This is the first in a series of vocation stories which I am hoping to run from December until February 2015 – I’m looking for volunteers so if anyone is willing to participate please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
The idea is to share some stories about ordained life in short interviews – particularly referring in part to vocations to ordained ministry (more ministries to follow in future!) and what life is like in the ministry for those who have made that journey.
The first interview in this series is from a Methodist Presbyter, blogger and good friend of mine Reverend Tom Osborn here is what he writes – enjoy!
- Where are you and what is immediately around you as you write this…?
I’m in my study, and what’s around me is a mess, as per usual! I try and justify it as creative chaos out of which will be created wonders of life but in reality it’s just a mess. It gets tidied on occasion but then rapidly becomes a mess again – that’s simply the way I am. Within the mess is the detritus of everyday Circuit life, at least 2 coffee cups (one a mug, the other an espresso cup), a mass of technology and technological paraphernalia, incense, candles, vestments, and books galore – predominantly liturgy books, both liturgical resources and books about liturgy.
- So, Tom, can you tell me a bit about who you are and how you came to be doing what you do?
As my blog says: “My name is Tom Osborne, and while I’ve lived in many places, and don’t live there now, I call the Mendip Hills of Somerset home. [Hence my pseudonym of Mendip Nomad]. I’m also a Presbyter (often called a Minister) in the Methodist Church.” How did I come to be here, ministering as an ordained Presbyter in Cornwall? A long story, the beginning of which I place on Iona in the wake of my first marriage’s breakdown, which then journeys through being re-involved in Anglican church life in Liverpool, then Methodism in London (where I first met you), to academic study in Cambridge (where we met again), and then Circuit life in Cornwall. It also includes the healing found in community, an experience that can only be described as hearing the voice of God (despite my discomfort with such descriptions), the challenge of living as an embodiment of ecumenism, and an ongoing battle with the Black Dog that is depression! Oh, and as well as a Circuit Minister I’m also a student of liturgy and patterns of worship, currently undertaking an MA in Christian Liturgy, and involved in liturgical development at a Connexional level as well.
- Who or what are your main influences in life?
You mean apart from God? Family, friends, music and movies! Ok, so that sounds a little trite, but in so many ways it’s the concentration of truth. I don’t think I’d be the person I am without the influence of family, including my dad’s own life as a Parish Priest, my mum’s constant love and care at times when my relationship with my dad was strained (it’s not now), the joys and challenges of growing up with a sister in so many ways different to me and in other ways so similar, the unbelievable commitment to this strange journey that my wife has made despite its challenges, and I honestly believe I might not even be alive today were it not for the angelic yet unintentional intervention of my (step)daughter. I’ve also found immense inspiration in the broad range of friends, of faith and not, of varying denominations and none, who have supported, escorted, dragged, challenged, and cajoled me to get to this point – in particular the close group of Anglican friends who invited me (with an offer I couldn’t possibly refuse) into their post-initial-training Cell Group, and the broad range of fellow Methodists, and fellow travellers, that I studied alongside at Wesley House, Cambridge. Beyond people, I really do tend to find my stimulation within the cultural idioms of music and movies. I have an incredibly eclectic taste in both, partly because I’m not listening or watching simply for something I like but something that speaks to me in some way, so I listen to everything from Bach to the Beastie Boys, from Abba to Zappa, from GoGo Penguin to Led Zeppelin. Likewise my movie range, as a former Film Studies student, is pretty vast – my list of favourites ranges from the story that asks questions about storytelling that is The Usual Suspects to the utterly kitsch yet to my eyes adorably nostalgic Ghost!
- They say everyone has one sermon preached in many different ways – in less than eight words, what is yours?
Gosh, (hmm, yes, I may listen to Metallica and NWA but I’m still that kind of white, middle-class, educated kid that says “Gosh” sometimes) one of the reasons I use the lectionary as much as possible is to deliberately avoid doing this! I guess if I had to summarise I think I’d say “God is love and love is a verb.” (Erm, that’s bang on eight words, is that allowable?)
- You have ten seconds to tell someone about Jesus Christ, what do you say?
