“Transformational, life changing, empowering, diverse and inclusive” these were just some of the words used to describe the journey experienced by 60 people from across the Diocese, who over the past year, have completed the Bishop’s Certificate Course: Growing in Faith and Life.

Here is what this year’s cohort shared about their experience:

A journey where some of us knew it was the first step to a path we had been called to, some wanted a means to refresh and reevaluate before they made their next move, and some were unsure what to expect but had questions and were seeking answers. But all of us had committed to spending once a week together for the next 10 months to explore, share and learn by joining the Bishop’s Certificate course: Growing in Faith and Life.

We had all received an invitation to join the Bishop’s Certificate course – whether a mention of it had caught our eye in a noticesheet (or email or Facebook post) or via a gentle nudge by our local vicar or another means. We accepted the invitation to deepen our faith and understanding further. Note though if you mention the Bishop’s Certificate to School Governors – they will think you are meaning a completely different course!

There was the option to join the course virtually or in person at Trinity House. And perhaps because there was the virtual option – it truly was a diverse group of people from across the Diocese and accessible to those who would not be able to get to Trinity House easily. There were some of us who could quote their favourite Bible passages and psalms, some who had already trained as SPAs (Southwark Pastoral Assistants), some who had converted to Christianity, some who had lots of questions and some who already had answers. But all were seeking.

With open minds and hearts, we were going to be seeking together – masterfully engaged with and led by Peter Graystone alongside a group of experienced and knowledgeable facilitators. We navigated through the Old and New Testament. We explored the history of the Church, what Christians believe and discipleship. A safe space was created for honesty and vulnerability – a sharing of opinions, ideas, and beliefs. And yes, it was okay to say we didn’t know all the answers whether it was the participants or the facilitators. Because God is so all encompassing how can we even start to understand or know everything? And that’s okay.

Perhaps what we didn’t realise at the time we started the Bishop’s Certificate was how nourishing and enriching this journey would be. There was fellowship, light bulb moments and completed assignments (as well as late and uncompleted assignments!). Neither did we realise how the final residential weekend at the Wychcroft retreat would touch many of us emotionally.  Perhaps we were lucky as we were doused in glorious sunshine.  It was one of those sublime summer weekends in June.  There were lambs in the field next door gathered together under the shade of the trees whilst we gathered together inside with all the windows and doors open to catch a breeze to cool and refresh us whilst we listened and prayed.  Perhaps if the weather had been grey and dreary – we might have found it harder to find God reaching us over the weekend.  But I doubt it because we all felt it. God’s presence among us.

The final weekend was a chance to come together and for those who had participated in the virtual online version; it was a chance to meet in person for the first time. Those of us who met each other in person for the first time wondered whether by participating online it may have enabled us to be more open and honest with each other. We won’t know but we mentioned it as another reason to continue to offer the course virtually so that a wider group of people can access it. Yes, we realise it’s harder to facilitate small group discussion virtually (and yes, we confess we didn’t always spend the group time discussing the questions set – but the discussion was always fruitful and valuable!).

Over the weekend we recognised and reflected on how individually we each had grown. Some of us are happy to take a break for a while, press pause and wait to see what comes. Whilst some are keen to continue their discernment process. Some still have questions but now they also have a few answers. All of us, though, gave thanks and continue to pray for guidance on the road ahead of us.

In September, another bunch of intrepid explorers are about to embark on their first steps together. We, the Bishop’s Certificate 2022/23 cohort, will have come together for a final celebratory service in Southwark Cathedral. If you’re starting the journey – we hope it is as fulfilling for you as it was for us. If you’re curious about going on an adventure with the Bishop’s Certificate – then do take a leap! If you’ve previously completed the Bishop’s Certificate – then pray for us so that we can hear what God is calling us towards.

You can find out more about the Bishop’s Certificate here.