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Journeying On

David Ford, of Banbury and Evesham MM, begins training for the Anglican priesthood this autumn. Here he reflects on his life journey and the contribution of Friends…

When Liz, my wife, and I first attended Cotteridge Meeting in 1991, we recall a wonderful sense of having come home, a sensation very familiar to many new attenders. And yet, in my case, it is proving to be more of a staging post than a permanent home. Perhaps, on reflection, I will come to see Friends as a place of spiritual recuperation as much as anything else.

Integrity is fundamental to who I am, and this applies in the spiritual just as much as the personal or material. To be truthful to oneself must be at the core of knowing God inwardly and a prerequisite for reflecting Him outwardly. It is this truth that is taking me towards the Anglican priesthood and, ironically, this is for the second time in my life.

I was only 14 or 15 when I first felt called to ministry in the Church of England. This developed into a full vocation that led me to the Anglican theological college Westcott House, in Cambridge in 1984. After just one year I left, feeling very out of place in that environment, despite hugely enjoying University life and, in particular, studying for a theology degree.

Since leaving a quiet nagging in the back of my mind has remained. This nagging others will recognise as the leadings of God. It is an irresistible pull that cannot be ignored without denying oneself. I know this to be a true calling for when it is responded to, a sense of completeness and peace envelops me. As with all callings, to be true to yourself you do eventually have to go with it - to live in that rhythm of God that is you. To do otherwise is to deny oneself and to deny God.

One of the questions I ask myself most frequently is how can I be comfortable in the CofE with all its dissension on gender and sexuality issues about which I have very strong views? One answer to that has to be, how can I be comfortable in the RsofF with its sense at times of overwhelming inertia and self-satisfaction? Both churches have different but equally fundamental flaws perhaps.

I describe myself as a biblical liberal, meaning that I believe there is a sound scriptural basis to theological liberalism; we don't need to be on the defensive all the time, feeling under attack by reactionary conservatives. Having said that I am sensitive to the fact the theological liberals can be very illiberal. I sincerely want to try to worship alongside those with whom I fundamentally disagree. The body of Christ must ultimately include everyone. If God accepts us as we are, so should we whilst acknowledging our need for forgiveness and transformation. That is possibly a more Anglican theological position than a Quaker one.

One of the benefits of going through the Anglican selection process I've endured this past year is that I have been challenged to review my understanding of priesthood since the last time I explored my vocation in the early 1980s. I don't believe the modern understanding of priesthood in the Church of England would be readily recognised by George Fox and pose the question – feeling inadequate to answer it – as to the extent to which Friends' view of priesthood has moved on since the 17th C. Although the Church of England holds to the view that something unique happens at the point of ordination, the priesthood of all believers is a central tenet of Anglican thinking as is the fact that ordained clergy remain first and foremost members of the laity.

As I move on from Friends, what will I miss? Top of the list is the Quaker Business Method. No other aspect of Quakerism has soaked further into my psyche than this. Corporate silent worship may no longer be the monopoly of Friends as it is increasingly featured in non-Eucharistic services within Anglicanism. But Friends way of doing business is unique and contemporaneous minutes have much to teach others about community and unity.

One of the things I've learnt over the past few years is the yearning for contemplative worship amongst younger Christians. I know this from personal experience through the youth group I help run for 14-17 yr olds. Freed of the challenge of language I believe many teenagers are seeking to discover their spirituality through silence and contemplation. Our challenge is to find an inclusive and accessible language through which we can then help them re-build a Christian theology from the ground up.

So some brief and passing musings on what will have been a 15-year engagement with Friends. I owe the Society so much more than my apparent lack of staying power might suggest. But that is by the nature of Friends, it is both our strength and our weakness. Thank you for being there.

David Ford, Banbury and Evesham MM


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