My journey into ordained ministry feels like a slow, steady, and looking back, natural journey punctuated by distinct and clear moments with God. I had grown up going to church, surrounded by a supportive church community, and had found my own faith at aged 17 at the youth festival Soul Survivor.Although I don’t have a particularly ‘dramatic’ story of coming to faith, it does feel to me like life before that summer was in black and white, or at least grey, and afterwards everything was in vibrant colour. It was there, and in the church youth group I attended thereafter, that I found huge encouragement as a young person to invest in my relationship with God, and seek his call on my life. I took a year out before university to serve in Christian ministry abroad, and happily entered into the life of my church at university, grateful to find groups and activities to contribute to and receive from.
After university I was keen to ‘give back’ to a church student ministry, having received so much. After an initial set back I was offered a role in York, so journeyed ‘up north’ for what I thought would be a year of student ministry before moving onto the next thing, although I didn’t really know what that would be. Over the summer I worked in the bookshop that served all of the summer festivals in Shepton Mallet – it was somewhat of a Christian bubble, but very refreshing and restorative. My disinct and unexpected call to ordained ministry came in a huge tent full of people at the summer conference New Wine. The speaker had encouraged the older generations to pray for and commission the younger generation, and I had gone forward to prayer with a friend. The person praying for me was in fact quite distracting, but once they’d left me to it, I heard God say in my mind’s ear ‘You’re going to be a vicar.’
Excuse me, What? It felt like something I would never imagine, or make up, so I asked again, and the sense was the same. I stood up a while later (I’d been on the floor) and told my friend, who was far too over-excited and started to plan my next five years. I stopped him, and left it with God, to remind me later…maybe it was just me! At a later festival, Momentum, surrounded by peers and friends, in vulnerability I responded to a call to serve the Church in another ministry time, and found myself being prayed for by university friends I hadn’t even realised had been close by.
I went to York with a different sense of purpose, albeit incredibly vulnerable and unsure. After a few weeks of working in the church, I confessed to my colleague (who gratefully was a good friend) my feeling of vocation, and he was very gracious and brought great clarity. It was a blessing that I got to witness in York the kind of chuch leadership and ministry that I felt a real affinity with, and was modelled a type of ‘vicar’ that I could just about imagine being. I went through the discernment process in a couple of years, but then delayed training to begin with a new contextual training pathway called St. Barnabas Theological Centre, which shared my desire to integrate academic study with everyday ministry.
I was placed in a new church for training, which brought both its challenges, as I felt disorientated and de-skilled, but also huge blessings as I learnt more about relating to others and how to discern what God is doing and saying in new and unknown places. I’m so pleased that God led me to train in that way, as I feel much more equipped now for my curacy and next chapter of ministry. My new bishop recently spoke of the transition into ordained ministry not as an end or a beginning, which they could well be described as, but as a ‘continuation’. I really resonated with that, as I know that with God, we are ‘called’ from baptism and no experience is wasted, and that whether collared or not we are all ‘in ministry’. I am well aware that ordained ministry will hold new challenges and feel different from before, but I am confident that the God who has led me before will continue to guide me, and that his strength is perfected in my weakness. Significant verses for me have been 1 Timothy 1:12, and 2 Timothy 1:7 – I remember that in my relative ‘youth’, especially in the Church of England, God has given me the Holy Spirit for boldness, and that I can offer an honest example of a life given over to God that will hopefully encourage others to get to know Jesus for themselves.