#DecemberOfDiscipline: Training to be a Priest

Context

This post is written primarily for the group of 200+ men participating in #DecemberOfDiscipline.

Initiated by Hunter Drew of TheFamilyAlpha blog and author of #31DtM (31 Days to Masculinity), #DecemberOfDiscipline is a month long series of challenges aimed at helping men to reclaim their sense of purpose and to express themselves authentically as men.

https://twitter.com/TheFamilyAlpha/status/934444978792812544https://twitter.com/TheFamilyAlpha/status/937337959833010176

What do the challenges involve? Well, either you’re in it and so you know or you should do it and find out for yourself.

But for a taster, the daily rules include:

  • No Masturbation
  • No Porn
  • 100 Push-ups a day (minimum)
  • Read (anything, just be reading)
  • Giving genuine answers, to yourself and to others
  • Do the daily Challenge

Fail any of these, and your month is over.

During December many of us are on the private slack chat, and a handful of us are also ̶f̶i̶g̶h̶t̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶d̶e̶a̶t̶h̶ playing each other at chess.com.

The Question

During the last 9 days several of the men have expressed curiosity about the fact that I’m training to be a priest, asking: “Why are you training to be a priest?” or “How did you find yourself training to be a priest?”

The Story

My father is a priest in the Church of England, and my mother’s father was also a priest in the Church of England.

I grew up in rural Devon, where many of my friends expected to (and since have) become farmers like their parents. Being the child of a priest I was often asked if I would be a priest “like your dad?”.

No.

I am my own person. I would live my own life.

When I was seven or eight I stood in front of my school and their parents at the end of year service and proudly said that I wanted to be a bin-man, because I had just started having showers instead of baths and reasoned that a bin man would have a shower every day — that would be the dream! (This story still embarrasses my mother. Heh.)

My philosophy through school was simple.

I would study what I enjoyed, and I would become qualified for something I would find interesting.

At high school my optional subjects became history, religion, french and spanish.

I pursued philosophy at A-level (and accompanied this with physics, literature and classics).

This turned into a love of ideas, concepts, and values.

I went on to study Theology at the London School of Theology, graduating with a first class BA Honours degree.

After my degree, I worked for two years as a Pastoral Support Worker with undergraduates at the London School of Theology.

During this time two things happened. First, I went through a lot of emotional turmoil as the result of the unpleasant breakup of my first real relationship; and second, I became passionate about communicating theology to others and helping them to understand it in relation to their own lives. This has taken me to some unusual situations, often through talking to people in pubs.

People started asking me if I’d considered ‘entering the church’. I was resistant but decided that I would have the conversation and see where it went and when they said “no thanks” I’d be able to close that door and decide what I wanted to do with my life.

A few months in to the process (it takes quite a long time to have the conversations and so on) my Granddad died.

This is a story in itself.

I was on my way to visit him and see my family after he had been in hospital for an infection. It was supposed to be a normal trip.

My father met me off the train and told me that things had taken a turn for the worse — this would be the last time I would see Granddad.

By the time I got there he was sleeping, non-responsive; but still alive. Over the next few hours my entire extended family arrived and we all prayed with and over him and sang some hymns. We cried, we had food, we supported each other and said our goodbyes. I found that I joined with my Dad in slipping into the role of supporting others, praying for cousins and aunts and uncles one on one. It was a profoundly beautiful day.

Granddad died a few days later.

I was asked to join my cousin and do the prayers at the funeral. My cousin did the prayers for his life and his family left behind, while I did the more theological prayers thanking God for Granddad’s ministry.

Being a retired clergyman, there were many clergy present at the funeral and after the service at least six or seven of them thanked me for the prayers and asked me if I’d started training yet. This was, to my mind, a real confirmation that I should seriously consider this path.

Before you can start training you have to pass a selection panel who report to your bishops. I was still feeling unsure about being a priest and so I decided to go in and be completely honest. To ‘sell’ myself as best I could while also giving them as many reasons as I could for them to say “no thanks, we don’t think so”.

