The Accidental Chaplain
Sometimes I put pen to paper, or more accurately I turn my MacBook on. Yes, I will admit it – my name is Dorothy and I have an Apple habit. That is beside the point, for now at least. It might be that the MacBook moment produces some word, a hymn, a poem, by way of response to something has moved me, inspired me, angered me, surprised me or challenged me. In my role as a priest and hospital chaplain I am often looking for just the right resource and cannot find words which feel right for the occasion, so I resort to writing it myself.
This blog is an attempt to have a place where I can try things out, explore, ponder, reflect and share. I am happy for anything I write to be used if you happen to find a use for them though I know that some will be a little too niche to be of much use! I am aware of something that was once said of one of my heroes – the writer and priest Henri Nouwen. I think it was his publisher – who commented that Nouwen often made the mistake of believing that that which was most personal was universal. If in this blog I fall into that trap, please forgive me and add me the to the list of “wounded healers” who you have bumped into. All I can say is that at least I am in good company!
Anyway, back to the point I am trying to make about these resources being a shared thing. I don’t really see them as mine. I see them as a gift from the God who I follow, if only that the gift is that I find of a way of letting out all that is in my heart. More and more, these words are my prayers, as I try to put into some order the things I encounter which too often defy explanation, causing me to stop short and look at life and faith all over again. I will upload some in the days to come so watch this space if you are so inclined and avoid it if you cannot think of anything worse! Be warned though, the nature of my work means that the content is not always cheerful. I hope, however that it is grounded in reality and will resonate with some you.
So to yesterday. Yesterday was a funny old day. I went to Great Ormond Street for a day’s work. It was of course Maundy Thursday and the pull to go to St Paul’s Cathedral for the Blessing of Oils and Renewal of Ordination Vows was nagging at me, but I had too much work to get done. At 10am my boss told me I should just go. I grabbed by Oyster card and rushed out to the bus. As I was getting onto it – the No. 25 if you are interested – I ran into David Tennant, whom I love not so much for his Dr Who but for his moody, Broadchurch Inspector Alec Hardy. I was starstruck, and instead of engaging him in that “Do you know I was born in Paisley where your Dad was a minister?” chat, I just put my head down and rushed on to the bus. I am so mad with myself that I didn’t even try that line.
St Paul’s Cathedral holds so many memories for me as it was where I was ordained deacon in 1997, with many lovely family and friends there to support me. I remember so clearly my friend Rob, who is now my Bishop, leading us all in the Taize chant Ubi caritas as we waited nervously to enter the cathedral. I remember the verger passing me a note from Jeremy in which he said he was in the congregation (which I had not expected as he was on his own ordination retreat). I remember the moment when the great west doors opened and we heard the crash of the organ starting the processional hymn. I remember desperately trying not to get my high heels caught in the grills which occur too frequently in the central aisle. I remember seeing many familiar faces from different parts of my life and feeling deeply humbled that they had all made a massive effort to be there. And I remember a huge roll of thunder as the Bishop of London ordained me.
As I renewed my vows, with hundreds of other ministers, I was acutely aware that doing so felt quite difficult. Gone is the first flush of excitement about what entering into ordained ministry might mean. At times in the past 19 years, there have been some massive crises in which I have questioned what on earth I am doing and if the cost of keeping on doing it is worth it. And yet … yesterday I had to say those words again as an act of faith, a faith which is perhaps much more real, and certainly much less glossy, a faith which has been bashed about by life and yet, somehow, remains. I think that might be grace.
The postscript to this is that having got through the service, with a fair amount of emotion, I skipped out of the cathedral ready to face the next year of my ministry with renewed faith and confidence. I had not gone 100 yards when I fell flat on my face on the pavement! Passersby where responsive and kind to this woman in a dog-collar throwing herself at their feet. (Sadly David Tennant was nowhere to be seen!) I hobbled back onto the No 25 bus and then into Great Ormond Street with bleeding knees and scuffed boots and got on with my day looking somewhat bedraggled and feeling just a little fragile. Maybe there is a message in that!