Each year, dozens of people in the Diocese of Bristol are putting themselves forward for ordination or Licensed Lay Ministry. Chris Owen from Pip'n'Jay in central Bristol and Helen Baber from St Mary's Henbury talk about why they have responded to God's call to serve.
Its been seven years since my first tentative exploration of a future role in ordained ministry. My reason for wanting to serve others was that Id already been served. Id found myself enormously encouraged and my life enriched by the effort that other people had put into my growth and development, and my response was to want to put that same effort into the lives of the next generation. Having been led into God's presence, I wanted to help lead others.
The path towards ordained ministry has been a long one and my understanding of my own role and of ordained ministry has expanded to such an extent that its hard to recall the grain of sand around which the pearl grew. Two key aspects back then were respect for church leaders and at the same time a kind of healthy frustration with the Church and its leaders. The respect led to me to want to fulfil the role even half as well as them, and the frustration led me to want to give my all so the Church could do better.
The work of the DDOs (Diocesan Director of Ordinands - now Advisers for Licensed Ministry) has been fantastic and Ive had three very different DDOs offering input to help shape and guide my journey. The books, placements, written work, discussion, prayer, and spiritual direction have all been an enormous challenge, and Ive felt myself significantly changed by the process itself. This hasnt just been a time checking that this is truly what God wants me to do, its also been a time when Ive matured, learnt and grown into the person God wants me to be. That has sometimes been painful, but its been wonderful to experience.
I like to think that God's made me a bringer of balance. Heart, soul, mind, strength. Emotion, spirituality, intellect and action. Worship, fellowship, ministry, maturity, mission. Vision, passion and commitment. There are catchphrases all over the place to help explain the idea that being a follower of Jesus is not one, two or even three dimensional. Its deep and wide and high, multifaceted and wonderful. That doesnt mean that everyone should try to do everything and end up doing it badly, or that we need to put aside the things we're passionate about. It means that our communities need to cover some of the breadth that Ive just mentioned. Individuals need to be released into their areas of expertise, while remaining grounded in a body that is broad and balanced.
Chris will start training for ordained ministry at Trinity College Bristol in September.
I was raised in Church life and always encouraged to serve others. I dabbled with my Christian life through my teens and my 20s. Life threw a lot of challenges at me in my 30s and, although I let go of God at times, I kept coming back to him through other Christians, especially my Vicar Revd David Lloyd and our Curate at the time Revd Julie Nicholson.
Through them and other friends and colleagues, the subject of my gifts and how I could serve kept coming up, and finally I spoke to David about Ordained Local Ministry. It turned out that others had seen this before me!
I continued to explore it through discussion and prayer, and the Adviser for Licensed Ministry challenged me to consider the best use of my gits in the wider Church. Could they be used more widely than my local church?
I realised then that I was trying to keep myself and God happy: I have always lived in the same area, I have always been at St Marys Henbury, I have a great career, a lovely house and a growing family - lifes easy. And yet when I entered the discernment process it was so obvious that this was all or nothing. I couldnt do it my way. It was God's way - and that meant giving up my life as I know it!
When I did finally step over that line of admitting it to myself, no obstacles were put in my way. I dont mean the path of discernment was easy, in fact it has been one of the toughest but rewarding years of my life. But the process was smooth, I was guided step by step, given the options, I knew who to speak to, where to get information and who to ask when I have a question (however stupid it may have been). There is a lot of discerning along the way and if youre still unsure or doubting your calling then the path is there to help not hinder. For me the process took a year from when I first spoke to David, my Vicar.
What I would love to see is Christ in our local communities. The Church should serve one another and bring Christ to those who havent experienced his love. We can only do this if we are close enough to those we serve. We need to live and share our lives. I feel called to this, cementing Church in communities with Christ at the centre.
Helen will be starting three years' part-time training at STETS (Southern Theological Education and Training Scheme).