Stories of calling
We’ve presented below some stories of exploring vocation to give you a flavour of this diversity. Of course no such list can ever be exhaustive, so if you want to get a flavour of ministry first hand you might want to consider getting involved in our ministry experience scheme.
Ministry is more than just a job, and represents more than just a change in career. Find out more about the different types of ministry within the Church of England.
If you’re currently serving in ministry, or training to do so, and would like to share your story, then please do get in touch!
Rachel was unsure what vocation looked like. Her story shows having a family can be a strength to ministry, not a burden.If God is calling you he’ll make it work
Right now I’m doing my curacy, having recently completed training at St Mellitus. I live in curates’ accommodation and receive a stipend.
Women have been getting ordained for a long time, but there are not many women church leaders in the more evangelical, charismatic churches that I am in. So when I was exploring what God was calling me to, a big part of it was wondering “What does vocation look like for people in this type of church who are like me?”
I took that to my vicar. He was amazing and was a huge champion of me and my gifting. Looking back, I truly believe that when I articulated that calling for the very first time, which was to him, the fact I was affirmed and encouraged was really significant. My Diocesan Director of Ordinands was also incredibly encouraging and said “I believe God’s calling you. Don’t worry about your gender or your age or any of things you want to do, like be a mum or whatever. If God is calling you then he’ll make it work”.
I became a mother during training. My tutor gave me full choice as to whether I wanted to take time out and come back, or to just keep going. I was never pushed one way or the other.
Juggling ministry and childcare is made easier by having an understanding boss. The vicar knows that my husband also works full time, so is unable to do childcare during the normal work week. I’ve heard other curates say the vicar doesn’t really get it, because they have a stay-at-home spouse, so I think there’s still work to do around that. My vicar though totally gets it. He realises that within our community there are tons of young families, so having a curate doing the young family thing is a brilliant way to connect. He always says “We need to make this work for you because I want you here to minister to these people”.
I’m so passionate about my ministry. Often when I chat to other women, they have found it difficult. I feel like I want to counterbalance that and talk about how great my experience has been, because I’ve felt supported every step of the way. If that good practice could be more widely shared then brilliant, there’s definitely a path there for women called to do it.
Foloronso never saw himself as a priest. It took the words of others to reveal his gifts to him.If God says yes, who can say no?
At primary school I served as an altar boy, serving candles, etc. The priest said to me “You are very good and calm. You could be a priest one day”. Looking back, that was my first encounter with calling.
At the time it didn’t make sense, my idea of a priest was of an old man. People would complain when the priest came. “Why is he coming now? He should just come on a Sunday!” A priest was somebody important, but when he left people would also say “Thank God he’s gone…” So of course this was not what I wanted for my life.
At university I was still Christian, but I didn’t go to the Christian Union. I continued to go to church, my home church because my university was in the town I grew up in. I became a youth leader, so I was really involved.
We had a drama competition between churches every year, I was always picked to play the priest! People would remark “You’re a good priest” but to me I was just playing the role.
I never truly reflected on what it meant until the priest at my church came to me in my final year of university and said he had a gift for me. He gave me a form to go to Immanuel College of Theology! I looked at the form, but having studied for so long I was not going to study more, and definitely not theology. So I said “No, that’s not for me”.
After doing National Service, and then working for the YMCA, I decided actually I did want to study more, but still not theology. I moved to France to pursue a Masters. It was there I met my wife.
I was looking for an English-speaking church, eventually finding an Anglican church with a style reminiscent of what I had experienced in the Methodist Church in Nigeria.
They needed a Sunday school teacher, and asked me. I also served on the church council and started to lead worship. One time I was asked to pray before a meeting and afterwards the leader replied “That was a lovely, lovely prayer”. That was the start of our relationship. I thank him a lot, if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be doing this. He put a lot of time and energy into nurturing me, advising, exploring my vocation with me.
