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Are you called to ordination?

Today is Vocations Sunday. Hear the advice of three curates to anyone who is considering exploring a calling to ordination.

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.
“I had a really clear sense that God wanted me to be a priest, which was an enormous shock.”

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. “Going to where they are is harder than expecting them to put up with where you are.”

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 house, 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.”

SSMs: One size does not fit all

The Door reports on an event to encourage Self-Supporting Ministers who work in parishes across the Diocese.

 

There are, among our ordained clergy, some who are … a bit different. Some wear open neck collars to work, some do not live in a vicarage, and some spend most of their time outside the parish. They are Self-Supporting Ministers (SSMs) sometimes known as NSMs (Non-Stipendiary Ministers) who range enormously in their background, gifts, focus of ministry, life stage and in other ways.

The ministry of SSMs has been described as “pure gift” and, as part recognition and appreciation of this gift, all were invited to a day conference in 2015 on Where do we meet Christ today? The preacher, Karen Gorham, the then Archdeacon of Buckinghamshire asked the 64 attendees: “Where is your place of encounter? Just think for a moment, where is that place where your gifts are offered, and you are resourced to be the person God called you to be in God’s service?”

Hugh Valentine (SSM at St James, Piccadilly), the keynote speaker was insightful and challenging in his address, Seeing and hearing: the value of irregular clergy. Among other things, he encouraged SSMs to clarify their thinking about their identity as a clerical constituency who are a valuable resource and who offer a valuable perspective within our institution. The afternoon was divided between workshops: Phil Aspinall and Margaret Joachim, My work – my ministry; Teresa Morgan, The many faces of faith at work; Charles Sutton, Beyond the best before date; Margaret Whipp, The face of compassion. Perhaps the most significant point is that the conference was held and that so many of those who attended valued the day as time well spent and would attend another. We hope this can be arranged as the diocese consider how best to support, affirm and resource SSMs.

Most people who attended gave feedback and from that, a tentative picture of SSMs has started to emerge. It seems that perhaps there are three partially overlapping but fairly distinct clusters of SSMs. Some who wish to serve primarily as priests within their parish or local area. Some who have a range of skills and experience to offer to the Church but their current life circumstances do not permit this. And there are those who have a range of skills and experience and wish to offer these more broadly within the Church but they are unsure of how best to do this. The SSM Officers within the diocese are planning to explore these ideas further.

Given the energy and enthusiasm coming out of the conference, there is clearly plenty to celebrate in the ministry of SSMs and the significant part they play in mission. If you wish to learn more about the vocation to Self-Supporting Ministry please visit the diocesan website, or ask your local SSM.

This article was jointly written by the Revds Andrew Parry, Margaret Whipp and Hugh Lee, the SSM officers for the Diocese, and the Ven. Judy French, the Archdeacon of Dorchester. Archdeacon Judy is the Senior Staff member who leads on SSMs. The Revd Joy Hance, SSM in the Witney Team, has recently joined the team of SSM officers.

Find out more about the many type of vocations vocations here.  See also the Vocations in the Oxford Diocese Facebook page for details of all of the events and conferences related to vocations.

Visit www.oxford.anglican.org/mission-ministry/vocations/ to find out more about the many different types of vocations within the Church. Also see the Vocations in the Oxford Diocese Facebook page for details of events and conferences related to vocations.  

Is God calling you?

Is God calling you to ordained ministry? Read the first person stories of a range of clergy from different ethnic backgrounds in Everyday People, a new brochure from the Church of England: Everyday People (web)

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