Back in September 2012 Matthew Caminer from Berkshire wrote for Lay Anglicana about the Anglican Cursillo movement.
As he explained in his article, although Cursillo is perhaps best known for its residential weekends, the key to its success is the ongoing support pattern of small local groups and area meetings which are called Ultreyas, the mediaeval Spanish word of encouragement shouted out to pilgrims on the road to Santiago de Compostela, roughly translated as “Keep going!” or “Go for it!”. At an Ultreya, the centrepiece is a short talk by a lay person about how God has been working in their life. This is usually followed by reflections from the audience, and then there is a Gospel response, in which a member of the clergy or a Reader places that Lay Action Talk firmly into the context of the Gospel.
Today it was Matthew’s turn to deliver the Lay Action Talk at the Ultreya that took place in Ascot. Following the song I, the Lord of sea and sky, here is what he said.
Many people have asked for that song before they stood up to speak, but I have a particular reason this morning. The chorus, “Here I am, Lord” reminds me of little Samuel in the Temple. Now, as you may know, I am Jewish by birth and when I was little I was sent to what was called Hebrew Classes, something vaguely like Sunday School. I remember hearing the story of Samuel in the Temple, and, sitting in the synagogue, a large, rather intimidating, dark Victorian building in London’s West End, I had it all sorted out:
Samuel slept over there, on the rather hard marble floor by the Ark containing the scrolls.
Eli, the old priest slept over there, at the end, to the right , through that little door, in the room where the rabbis got ready before the service.
And of course God lived over there, behind the vast screen at the back, which hid the organ and from which the choir’s voices could usually be heard, though not seen.
Now I, too, was woken in the night. Not as a child, but about two years ago. It started as a dream. Unusually for me, it remained very vivid after I woke up, and I can still picture it now. I was at one of those huge American evangelistic rallies, in a mega-stadium, thousands of people in the audience, a charismatic speaker, all the audio-visual mod-cons you could think of, fabulous solo singers, a wonderful band, and far over to the right as you looked at the stage, a vast choir in tiered ranks. Somewhere in the back of the choir I was making my little contribution.
Somehow, at some point I found myself in the middle of the vast stage, facing not the audience, but the back wall. Two massive doors swung open and I found myself looking into the space. And that was the end of the dream, except that I came away with a very clear message:
“I’ve got a job for you to do.”
I wasn’t quite sure if this was a message from God or something that I had conjured up in my imagination. I’m not usually given to the heavy drum roll, clouds parting and the booming voice from on high. Whatever, I didn’t know what it meant, so I just smiled and put it down.
All this happened at a time when Miriam, my wife, was well on her way to ordination, and my professional career was at a crossroads. By now, I was a self-employed management consultant. What that actually means, especially for someone of my age, is working for a few months, then not working for a bit, then, getting another contract, and another break, and so on… a sort of stop-start kind of life.
I mentioned Miriam’s training and formation for ordination. For her, the process was all mapped out; but I found that there was nothing on offer to help me to explore how my life would change, or to prepare for the radical impact of Miriam’s ordination on our home life, even though she had opted for part-time, non-stipendiary ministry. I started talking to husbands and wives of other ordinands, and soon turned this into formal, structured research. This turned into a practical book to help others in the same boat. To my astonishment, the doors of the usually impenetrable world of publishing opened, and I was given a contract. I’m not here to do a publicity spot, so I won’t even say the name of the book, because that would take us down the wrong route, and it’s not what an Ultreya is for.
Soon after the book came out, I suggested to the Principal of Miriam’s old theological college that there might be a case for running a seminar for the spouses of ordinands, because by then my interest had spread not just to husbands of female clergy, but to wives of male clergy also.
Again, the door opened.
I was able to plan an evening with contributions from several subject-matter-experts, and with the full involvement of the Principal himself, because I am not so arrogant as to believe that I have all the answers myself. It was a well-attended event, and a little to my surprise I was invited back, this time to talk to the ordinands themselves, not just to their spouses.
The door never even closed that time, but obligingly stayed open! I was beginning to sense God’s hand on all this.
In the meantime, I got together for a natter with someone else who had written a church-related book, to pick his brains on marketing. As a result of that conversation, I was invited for an interview to be a member of the team of Work Consultants in Oxford Diocese. These are people, both ordained and lay, who work alongside clergy on things like time management, work-life balance, change management and so on… in other words not as a counsellor, for which I certainly don’t have the skills or qualifications; nor as a spiritual director – ditto! In other words, this is something that makes full use of my experience over many years in business, a career which ended up in management consultancy.
So again, a door opened. And not only that, but a pattern was beginning to emerge.
By now, a trickle of unsolicited speaking invitations was starting.
One day, while I was at a conference in Oxfordshire, I met the Director of Ordinands from Chichester Diocese. Our conversation was very brief, but the very next day I received an email from him inviting me to run a session in Brighton this time next week for those in Chichester Diocese, not for priests or ordinands, but for those exploring vocations, the very precious seedlings in God’s greenhouse. I trample on their sense of vocation at my peril!
Another door had opened without my even touching it, and I would certainly value your prayers for that important event.
If anyone were to ask me what my ministry was, I think I would always have said it was a Ministry of Encouragement, with the focus on clergy and their families. I don’t know how this emerged, but somehow I had instinctively realised that we expect a huge amount from our clergy but give little back. Examples help: many years ago, I found that I had developed a practice, which I am sure that some of you share. What happened was this. If I was phoning the Rectory to talk to the Vicar, and it was his wife who answered the phone, I knew that she quite rightly hated being used as an answering service and generally taken for granted. She wasn’t “The Vicar’s Wife”. She was Alison, a mother of two small children, and a GP in training… a person in her own right. So when she answered the phone, I made a point of talking to her for a few minutes about things that concerned her, before asking to speak to her husband. Yes, she may have seen through it, but it was a start.
To help me do my job as a Work Consultant I am now studying a branch of psychology called Transactional Analysis. This explores how we relate to ourselves and each other. My purpose in doing this is not to become a therapist but really to know what I don’t know and be better able to recognise and respect the boundaries. I researched it a bit, started working my way through the text book, then looked for courses and… guess what? There was one happening on the only weekend that was free in my diary, and at a price which I could afford.
So yet another door opened.
A series of doors… opening up onto a balanced portfolio of things that relate to each other, that I can do largely by living off my business pension, because the church does not have infinite funds. Why do I suggest that this is from God and not of my own doing? Well, we never know for certain, but here are a few reasons:
- There was a repeated pattern about it
- It was being confirmed by other people
- It was bearing fruit
- There is a sense of inspiration whenever I am doing this work.
- Conversely, opportunities to do my normal professional work simply haven’t felt right – there was one only last week.
And finally, as if to prove the point, between first drafting this talk and delivering it today, I received yet another invitation, this time to talk to a congregation that was in the middle of an interregnum about the challenges, expectations and assumptions that their incoming clergy family will have as they settle in and learn to live their lives in a new environment. A different kind of door, but another door opening, nonetheless.
If I had tried to look into the future five years ago, I could never have envisaged how this rather vague ministry of encouragement would have led me eventually in a new direction; nor would I have thought that a somewhat gothic, technicolour dream would turn into a new career. All in all, it does seem to make sense and it does feel as if it is ‘Of God’, and is the apostolic action to which I am now called. So, I heard the words: “I have a job for you to do” and responded “Here I am, Lord”
Matthew’s book is entitled “A Clergy Husband’s Survival Guide” (SPCK 2012). It was reviewed by Lay Anglicana, Dean Roberts, Beau Stevenson, and Phil Groom amongst many others, as a quick search will confirm.