I was newly-married, my wife is Catholic with a full time job in France, but now I knew I wanted to be an Anglican priest! When I told my wife though she said “I knew when I met you that one day you would become a priest”.
After that I was sent by the Diocese in Europe to train at Trinity in Bristol. My training involved working in a local church. I got to do ministry, but also be part of church life. We made friends there.
I recently completed my curacy in St Andrews in Cobham, and I’m now the vicar at St Mary Oatlands. I would say that if people think God is calling them, they should explore it. There is no harm in exploring. Always remember, if God says yes, who can say no?
Being a priest is interesting but also challenging. Baptisms are what most make me rejoice, as well as just being there for the community. In our society there are great riches but also a lot of suffering behind closed doors. And sometimes the last person they want to speak to about that is a priest.
It is challenging, but I like challenges. You need to love and they need to love you back. That’s when you can do ministry.
Matt knew that he was called to do more. Once he got involved the opportunities to minister only grew.How could I say anything but yes?
I’d grown up in a traditional church. I remember thinking church was fine, I just wasn’t overly excited by it. When I went to secondary school was when it got interesting. I just got completely rinsed really, for being a Christian, believing in God, and called all sorts of ridiculous names. I remember feeling I was the only Christian.
I wasn’t ready to decide it was stupid and not go to church, but I remember praying “God, if you’re there, you’ve got to give me more than this, because I can’t continue with this”.
My church youth worker organised a trip to Spring Harvest. I’d never been to anything like that before. I remember praying that same prayer “Dear God, this is it really, this is breaking point, if you’re there show me.”
I remember a particular moment, praying that prayer and closing my eyes and having an amazing encounter with the Holy Spirit. I don’t remember ever hearing about the Holy Spirit, I didn’t know who the Holy Spirit was, and I didn’t have any preconceptions of it, I just encountered the Holy Spirit and knew it was God’s presence. I had the most amazing sense of peace and love that I’d never felt before. And a voice that wasn’t my voice saying “Matt, will you follow me?” How could I say anything but yes? I can remember walking out from that moment of encounter and jumping for joy, overwhelmed with having encountered God in that way.
Going back to school was even harder now. People would say “Oh no, he’s had it now, he’s found religion!” but for me that was what I needed. I needed that confidence. I wanted to be open about my faith and talk about my faith. My faith became quite public.
God gave me great opportunities to step forward into leadership. I joined the Christian Union, and we started doing school assemblies, I got connected with a new church from the one I’d grown up in, St Stephen's, and when that happened the youth and children’s workers there really encouraged me in my faith. I was asked to get more involved in leading the group and helping with children’s ministry. The responsibilities just snowballed really.
When I finished school I did an apprenticeship with Volvo. I wanted to work with people and I like cars. I was straight into the workplace, but carried on doing church youth work which I loved. I had the best of both worlds, but I suspected God was calling me to get involved in employed youth work. Part of that came out of a youth drop in centre we were going to start running. I remember thinking “I really want to do that, but 3pm on a weekday isn’t going to work because I’m at work”. I took that to God and was praying “Is this something I should be involved in? How will this work?” and I can remember God saying “Do you want to make a difference to people’s lives or just their cars?” My response was “people’s lives”. From then on everything just fell into place. I kept a prayer journal that I’ve still got and look back through. It’s amazing.
The specific calling to explore ordination was always at the back of my mind, but I was treading carefully. I didn’t want to step out of the calling I’d stepped into, so I continued to serve as a youth minister for several years. I wasn’t denying it was there, but I wanted to know what God was calling me to in the moment, and not go off track.
So I prayed, “God make this clear”. A year and half later, three people who I’m really close to, my mentor, my vicar and another person, all said to me separately (and they don’t know each other) “Do you think that now is the time to explore ordination?” and I just felt God say “OK, now this is me saying to you, explore it”.
