Following in the footsteps of some of my friends who have also been through the discernment process towards ordination in the Church of England, I thought I would share some reflections on what going to a Bishops’ Advisory Panel is actually like for anyone about to go to one themselves or just curious to know how it works.
The BAP (as it’s known – cue annoying sandwich jokes from people you know whenever you mention it) is the final stage of the selection process for applying to train for the priesthood in the Church of England. It’s a gruelling 2 and a half day residential ‘selection conference’. Before going you do get given information on what’s going to happen which is outlined here. Here’s my take on what it was like.
My conference was held at Shallowford House which is near Stafford (the other centre which is used is in Ely). I travelled there by train and I would recommend getting to a BAP by public transport as particularly on your way home, you’ll be in no fit state to concentrate on a long drive. Everyone told me to buy earplugs because this retreat house is right by a railway – I took some but didn’t need them in the end. Some of the rooms are en suite but unfortunately mine wasn’t!
My BAP was a ‘full’ one, meaning that we had 16 candidates – in two groups of 8 and each group of 8 had 3 Advisers (a mixture of lay people and ordained) with a Panel Secretary who ran the whole thing. It’s quite an odd experience because it’s an interview that’s not an interview – there is no competition involved – there is no quota of places but you are all being assessed. I suspect there is nothing that quite compares to this process!
On arrival you can settle into your room and then after tea and biscuits there is an ice breaker session designed to help you all get to know each other a bit.
Following this is the part they call the Personal Inventory. This is a 40 minute paper where you answer questions on the 3 main areas on which you’ll be interviewed: Vocation, Pastoral & Education. This is an opportunity to share things that perhaps you didn’t share in the massive registration form you completed before you went. What you write on this Personal Inventory is used quite a bit by the interviewers when they see you. It’s virtually impossible to prepare for this bit, but the best thing to do is just write the first thing that comes into your head in answer to each question. There are three short papers asking questions on education, pastoral and vocation – you spend about 12 minutes on each one.
Once you’ve done it you can forget about it though – it’s not really a test (although it feels like one).
After that everyone is given the pastoral exercise to complete – you have the rest of the panel to write a 500 word letter in response to a complex pastoral situation. All I would say on this one is make sure you write a pastoral letter – ie a friendly, warm one, in the most natural way you can. Mine was a blessing and a curse as it was very close to a situation I’m experiencing at the moment – so on the one hand I had already thought about the issues quite a lot but on the other it was a bit close to home!
Then it’s dinner and off to bed or the bar for a drink first (where the Advisers don’t hang around so it’s a bit more relaxing than you’d think).
This was the toughest day. All morning from 8.45am to 1pm you have the presentations in your two groups. You are each given a card with the number 1-8 on to decide the running order. I got 7 :-(! Then you have 2 presentations, a break and so on until you’re all done. The exhausting thing about this is that you are being observed throughout – in your presentation, the way you lead group discussion, the way you respond etc. So you need to be as perky for the first one as you are for the eighth! Fortunately, you’re all rooting for each other and it is actually interesting to see what each person speaks on – we had a nice mixture of topics although 5 out of the 8 chose ‘mission and evangelism’ for their criterion to speak about. Apparently sometimes people choose the same topic but this didn’t happen at my BAP.
I was utterly exhausted after all of that – I felt like I did when I was at university doing exams – really really tired but really wired at the same time! Fortunately they feed you well – we had a good pasta bake for lunch which settled me back down a bit!
Following lunch I had my first interview – the Education one.
The education adviser looks at Faith, Mission and Evangelism and Quality of Mind. Many people I’ve spoken to have said this is generally the toughest of the 3 interviews – and I would agree with that. I think they are trying to figure out if you can cope with some tough questions and hold your own. Mine was pretty tough, I was asked about the 39 articles(!) and also told to improvise a sermon about the ascension! It’s best not to talk to other candidates, however, about your questions because everyone gets different questions depending on what’s in their paper work so don’t worry – I happened to have the 39 articles mentioned in a reference which is perhaps why that came up. They will throw a curve ball or two at you. Try not to panic and answer as calmly as you can. I was glad this was my first interview – I got the hardest one out of the way first!
Later that day I had my Vocation interview.
The Vocations adviser looks at Vocation, Ministry in the Church of England and Spirituality.
I enjoyed my Vocations interview the most I think. It’s a chance to tell your story and for me didn’t feel like a test at all but just a conversation. The only advice I would give is be sure you can answer the question of what the role of a priest is – you’re likely to be asked that and need to be able to give a good response. (I have to say, I found the book ‘On being a priest today‘ absolutely brilliant preparation for the BAP – a must-read).