Their report began:

Sam presented at the Panel as a person of quiet intelligence and promise. We believed that he showed enormous potential to be a theological educator as well as a fine priest.

Following a conversation with my Bishop, I found myself here in Durham training to become a priest.

Why #DecemberOfDiscipline?

So how does a man who is training to be a priest end up participating in #DecemberOfDiscipline?

Discipline

  • No Fap

This is what caught my attention with #31DtM originally. During my time at the London School of Theology I found that most guys, if they were honest, had struggled with porn and masturbation at some point. As a Christian the ideals of sex within marriage and avoiding lusting after others is a value that I am on board with. So I decided to look closer.

  • Press Ups

I used to do Capoeira and then spent some time doing Kung Fu. When I started my BA I was skinny as anything, had a six pack and spent all my time climbing trees and doing handstands. By 2017 I’ve reached my heaviest weight, just over 200 pounds — and that’s not muscle. So press ups sounded like a good idea as a way of getting back into exercise and fitness.

Also, Discipline is essential for a good priest.

I can expect to have to manage routine commitments such as daily morning prayer with the spontaneous pastoral situations which arise in the communities I’ll serve.

I can expect to be preaching most Sundays, which involves researching and preparing and then delivering a talk ranging from ten to forty-five minutes (depending on context). Daily patterns of reading and reflection in a busy life are key habits to develop now.

Leadership

#DecemberOfDiscipline encourages us to do three things

  1. Lead yourself

Get your body, your wardrobe, your finances and your life in order. Take responsibility and put the work in to do what you need to to achieve what you want to achieve.

2. Lead your family

Whether that’s a long term relationship or a marriage, whether that’s with kids or without kids, you need to encourage your family to do the things which are beneficial for them. That might be having a family film night watching It’s a Wonderful Life or playing in the snow, or helping the kids with their homework or exercises, or appreciating your woman and raising the bar with your own example.

3. Lead within your context

At work, be valued for your contributions, offer solutions. At school, study hard; learn from those who are better than you and lift up those who are struggling.

Take responsibility.

All three apply to me as a future priest just as much as they apply to you in whatever situation you find yourself.

Brotherhood

#DecemberOfDiscipline will end in the New Year. The slack will be gone and Hunter will stop emailing us with challenges.

It’s been said that this is not a social club.

And I agree. Instead, as Hunter said, “This is the internet locker-room where men swap notes”.

Nevertheless, we who are doing #DecemberOfDiscipline are a select group of men around the globe united, whether we post in the slack or not, by a common sense purpose, by a shared sense of struggle; by every page read, every push up pushed, and every challenge completed.

I’m making notes. Lots of them. About myself, about the sets I manage (today: 20, 20, 20, 20, 20, 20), about the moves I’m making in chess and about how I feel participating in this group — about what makes this work.

In a tutorial yesterday I was asked “If you could do anything to help you develop, with time and money being no object, what would you do?”

“I would go to the gym three times a week with a group of men who lived nearby to work out, and then pray together, support each other, hold each other accountable and grow together.”

As such, as well as forging connections with some men during #DecemberOfDiscipline I’m reflecting on how I can implement something similar in a localised context as a part of my ministry.

I suspect step one will be forming a men’s group. Step two will be getting them all to do #31DtM together and step three will be seeing what happens when you have a group of men stepping up and taking responsibility for their lives.

“Samuel”

I am a man who has overcome various challenges in my life and who has encountered God in a variety of life changing ways. This short post tells merely an aspect of my journey on the way to priesthood. If you want to know more then DM me in Slack or on Twitter.

I believe that Jesus was killed and came back from the dead; that he is the God who created everything, who loves not just me but all people. I am engaged to a beautiful woman with whom I spend a lot of time laughing. I am training to be a priest. I am overcoming the difficulties that life sends my way.

I do my press ups.
I do my runs.
I do the challenges.

I am a Man of Discipline.

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