Ordinand David Benskin has proved wrong the people at school who told him and his classmates the best work they could hope for was stacking shelves.
In a feature written before lockdown, David tells Jo Duckles about his journey to ordination. Since this was written, David and his family have moved to Watlington, where he became a curate. David and his wife Alice also had their third child during lockdown.
David was diagnosed with severe dyslexia aged five and has had three educational statements. Now, after years of hard work and determination, he is preparing to be ordained deacon this year.
Church on Sunday was part of the family routine for David as he was growing up, but his faith became real to him when he was in his late teens. His working life started with a horticulture apprenticeship and a job on a golf course. “My boss wasn’t a nice person and bullied me because of my dyslexia,” says David. When the time came for his contract to be renewed, David felt the Holy Spirit saying there would be a way out.
“I left with nowhere to go and straight away this job came up in a huge manor house a bit like Downton Abbey. I ran the building and grew in confidence. That’s where my faith got strong.”
The new job coincided with a two-year interregnum at David’s church, which was a painful time for his congregation. “I got involved in the youth work and realised that was where God was calling me,” says David. “In my 20s, I felt I had a vocation to ordained ministry, but told God I thought he was stupid. Why would God call someone like me who can’t read and write?”
However, David went on to start an ecumenical youth service at his church and a local Baptist Church. Talking to his minister led to him learning about and applying to the Institute for Children, Youth and Mission, first to do an Access course, Engage, which is the equivalent to an NVQ level three. He eventually applied for his first degree because his now-wife Alice was convinced he’d be accepted. “I wanted to prove her wrong,” says David. “To my surprise and shock, I was offered a place within the college.
“In September 2010, I started at CYM, very nervous and not sure whether I would succeed. I sat in a chapel praying deeply, asking the Lord to help me and get me through this, while trusting that I was here for a reason.”
David admits his first year was a struggle, with re-writes for essays, but he continued into the second year, with a notetaker for lectures and conversations with tutors to help with understanding essay questions. David also used Dragon – a voice reconciliation software, so he could talk to his computer for essays. He graduated with a degree in Youth, Community and Practical Theology in 2013. In November that year, he became a youth and children’s worker in Deddington, Oxfordshire, where he began thinking again about ordination.
“When I started the discernment process, I was very nervous. I was still not certain as to whether this was right. I was concerned about whether I could make it through the process. I still questioned whether God had made a mistake.” David and Alice married in Deddington, before taking on a managerial role for youth and children’s work. There he oversaw a team of people, leading services and began to feel that with God’s help, he could take the next step. “I saw that actually, God uses all sorts of people. Peter wasn’t an academic, he was a humble fisherman with hardly any learning, but Jesus chose him,” says David.
“Looking back over my life, God has shown me that all things are possible with him and that he wants to use me.”
David is studying at St Mellitus Theological College where he combines study with a practical placement as ordinand-in-training at St James, Cowley, in Oxford. He is preparing to become a curate in Watlington. He lives out his faith as a father of two (with another one on the way) by reading compline to his children as they fall asleep. “They are growing up seeing patterns of prayer and scripture. I’m exposing my own faith by being different. I take a holistic approach to faith. “I’ve been helping people in church who want to get involved and want to read. I suggest strategies like if you do get to a difficult word, stop and get your breath back. I’m modelling that, if you make a mistake it’s okay. If I can do it, anyone can do it. I’ve learnt that I come as I am.”
If he is reading in church, David will practice with Alice or with the help of online resources, to help him with the pronunciation of difficult words. Sometimes he will write them out phonetically or draw a symbol, for example, to distinguish between ‘word’ and ‘world’. “They look very similar so sometimes I’ll draw a planet for ‘world’ to help me,” he says. “There is a little bit of work involved but a tablet is superb to read from. I have been trying different strategies and wanted them in place before my curacy.”
So, what advice would David give to people with dyslexia, or other learning disabilities, who are considering exploring a vocation? “Go for it and have courage. Jesus will be with you. You don’t walk on this journey on your own. Jesus used Peter, this humble fisherman, and he used him to lead the Church. I came the longest way around but it showed me that even if you think you can’t do this, that all things are possible. If he calls you into ministry, he’ll find a way forward for you.
“I hope my ministry will be an encouragement to others not to limit their potential and follow what they believe God is calling them to, no matter what difficulties and challenges they may be facing because God is bigger than all of them. And, with hard work and belief, God will move mountains.” David’s top tips for people with dyslexia:
- If you are going to read something – listen to it first. Biblegateway.com has a listening service.
- David finds Pray As You Go – a daily prayer app helpful
- Use a tinted sheet as an overlay
- Print out the reading in a big font, with space to doodle between the lines
- If you are doing something the church, take a deep breath and pray. God is with you.
Listen to David read his story here.
19TH JUNE 2020