God in the Life of Nicholas Cheeseman

THE Revd Nicholas Cheeseman knew he was called to be a priest from the age of 13. Nicholas, who recently took on a new role as the Director of Ordinands for Berkshire, tells Jo Duckles about his journey.

“My parents went to church, my dad was a Reader so I was going to church before I was born. Asking when I first knew God or Jesus is like asking someone when they first met their parents. Christianity has always been part of my experience, from my earliest memories. I was confirmed when I was 11 on 1 April 1984 . My first really vivid experience was when I had a sense of being called to be a priest when I was about 13 at an Easter vigil service. I had a really clear sense that God wanted me to be a priest, which was an enormous shock,” says Nicholas, who says he was very shy. “The idea of preaching or doing anything involving standing up in front of people, I felt, was utterly beyond me.

Growing up in Sevenoaks in Kent, Nicholas and his family worshipped at St John the Baptist, where the priest was keen on making children and young people part of the life of the church family. “That is quite a big ask because my two younger brothers and I weren’t the best behaved children,” he says.

Nicholas admits that he did nothing about his sense of calling until he was 20, by which time he was heavily involved in church, doing readings and leading the youth group. “I did those things because I was too shy to say ‘no’ when I was asked,” he says. “I was coming up to my final year at university and I had met my wife-to-be. We met through the diocesan youth synod. It was a diocesan synod with youth representatives alongside it and two volunteers from our deanery. After four months we were engaged and nine months later we were married.”

Nicholas, who has now been married to Anne for almost 23 years, was leading a youth group at this time when he approached his vicar to say he thought he may be called to be a priest. “To my amazement he said ‘of course you are’ and told me he had been waiting for some time for me to talk about that.”

Shortly afterwards Nicholas spent six months ill in bed, getting well enough for his wedding in the August. Anne was studying and moved to London, so the couple lived with his grandmother in Sevenoaks. “My grandmother had dementia. That was both sad and hilarious in many ways. We lived with her for several months until she became too ill and had to go into a nursing home. We were with her when she died and that was amazing.”

Nicholas spent nine months unemployed, before doing a range of part-time jobs including being a clerk to the Guild of All Souls. He went on to become a lay worker and parish assistant at All Saints, Perry Street, in the Diocese of Rochester. By that time Anne had completed her PGCE and started working as a teacher. “It was at that time that I went to see the DDO to explore my vocation and I ended up going to Mirfield to train. After getting through the selection conference I wasn’t going to train for another 18 months. I was committed to seeing some stuff through in the parish which was definitely the right thing to do.”

Mirfield, in West Yorkshire, is a long way from Sevenoaks, taking Nicholas and Anne away from their families, but he says they had a fantastic three years. “It was a great place to be, an amazing privilege. It was great for Anne as well. The college was really welcoming of ordinands’ partners.” Nicholas served his curacy in Wantage in Oxfordshire, under the Revd John Salter.

“He was just amazing, it was absolutely brilliant. That felt like the right place and I was blessed enough to have four years there as a curate. It was an amazing place to be and John was a superb training incumbent. I had the freedom to try things out and be creative and he was just so supportive. It was as close as you are going to get to an ideal curacy.” During this time he also finished his MA and was delighted to do lots of schools work, becoming a governor, doing lots of collective worship and even some cricket coaching.

After the curacy, moving to become Vicar of All Saints’ Reading, which later joined with St Mark’s to form the new parish of St Mark and All Saints, felt like the right move. “It was meeting the people of that church that cemented the rightness of it for me and reminded me of the church I grew up in,” he says. “It was an amazing place where people were enthusiastic about being a family together and supporting each other. It’s been really good. I was very happy being a parish priest.”

Once again, the call to move on came to Nicholas during an Easter Vigil service. “During the Eucharistic Prayer I had an absolutely clear sense that it would be my last Easter there. I found that upsetting and did a lot of praying.” When he spotted the Area Director of Ordinands role advertised, he felt it was the wrong time. “We’d just moved, from the new vicarage to a much nicer house and my computer was broken.”

But, despite the broken computer, Nicholas felt he should apply and managed to get the application in on time. “After the interview I was convinced I wasn’t going to get the job, and was surprised when I was offered it. It’s exactly where God wants me to be at the moment. I’m loving the job and the team I am working with is fantastic.”