After my visit to the Netherlands in the days after Christmas, it is about time to send you an update on how things are going here in Oxford. Generally speaking: they are well, but these are also exciting times on many fronts.
As you may know I’m currently in the discernment process for the priesthood. By the time you read this, I will have had a vocation day with the Diocese in Europe, where I formally met both bishops and was interviewed by them and their advisors throughout the day. [ed. note: this article is published following his meeting and we are informed that all went very well!] This is all in preparation for my BAP – bishops’ advisory panel. Mine is planned for 29 February to 2 March in Ely.
In preparation for a BAP you are requested to fill in a lot of forms. I’m happy just to have finished all of mine. Various people have been writing references for me and preparing me for my BAP, where I will again be interviewed a couple of times, have to do a pastoral exercise, give a presentation, lead a discussion group, and will be generally observed to see whether I would be suitable for training for ordained ministry in the Church of England. The BAP panel will then give advice to the bishop somewhere in March on whether or not they recommend me for training. The Bishop usually accepts their advice.
Whether or not I get through these final stages will have a big impact on the choices I make for the coming years, if not the rest of my life. Please do pray for wisdom on behalf of all those involved, not least of all the advisors and Bishop to judge rightly. But also for me, please.
At St Barnabas, where I spend most of my time nowadays, times are changing rapidly. In the autumn, the parish of St Barnabas was joined with that of St Thomas the Martyr. St Thomas’ had been struggling for years and is now a chapel-of-ease within the parish and a place where we envisage doing a lot of mission in the coming years and are making a start with that.
Having the parishes united raises huge questions of money, time and energy and how to invest those best. I’m involved in organising an away day for the whole congregation later this month and consequently we will celebrate the new parish on various occasions for the wider parish and community. Hopefully these moments will help us towards a sense of direction, building up of community and clarity for us all.
We have started a lot of new initiatives in recent years: we now have a regular and popular youth group; have toddlers and their parents / carers playing in church every Friday for Toddlers Time; have started a holiday club for all the children of the parish; and have regular children’s work happening on Sundays and weekdays at church and at the local school. There is enough to do to keep us entertained, and it seems to have a positive impact on the local community and church.
Other than that I am doing quite a bit of pastoral visiting and home communion visits, both of which are a privilege. I now also preach regularly, take every opportunity I can to go to the most interesting lectures here in Oxford, see as much of Sarah as I can, meet up with friends, and enjoy visitors from the Netherlands.
As stated at the beginning of this letter: the bottom line is that I am well, but these are also exciting times on many fronts. Please do keep up your continual prayers.
With my very best wishes and prayers, Thomas