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TAP 2015

13 March 2015

MICHAEL ROBINSON grew up in Yorkshire, in a family of "atheist Anglicans". When he was ten, the family moved house and he started going to church: "I just knew that it was where I wanted to be."

This early encounter with faith was "very much rooted in parish ministry, with a priest who served his people, and a really rich liturgical life". His faith was nurtured by "old-style Anglo-Catholic priests who instilled some spiritual discipline".

For Michael, there was "no sharp distinction between churchgoing and priesthood: I had the ordination side of things in my mind from the beginning, but I thought, if I'm really called, I will come back to it."

He read History at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and then worked for the Ministry of Justice for a year, and as speechwriter and chief of staff for a Conservative MP in Westminster.

When, after three years in Parliament, he decided to explore ordination, his boss was "very supportive". Michael had been worshipping at St Mary's, Putney, and met his future wife, Kate, in a Theology-in-the-Pub group; she is also a civil servant, and it emerged that they worked next door to each other.

Kate's father was a priest. When Michael went to talk to the Director of Ordinands, the first thing Kate did was to telephone her mother. After 25 years growing up in a vicarage, she laid down some ground rules.

"She said: 'I will support you every step of the way, but these are my terms: we need to take the same day off in the week, so that we can see each other; and, when it comes to parish life, we need to instal a separate phone line."

Within 12 days of getting married, they had moved to Cambridge and Michael had started his training at Westcott House. Residential training was a very deliberate choice: "It offered an opportunity to really step away from the life that I had before, and prepare for the new identity of priesthood. It's also good practice for a parish, having to live alongside, and get on with, people you may disagree with; and all that it means to be a 'conscious community'."

Why Westcott? "I hope I've got at least 40 years as a parish priest ahead of me; I wanted to train somewhere that would broaden me, rather than just confirming the things I already thought."

Embarking on ordination training marked "a really significant shift in funding. One of the fringe benefits of my old job was that I didn't have to worry about whether I could afford a night out." Michael remembers his mother saying: "Anybody who tells you that money doesn't buy you happiness is a liar."

He is now completely dependent on Kate, who commutes back to her work in London.

The part played by the TAP Fund was explained to them on arrival: "It was nice to know that there was this other source of funding that had come from the Church - a sense that it wasn't only practical, but a gesture to say: 'We recognise what you are taking on and we want to support you.'"

Back in Cambridge, "the city itself is the same, but the city I knew, and the people I knew, have gone, so that I am rediscovering it in a different way."

Last year, Michael's Doctrine supervisor was the new(ish) Master of his old college, Rowan Williams. "He's read a thing or two - it's a real privilege to be taught by him."

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