On Wednesday I only had one more interview to go (people have their interviews scattered at different times over the two days). So I spent the morning writing my pastoral letter and then went to the last interview – the Pastoral one.
The Pastoral adviser looks at Personality and Character, Leadership and Collaboration and Relationships. This is the most personal of the interviews and felt a little like a counselling session (if you’ve ever had counselling you’ll know what I mean). They will ask you some very deep and personal questions which are quite hard to answer but my adviser was really sensitive and gentle (I don’t think they’d let a dragon do these interviews!) It was a bit emotional but ok, not surprising given the personal nature of the questions.
Every day is punctuated by morning and evening prayer in the chapel. There is a nice mixture of Common Worship, other forms of prayer and Book of Common Prayer. They say this is all optional but you’d be a bit daft not to go! Also it’s nice to have some structured worship as I found it quite hard to focus and pray on my own whilst there – it’s so intense it’s nice to have some prayers to follow instead (but then I like liturgy anyway!)
Things that surprised me:
- The warmth of the other candidates. The other candidates made the process a real pleasure, we were all rooting for each other and had a good laugh each evening in the bar dissecting some of our interviews and just chatting about other stuff too.
- I really enjoyed all the worship in the chapel and particularly the closing service where there was a brilliant homily.
- The food was really good and meal times were convivial.
- Just how exhausted I was on my return home – I nearly slept for the whole day afterwards – so try and get the day off on the Thursday if you can!
- How painful and horrible the 10 day wait to hear was! I didn’t anticipate quite how hard the wait would be – I kind of wish I’d been more busy with work – the last two days I wasn’t working and so I had plenty of time to convince myself it would be a ‘no’!
The good advice I received that I also pass on to you if you’re going to a BAP:
- Tell people you’re going to the BAP – get them praying for you. I felt very buoyed by prayer whilst I was there and had an almost floaty journey down on the train! One great thing for me was that I posted on Facebook that I was going (a lot of my FB friends didn’t even know I was on this journey – so I kind of ‘came out’!) – I got loads of encouragement from people, some of whom I haven’t seen for years. So if you’re like me and share your life on social networks, it’s worth sharing this as all sorts of people come out in support of you that you’d never expect!
- Be yourself – all they’re trying to work out is if you match what’s been said in your references and other forms and if God really is calling you specifically to ordained ministry (not just ministry per se).
- Try and enjoy it – it’s ridiculously intense but you go through it along with the other candidates – and it’s a bit of an ordeal for the advisers too – there is a real sense of camaraderie which helps to make the process less daunting.
- Give yourself time on your return to recover – I needed to sleep for a whole day – you really feel like a spent match at the end of it.
- After you’ve rested, try and get busy – I wish I’d occupied myself more whilst I waited to hear.
Here are some other great blog posts to read before going to a BAP:
Liz Clutterbuck – So you’re going to a BAP – really humorous take on going to a BAP
Rachel Hartland – To BAP, BAPing, I BAPed – encountering the verb of selection for ordination! – read this especially if you’re going to Ely
Emma Goldby – Bishops’ Advisory Panel thoughts – some very sage advice
That’s the story of my BAP. The process is very rigorous but made me realise what care is taken to ensure the right decisions are made for everyone concerned. I think it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but when you think of the consequences – which are truly life-changing – you can see why! I especially want to thank Rachel (@ramtopsrac on Twitter) for her encouragement and support – it was so nice to have someone go through a BAP just before I did! Now on to the next stage of the journey!
What if you don’t get recommended?
To round off this article I think it’s appropriate to also share a story of someone who didn’t get recommended. You can read Ernie’s frank account on the Big Bible site. My thanks to Ernie for his honesty and for sharing such a personal story.
Thanks for linking to my post from a couple of weeks ago about my experiences in Ely, and interesting to compare our stories and experiences. I almost ‘relived’ it with you, knowing almost exactly what you were going through, and how tortuous the last few days of ‘wait’ was – though mine was blessedly cut short by the Bishop because of Easter!
With the Personal Inventory, obviously the questions vary as I got neither of the ones you mention (which I would have found tricky too). One of the ones I vaguely remember was to describe a mistake you’d made in your life, and why you thought it was a mistake!
Like you I found the Vocation interview the easiest, though I didn’t really feel like I had any ‘curve balls’, though I was aware other’s did. I certainly think that you need to be able to talk clearly about the things that you know have gone into your BAP Registration and supporting papers like references. I had gone through before BAP noting down things from all these places and my own reflections under each of the 9 criteria for selection, and re-read the relevant short notes before each interview. This helped things be top of my mind so I could talk clearly about them – as I have a rather slow re-call normally.