So I got in touch with my diocese and suggested we meet. They were nice, encouraging conversations, felt natural and they said I was ready. I felt God saying “Now is the time to go for it.” It felt like I’d pushed the door and fallen through it! The whole time I was praying that if it wasn’t right, God would close the door.
I was recommended for training and began studying at St Mellitus. The people are remarkable, and from so many different working backgrounds. It’s rich with amazing people, so to get to know people and chat with them, and swap ideas is just brilliant. It feeds my ministry back home and I really like that. The lectures were fascinating.
I’d advise anyone considering their vocation to seek wise counsel from those you know and trust, people who can be really honest with you. People around you will help you to explore.
Get to know people who are in ministry, I’ve had the privilege of knowing so many ministers, I look back and I know I’ve watched their lives and their family lives really carefully and have been working out how they manage life, their joys and their struggles. Part of this exploring has been thinking, can I see myself in that role? What’s attractive about it? What would I do differently?
Ministry is about being there for people. As a Lay chaplain, Tracey plays her full part in university life, offering pastoral care and prayer to students and staff.You are there when they need you
I thoroughly enjoy chaplaincy. It varies hugely, and I’m here for all staff and students at the university where I work, those who belong to a particular faith and those who would describe themselves of no faith.
A typical day might mean a student coming in with some difficult struggles, personal stuff going on in their life. I’ll listen, make tea, have biscuits and tissues, and provide that listening ear. If they are a Christian we’ll pray, and if not I’ll just listen and pray for them once they’ve gone if they’re ok with that. I may move swiftly on to an event such as taste testing for National Student Money week, a pancake flipping race for Shrove Tuesday or running my weekly book stall. No two days are the same.
Every Tuesday we start the day with Toasty Tuesday – we offer free tea, coffee (the chaplaincy is known for its good coffee) and toast and then move into a short time of prayer.
We mark Christmas and Easter, as well as Holocaust Memorial Day, and other events throughout the year.
I find so many are sceptical of the Church and of Christians and whatever all of that means, so they wouldn’t necessarily think of coming to see me unless they were a Christian. A big part of what I do is being out and about, chatting to people so they can see I’m a vaguely normal human being, and then they might come and see me again if they have an issue. It’s about people knowing you are there when they need you.
We work quite closely on the Prevent agenda with the university and have a hand in that. I also work with the diocese and take part in the Suffolk Show. It’s a hugely varied role and I absolutely love it.
Claire felt too young for ministry, spending time at St Anselm and doing Ministry Experience revealed that didn’t matter.Praise God who calls the most unlikely of us
Women and preaching just didn’t go together, as far as I could see. Scripture seemed to say no – and on the rare occasions I did hear women preach, I had my suspicions confirmed: people of my gender clearly couldn’t be trusted to handle the Bible properly; we’d only get distracted by emotions and relationships.
Over the last decade, my understanding of the role of women in leadership and ministry has changed fairly wholeheartedly, but it wasn’t a simple process. As a teenager who took the authority of Scripture very seriously, I had to spend a couple of years reading books about interpreting the Bible, having conversations with people of a variety of perspectives, and wrestling in prayer, before I eventually became convinced that God can and does call women to every kind of ministry today.
It was somewhere in the midst of this wrestling that I became aware of a very deep desire in me to preach. It didn’t really occur to me that this might mean ordination – but I took a gap year working in a church where I started to get some experience, studied theology at university and with the help of my college chaplain, I began speaking to a vocations advisor.
The idea of heading into the formal discernment process still made me uneasy though; I felt too young and too immature to be trusted with a grown-up ministry role. I wanted to test out other ways of using my gifts and spend time really listening to see what direction God might be calling me in.
So, I spent three years after university working for Christian Aid, in a couple of roles that were, on paper, perfect for me. I was using my theology degree, being creative, writing lots, and was highly motivated by working for justice for the world’s poorest people. On top of that, I made the most wonderful friends, had a decent salary, and got to enjoy everything the ‘young professional’ life in London had to offer.
