March 4th 1985
Diocesan Director of Ordinands
I am writing to you in order to put my name forward for consideration about being trained for the ordained ministry in the Church of England. I shall be 26 in April this year, I am currently doing postgraduate research in the sociology of religion and I visited the Queens College Birmingham last year 922nd - 26th October) to test what I think is a calling to the ministry.
Whilst this is only the first letter to be sent to you, I think it is important to give some details now about the recent past in order that you know something about me.
Until 1980 I had no church experience at all. In that year, by accident, I began to attend a Methodist fellowship group as an agnostic. I did not agree with their relgious views. For some months I went away to begin a postgraduate course at university. i got to know the chaplain whose religious views were 'different' from what I had known. Due to difficulties with accommodation and the course I came home and decided to re-enter Hull University where I had obtained my degree in Economics, Politics & Sociology. I began research initially into the Methodist group , which I had known, in 1982 and also into an Anglican group. In the case of my research I began to read some theology, particularly John Robinson's Honest to God. I personally found that it made a lot of sense to me. I also found it to be in the line of thinking of the chaplain I had known. I read a great deal of academic theology at that time, and began to tell the Methodist group that I agreed with much of what I was reading. However, it soon became clear that what I was calling Christian they would not, and in amongst their own disputes the minister told me that my theology was creating too many doubts. I was put into 'internal exile' away from the teenagers and told not to talk to them about religion. After a period of alliances and battles I left, although I do pop into the youth club now and again given that the situation has healed. I decided I had better move over to university religion. At this time (early 1984) I was in contact with two Methodist ministers and I visited the Anlgican Chaplain who I had known. At this early stage - even before any confirmation - I told them of my thoughts about entering the ministry. One of the Methodist ministers said, "I can see it now," and advised that I would suit the Anglican ministry. For this reason, as well as geographical nearness, I joined the Anglican Church being confirmed on 24th June 1984. I might add that at this time my theology was influenced by Bahaism (specifically tht of Abdul Baha) and a Bahai group. I still have occasional contact with Bahais.
The idea about entering the ministry has, as far as I can tell, two origins. The first is the impression made on me in 1981/ 82 by the chaplain. The second was in the Christmas 1981 break with the Methodists: There was a game of impersonating church committees and the real minister reckoned I was suitable to be the impersonating minister. A friend said aloud he had thought the same. Since then the idea has never gone away.
However my visit to Queens College led to a crisis. I understood it to be a liberal college. However, whjilst I could talk with the staff, most of the students seemed to be evangelistic - especially the Methodists. On top of this so many said they had been 'called by God' but I could not with honesty say this. I visited my chaplain friend straight after, and even after that I came to the conclusion that I was twenty years out of date. One recoctor hearing of the problem with the students told me that to have a theology like mine for the ministry I would have to be forty years old and already in it for twenty years.
It seemed to me that I did not quite fit in because I had not been evangelistically converted nor brought up by a church family. Rather than have a gut belief in God I had a 'gut-atheism'. I explained this to the priest at Swine church, where I began woshipping in the summer vacation. I went for seven weeks to the Unitarians and that brought me to a crunch point. I felt I was too atheistic for the Church of England, too Jesucentric for the Unitarians and, as for the Bahais, I certainly do not believe in infallibility. The Unitarians did, however, give me the answer. They were, like nineteenth century sectarians, forever arguing against creeds. But it seemed to me that in throwing out the bathwater of the creeds, and in stressing liberalism as the only truth, then they threw out the centrality of Jesus. The creeds are a uniting force, evangelicals and catholics concentrate the minds of libeals - and liberals undermine the others from being too certain. Whatever my doubts I found myself committed to the mainstream.
As it was I returned to the mainstream, having in any case kept my contacts with Swine. I have focussed myself more on Swine and intend to continue like this building a lay role for myself in that locality. On the other hand I cannot refuse the strong feeling I have about the ministry, which is why I have decided to write.
My M.Phil research is due to finish in September of this year but it is possible that I shall extend it for another two years up to Ph.D level. This has yet to be initiated and arranged. I have not approached ACCM as yet. I wonder if you might advise me on how to proceed.
Dear Adrian Worsfold
Thank you for your long letter of 4th March 1985 and your spiritual biography therein. It makes fascinating reading and one thing I would like to comment on immediately is the danger of feeling guilty when someone with honest doubt comes across a group of "certain" evangelicals. I am sure you will not be thrown by this, although there are many of them about at present.
My advice to you would be first of all to contact the local Fellowship of Vocation Chaplain, whose name is Gerald Pearce. His address is The Rectory, Siglesthorne, HULL, N Humberside HU11 5QA, and the phone number is (04012) 3033. Canon Pearce will be very happy to discuss further your feelings about vocation and then, when he feels the time is right, he will encourage you to come and see me, and we can take the matter further. In all this, however, I assume you will have discussed your feelings with the vicar of Swine.
Please find enclosed a brochure on the ordained ministry in the Church of England which you may not have seen, which you may find useful. I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of your letter to Canon Pearce so that he can be fully informed when you make contact with him.
Best wishes in your search for the right Christian vocation. I look forward to meeting you.
Pluralist - Liberal and Thoughtful