“Let’s go get a coffee (or other beverage of your choice), this could take a while!” Seriously though, I’m the kind of person who likes complex and queries simplification. In one of my favourite tv shows, The West Wing, there’s an episode where the President is preparing for an election debate and his staff are working on “Ten Word Answers” – distilling policy into sound-bites. They’re particularly stuck on one for economic policy. In the debate his opponent comes out with a very concise Ten Word Answer on the economy. The President congratulates his opponent and then says he’ll drop out the race right there and then if the challenger can give him “the next ten words”. Of course, he can’t, because government policy is not really so simple that it can be summed up in sound-bites. Neither can faith, and nor can the Son of God, fully human yet fully divine, who for our sakes was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, crucified under Pontius Pilate, died, was buried, and rose again, ascended, and will come again as judge of the living and the dead in a Kingdom without end. So, as I say, “Let’s go get a coffee, this could take a while!”
- There are many issues facing the Church today, what do you think the main challenge for the Church in this age is?
Unity in diversity. The history of the Church to this point has been one of disunity in the face of diversity: Coptic, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Calvinist, Zwinglian, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, etc, etc, etc. The many issues you speak of all result in a diversity of views, and the individualism of today’s (Western) culture means that there is a paradoxical environment where people both insist on their right to any view while insisting on dismissing people who hold opposing views. I think, therefore, that one of the biggest challenges for the Church is to model our One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic nature in a way that shows that having a diversity of views, experiences, gifts and styles is not a reason for being in opposition to one another. Given my joy at being at a friend’s ordination last week and my sorrow at not being able to join in with the laying on of hands because I wasn’t of the right denomination, I still think we have a way to go on this!
- How do you feel at this very moment?
A risky and/or complex question to ask someone who suffers from depression! Right now I feel pretty good, and in the wake of recent changes to my context, excited about future possibilities here in Cornwall. I’m also rather joyful at having played a small part in getting an important letter to the House of Bishops (regarding support for any bishop that may choose to publicly acknowledge their homosexuality) out there and signed by folk of numerous denominations. That said, I’m also feeling tired, but that’s not unusual in someone who has lost their day-off lie-ins to the reality of having a new puppy to walk every morning!
- What is the most testing thing about what you do?
Hmm, I’m not sure I could say publicly, lol! Actually, for me, I find the most testing thing the freedom of being in control of my own diary. If we all tend toward one weakness more than others then mine is certainly laziness, and this role can be as prone to that as it is to encouraging people to do far too much. I think I manage to avoid falling into laziness too often – my wife would certainly say I work a reasonable amount – but the freedom certainly tests me!
- What is the most enjoyable thing about what you do?
Presiding at the sacraments. The very first moment I ever presided at the Table for a Eucharist I knew that whatever problems I faced this was my true calling. That feeling has never left me since.
- What would you say to anyone considering responding to God’s call as a Presbyter/Deacon/Religious?
Speak to as many people as possible: friends, family, strangers, pastors, those of faith and those of none. Explore what following such a call actually involves. If possible take time to walk alongside a variety of ordained ministers and/or religious in a variety of contexts (social media makes this more possible than ever without actually needing to physically be there). Most importantly, be open to the idea that you may be hearing things wrong – one of the most powerful testimonies I ever heard was from a Local Preacher who had candidated for ordained ministry, had been turned down and who had gone on to have the most amazing influence on people’s lives by becoming a head teacher – but at the same time be willing to challenge the answer No if you’re convinced it’s the Church and not you that has misheard!
- When you get to heaven who do you want to see first and what’s the first thing you want to say?
Avoiding returning to the complexities issue above and assuming such a picture of heaven works for me (!), and ignoring all the obvious Saints, I think I’d pick Herbert McCabe OP, because of all the people who’ve had a significantly notable impact on my faith and my role as a Presbyter he’s the only I’ve not ever had the opportunity to meet in this life as he’d died before I read his works. I’d simply want to say “Thank you!” and “Where can we can get a decent pint around here?” – because I suspect if anyone would know it would be Fr Herbert!