But there was a restlessness I couldn’t shake off.
I had got involved in a small and dynamic church, serving on the PCC and the leadership team for the evening service, preaching regularly. But I had so many ideas still – politics? Writing? Campaigning? Teaching? Underlying it all was a fear that I wasn’t really good enough to be a priest. I still felt that I needed to pull myself up by my bootstraps before the church would consider me.
The turning point for me was spending a year as a non-resident member of the Community of St Anselm. Through it, I learned a lot about being part of Christ’s Church: for instance, about committing wholeheartedly to a diverse group of people, and learning to love one another in all our differences. But most profoundly, I learned from God that I didn’t need to make myself a “better” person to serve him. That his greatest desire when it comes to me, is for relationship with me. That he asks only that I draw very near to him and keep my eyes fixed on him. Forming me and shaping my character is God’s job: my only task is to stay very close to him.
From there, the doors just seemed to open. I left my job, moved up the country to spend a year on a Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme placement and went through the diocesan discernment process, through which both I and the Church of England sensed that God is indeed calling me to ordained ministry.
It’s an enormous joy to be able to train alongside my civil partner, Rose, and to keep listening to how and where God might be calling us to serve him in the future. I hope that my future ministry will be about helping all sorts of people in all sorts of ways to encounter the God who loves them so deeply: by building relationships, by practical service, by administering sacraments, by writing for the Church, and of course, by preaching!
Praise God who calls the most unlikely of us to join in his work. I am so thankful to have been invited on this adventure.
John worried his disability would prevent him from being ordained. God had other ideas.There is nothing better than serving God, in whatever form
I believe God calls a whole variety of people to serve him in ministry, which is demonstrated so clearly in the description of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Whether we are called to serve as a priest or any other member of the church, we each have a part to play.
I didn’t respond well to God’s calling on my life, as I felt it was a rather silly idea! As a wheelchair user I was expecting a lot of negative perceptions as to whether I could fulfil the calling I had. My disability is one part of what makes me who I am, but it isn’t the only thing that defines me. I bring all of me into ministry, not just my disability. We need each and every member to play their role in God’s church.
I was ordained in 1996. My Diocesan Director of Ordinands was brilliant. He said that “If God was calling me to be ordained, then it was the role of the diocese to enable that to happen”. None of the process was negative in regard to the way people responded to my disability, indeed I think if anyone had said anything negative then I would have been happy to call it a day. But God had other ideas!
When I mentioned that I felt I was being called by God into ordination to the church leadership the only response I got was “if God was calling you then it is the best job in the world, but if he wasn’t then it was the worst job in the world”.
The main struggle I had was more to do with finding an accessible theological college. At the time the choice was very limited. Nonetheless I found the experience of theological college a really exciting and challenging time, during which I was able to start looking at a biblical message of disability.
If there is anyone who is considering whether God is calling them towards ordination then I would want to encourage them to pursue it. It may not lead to ordination, but God reveals himself through the process towards whatever he is calling us to. There is nothing better than serving God in whatever form it may be.
Nic was called to do something new. Not every minister is ordained. And not every Church has a steeple.Loving someone fully is to stand with them in their joy and in their mess
I was baptised aged sixteen, shortly after becoming Christian. Not having a church background, I found it difficult to understand the different traditions.
For a long time God has been speaking to me about the need to engage with people outside of the church setting. Not just to tell them the Good News about Jesus, but also to walk alongside them in the whole of their life. For the practical support to be more than an add on, not “oh, I’ll be nice to you and help you sort out your debt if you let me tell you about Jesus”, but for that to be part of it. Part of loving someone fully is to stand with them in their joy and in their mess, not to treat them as a project.
Some friends of ours were leading our marriage prep course. We went to meet with them and they started talking about similar feelings of wanting to do church differently. Church where people were. Specifically with a heart for the poor and the broken.