Now, I’m really keen to get on to the next bit of the journey, and it will be good to share it with you from opposite ends of the country via Twitter & blogs! First though is a tough bit – stepping out of all those things we’re currently doing.
Praying as we go!
[…] key to how you approach a BAP. Then Briony BAPed at Shallowford and her detailed reflections are here.] Bishop Woodford House, Ely (it’s the low building that lies behind the Diocesan Offices […]
Brilliant….practical advice is such a great help in preparation. Thank you!!!
You’re welcome Simon, all the best as you continue on your journey!
Bryony, thank you for linking to my Not Recommended #digidisciple post. It’s now nearly six months since my BAP, and I’ve since written about new strands emerging for ministry, it went up on 10th Sep. My Vicar is meeting with diocese in the next couple of weeks and than we will meet to discuss his idea for a future form of ministry, within the Parish context, which will differ from those currently available. it will require formation and formal training, pathways to be developed, but his vision shared with be crucial to the way forward.
It’s now exciting again! Something I thought that I had lost, I hadn’t in fact, already found, and now it seems to be finding me. I don’t worry, I just rest in God knowing that he is working through others to allow a fresh ministry initiative to be discerned and for a move forward.
God be praised.
Hi Ernie, I’m so delighted that things are working out for you. I read your Big Bible follow up post on 10th September with joy and wish you all the best as you continue to follow Jesus. Thanks for your honesty. God bless, Bryony
Thank you so much for all your sound advice, is was really helpful, although I had to drive as the train journey would have been complicated and taken twice as long! I too was at Shallowford and was glad of the earplug suggestion..but I would also add in take a dressing gown for those middle of the night trips to the bathroom!…as not all rooms are en suite
For me I really enjoyed the first two days, the presentations were really interesting, especially one guy, we could have talked for hours on his subject ! In fact I almost (I was number 7 too) forgot that I had to give mine, so was completely chilled, until I stood up!. I suggest that you check the height of the lectern before you start, I didn’t, it was a bit high for me, as the previous candidate had put it up, so I peered over the top! My education and vocation interviews were gentle and professional
Interestingly my pastoral interview on the 3rd day was draining, and it wasn’t gentle at all, in fact I felt violated and I found it quite destructive, however then I went back to my room and God really spoke to me and put me back together, which taught me actually to totally rely on Him even more.
I didn’t really notice ‘being observed’ during the mealtimes etc, everyone was so friendly and we just had light-hearted conversation. I would warn anyone though who is vegetarian (vegan) to ring beforehand as they didn’t quite ‘get me’ and thought that veg soup made with chicken stock was ok!
I agree that the wait is tortuousness…I went from feeling high to crying for no reason, and just as you did went from I thinking I did ok to there is no way I’ll be recommended!. When the call came though I wasn’t expecting it as my DDO, bless him, called me late on the Thursday and I wasn’t expecting anything till Friday, so I answered the phone and wasn’t prepared at all.
Knowing that I’d been recommended for training took a few hours to sink in and then I just wanted to tell the world!
Now comes the next step…packing up and moving and back to college!
[…] my BAP. Each panel is a three day process, which is well-documented by other bloggers, (e.g. Bryony Taylor and Hannah the trainee vicar) but, in short, it includes: ● times of worship; ● a personal […]
Thanks so much Bryony for this brilliant blog. I have my BAP in May and I feel much better having heard first-hand from someone who’s been there! Some really sound advice too which I shall certainly take.
[…] https://bryonytaylor.com/2012/05/07/whats-it-like-to-go-to-a-bishops-advisory-panel-bap/ […]
[…] of other folk (here, here and here, for example) have written about their experiences of being at a Bishops Advisers […]
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Thanks for your blog. I just had my BAP this week and on Thursday I went to prison visitation and yesterday I preached at our midday service. I just realised I am extremely tired and finding the waiting difficult. It is good others feel the same way
[…] of other folk (here, here and here, for example) have written about their experiences of being at a Bishops Advisers […]
Hey! Only just found this… wish I’d thought to have looked for posts before my panel (Though I’m CiW, so mine was slightly different!) Having said this, I’ve also written a post with a Welsh twist for those who are interested, which will form part of a series on this sort of stuff! My post is here for those interested: http://deanroberts.net/2014/07/24/so-youre-off-to-a-provincial-discernment-panel/
Thanks so much for posting this, however- very useful to read about other people’s experiences!
I had my BAP last month and my reflection can be found here http://followingmyking.wordpress.com
[…] Bryony Taylor -What’s it like to go to a BAP? […]
[…] https://bryonytaylor.com/2012/05/07/whats-it-like-to-go-to-a-bishops-advisory-panel-bap/ The inside story on selection for ordination training – eek! […]
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