Foundations in Christian Ministry

My name's Dave Lewis, and I'm one of the churchwardens at St John the Baptist in Bishops Tawton.

Last September I started a course called Foundations in Christian Ministry, which is run here in Devon by South West Ministry Training Course. If you've ever heard words like 'vocation' or 'calling' and wondered what they mean then this could be the course for you! The artice below shares some of my experiences to date, and I hope it's helpful to you.

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One of the great joys of being a churchwarden is the paperwork: you never have to look too hard to find a form you can fill in, an email to reply to, or a poster to put up. And it was what I thought was just another piece of paperwork that led me to the South West Ministry Training Course called Foundations in Christian Ministry. This is how it happened.

Every spring your vicar and churchwardens are invited to answer something called the Archdeacon’s Articles of Enquiry. It’s a short questionnaire that gives the Archdeacon an insight into what their local churches are up to. At the same time you can tell the Archdeacon about the things that have been happening over the last year and highlight any issues or concerns you may have with the way things are going. Most of the questions can be dealt with quite quickly, but there was one that troubled me. It asked if there was anyone in your church you should be talking to about their future vocation who you hadn’t yet had that conversation with. And before anyone could say anything I ticked the box that said ‘yes’. The vicar said ‘who are you thinking about?’ I said ‘me’. He said ‘we’ll have to talk about that’. And we did.

I had been considering that word ‘vocation’ for a little while. There was something in my head, in my heart, and in my prayers asking what it meant, but there was also something in me saying whatever it is, it isn’t for you. That was the easier voice to listen to, and the more I listened to it the more reasons I found to try and ignore my head, my heart and my prayers. Just to be sure I started putting up some barriers thinking I don’t have time to do something like this, my family won’t like it, I’d rather be doing something else. Then I started noticing that God was taking those barriers down. Some changes at work meant I did have time. My family started asking why I wasn’t thinking about my vocation. And I finally admitted to myself that it was something I wanted to do.

About a week later my vicar showed me a poster for the Foundations in Christian Ministry (FiCM) course. I filled in the application form (more paperwork!), sent it off and started wondering if I should have found out a bit more about what it was all about. I prayed, offered it to God, said ‘thy will be done’, and it was. I had an interview in Exeter, an email to say I’d been accepted on the course, and my journey began.

In its own words, FiCM sets out to deepen your Christian discipleship, explore and help form your gifts for ministry, help you discern God’s call for the next step in your ministry, and to provide you with a foundation for further training in lay ministry. Or at least that’s the plan. What I think it does is to give you time to listen to that voice in your head, your heart and your prayers, the opportunity to talk to other people in a similar situation about what they’re hearing, and the chance for you to ask what that all means. And there is no paperwork. The word ‘course’ does conjure up images of homework, essays and exams, but there is none of that. Instead you get a programme of seven quite informal study days spread over ten months where you will be introduced to subjects like Theology, Ministry Skills and Spirituality. At the end of each study day you can, if you choose, go home and forget all about it until the next one, or you can use that time to follow up on some of the recommended reading, try some of the ideas about journaling, lead a study group, or even write articles like these. There is no pressure of expectation on you, but I have found that the more you do, the more you want to do. Maybe in its own way this is one example of what that word ‘vocation’ means.

The application process for the 2019 course will begin in the next few months, and the number of places available will increase from 30 to 50. I think that shows how useful students have found it to be. If you would like to know more then a good place to start would be the website, www.swmtc.org.uk. Talk to your incumbent, and if you would like to know more from someone currently on the course, then do please talk to me: 07591 260088. But before you talk, take some time to listen to that voice in your head, your heart and your prayers. If it’s telling you that you should be thinking about vocation then that’s the reason this course is here.

 


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