I’d trained as a teacher following university, and after three years of teaching I was getting really frustrated that I couldn’t access the whole of these kids’ lives, I didn’t know their families.
My friend had similar experiences to me. He’d run a very cool youth event for teenagers, which met in a local café. Some teens had rocked up from one of the poorest areas in Cambridge, and they just couldn’t access it like the others. They didn’t have money to buy a coffee themselves, so they couldn’t really sit down and join in.
Others didn’t know how to sit down and pay attention long enough for the format, so my friend found himself effectively acting as a bouncer on the door, preventing these young people from hearing about Jesus, because they didn’t fit in with the culture in which Jesus was discussed.
I’d had these experiences at the school, so for the four of us, as we started to meet together, there was a sense of wondering what it would look like to take church to where people are at, rather than expecting them to fit into a model of church we have created.
Together we set out to pioneer a new way of making disciples within community, which became known as Barnwell Oaks. Located in one of the poorest areas in Cambridge, it was an entirely lay led community. None of us were ordained.
In the early days we didn’t really know what we were doing. We were doing things like playing football on a Sunday afternoon, because the teenagers were playing football then, as a way to get to know them.
There was a lot of praying and walking around and asking God what he was up to, and then gradually structures and rhythms began to form. Rhythms of meeting local families for Sunday lunch, which then became a kind of church space, and bigger gatherings of families together, which looked more like a Sunday congregation, and then in amongst that, mentoring and hanging out with individual young people and youth groups. With my teacher background I did quite a lot of work in schools and in mentoring.
We did a lot of trying and experimenting. It didn’t always work out well, but we were always moving forward. It was really hard, but I wouldn’t have wanted to do anything else. We have since moved on to pioneer new ways of making disciples in Liverpool. It’s tough going back to square one but we are confident for what the future holds!
There’s never a dull moment for Max. With two churches to run, schoolchildren to teach, and care homes to visit, Max is able to play a big role in many people’s lives.To hear the way the children have received the message is wonderful
Sundays are busy, we look after two churches so there’s a bit of running up and down the road to do, but we make sure we give our attention to the pastoral side of worship as well. It’s not just services to lead but people to see. So between the ministry team we try and use our time wisely.
Throughout the week there’s lots going on. We have weekday services attracting different congregations to come and worship. It’s lovely to see different people and how our different styles of service suit them.
There’s lots of visiting to do. We’ve got a number of retirement homes, care homes, assisted living accommodation, that sort of thing, so we go into those quite a bit and take services in there or bring people to church.
We have a number of primary schools, which are a wonderful way to engage with families, not just the children but the parents too. We take ‘Open the Book’ into primary schools, and I sometimes lead assemblies.
The school work is particularly rewarding. One of our Open the Book slots is at the end of the school day, so you’re there as the children leave. They go back to their parents or whoever is collecting them and the number of times you’ll overhear them say what a wonderful story they’d heard, they’ll retell the story or whatever we’ve been telling them to their family or carers. To hear the way the children have received the message and are passing it on is wonderful.
Weddings, baptisms and funerals are a big part of our time. I find these occasions are when people come to you and say “This is when I need you in our lives”. It’s such an important part of our ministry.
My own journey into ministry began when I was at university. That’s when I went to speak to my chaplain, who was very helpful in supporting me to discern what God was calling me to. I always say though the first seed was planted as a teenager when I went to Walsingham, which was a youth pilgrimage they still run.
I went along with my church youth group. There was talk on vocations and ministry, which was the first time I ever thought ministry might apply to me. From memory, it was the first time anyone had even spoken to me about any idea of ministry or vocation or what it might be to take an active role in church leadership.
At the time I thought “that’s something I might come back to”. It wasn’t an immediate, “I must follow this up”. Nonetheless, from then on it was always there, nagging away at the back of my mind.
"Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always." Psalm 105:4