of staff, voiced something that I had thought myself about Wycliffe when I was there, namely that most of the staff lacked practical, ministerial experience. They were academics. Nothing wrong in that, we need academics in the Church. Whether specialist academics are the best people to train people for the ministry is another matter. This particular interviewer himself had only been ordained in 1984 and joined the staff of Wycliffe immediately without the burden of having to serve a curacy as such. He continued to explain that the problem for them in appointing me was that they wanted someone with more parish experience to make up for their own deficiency in this area. My heart sank. I felt I had had quite a lot of experience in ministry, but I certainly had not been a Vicar of a parish, and could see that this was something that they might want.

Dick France phoned me at home to tell me that I had not been appointed. Not unnaturally I asked who had been, he would not comment. I thought something strange was going on then. I later learnt that they appointed someone who had not originally applied for the job, who had not been part of the selection process, and who was only half way through his curacy. So much for needing someone with parish experience!

It is, however, more with sorrow than anger that I look back on this episode. I think it could have been fun and that there was something I could have contributed both to Wycliffe and to the Oxford College. Anyway, Bedford wanted me to stay and there is always something reassuring, especially after disappointment, in people wanting you.

I renewed my contract for a third period.

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