THERE is no one road to ordination, but whether a vocation comes early or late in life, most journeys have landmarks in common on the way.
The first thought about ordination came to the Revd Jenni Foreman, now aged 28, when she was a teenager. Her father is ordained; “so I had had a good inside look at what was involved,” she says. At that time, though, she put the idea aside, and chose to read English literature at the University of York. She was active in the Christian Union, and, after university, undertook an internship at St Michael le Belfrey, in the city. She then trained as a social worker, but never practised.
“I had prompts from others about ordination,” and she went on a diocesan vocation weekend. She felt “a strong conviction” that her call was to the priesthood, and, eight months later, she had an appointment with the Bishops’ Advisory Panel (BAP). After three years’ training at Cranmer Hall, Durham, she was ordained deacon in York Minster on 2 July 2017.
In terms of age, a contrasting story is that of the Revd Charlotte Osborn. Now Assistant Curate of Oakham, in Peterborough diocese, she was also ordained deacon last year. “If we divide our three-score years and ten into seven days of the week starting with Sunday, I am now in my Friday decade.”
Not that she came to faith late: she has been an active Christian since she was 17, and was married to Leo, a Methodist minister, in 1977.
Much of her adult life has been involved in teaching and youth work. She has also run house groups and Alpha courses. In her fifties, when her husband’s work involved a move to within seven miles of Newcastle Airport, she became a lay chaplain there.
Having gained a Master’s degree in theology, she began seriously to consider ordination — not as a Methodist, but within the Church of England. “I was confirmed and grew up as an Anglican before falling in love and marrying a Methodist minister. I am hugely indebted to Methodism for all it has given and taught me, but my DNA is Anglican.”
Diocese of York The Revd Jenni Foreman reads the lesson at the service in York Minster last July when she was among those to be ordained
THE first step in coming to ordination is almost always to discuss a perceived vocation with an experienced and supportive priest, and, possibly, to attend a vocations day. Then comes a meeting with a diocesan director of ordinands (DDO). This is the time when, among other issues, the implications for family and friends need to be addressed. There are financial considerations to be examined, whether a stipendiary (paid) or self-supporting ministry is envisaged.
The Revd Joy Windsor is an English teacher in Alton, in Winchester diocese. Five years ago, she mentioned on a “time-and-talents form” from her church that she would be interested in learning more about ordination. “‘I’ve been waiting for you to do that,’ was what my vicar said,” Mrs Windsor recalls.
Meetings with a DDO followed, and a vocation day, Mrs Windsor says, which she attended believing that she wanted to train as a Reader, only to be convinced halfway through the day that her calling was to ordination.
Mrs Windsor has two adult children, two grandchildren, and a supportive husband, “but I had to work out the practical implications of ordination and how it might impact on them. We decided that I should be self-supporting and continue teaching, so that we wouldn’t have to move from where we lived.”
Further reading and study were recommended by the DDO before she went forward: first, to a diocesan selection panel, and then to her BAP at Ely, in January 2015. “I was well prepared for the BAP, but they were the three toughest days of my life. It was mentally draining, feeling that one was being scrutinised all the time.” She was ordained deacon in Winchester Cathedral last July.
The Revd Matthew Cashmore was ordained deacon in Hereford Cathedral in July. He was 36. Looking back, he recalls, at the age of 18, feeling a sense of vocation. He was working part-time as a care assistant, and would take one of the Home’s residents to church. Talking to his parish priest, it was suggested that the call might be to service as a nurse, and he spent 18 months training. He then took time out, and his life changed direction: he entered the digital world and publishing.
Working for BBC Worldwide in Australia, he admits to losing his faith. It was the “extreme conservatism” of the church community that he encountered, he says, which led him to explore other faiths, especially Buddhism. Back in Britain, however, he and his wife, Catherine, began attending their village church. “I realised, one day, as I was meditating, that I was, in fact, praying. God hadn’t left me.”
The return to church coincided with the news that, after ten years of trying to start a family, Catherine was pregnant. And it was just after the birth of their son, Edmund, that Mr Cashmore recalls sitting in the delivery room, holding their child, feeling an overwhelming sense of God’s love, and deciding to give “everything of my own life to God” by way of training for the ministry.
The Revd Dr Will Levanway, 32, was brought up in the United States, educated in a Roman Catholic school, and is the son of an American Episcopalian. He came to the UK in 2012, to undertake his doctoral research on the theology of Richard Hooker and Friedrich Schleiermacher, at King’s College, London.
“I felt called to ordination, but had to make sure that the Church felt the same way. My parish priest was very helpful in navigating me through the English way of doing things. With my DDO, we felt that, if I was called, there was no time like the present to take things further.”
A date in February 2015 was fixed for his BAP, and then, after recommendation, Dr Levanway became an ordinand at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, where he focused on his ministerial training and writing his Ph.D. His wife, Allie, a singer-songwriter who performs as Alva Leigh, was able to continue with her musical career while living at St Stephen’s House. Dr Levanway was ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral in July last year, and is serving his title at All Saints’, Fulham.
BBC/Richard WeaverThe Revd Matthew Cashmore, who was featured in the BBC2 series A Vicar’s Life
IT IS after a candidate’s BAP that the most appropriate training will be discussed. Across the country, there exists a wide choice of part-time courses, residential courses, and distance-learning schemes. Along the way, there will be guidance from the DDO and the diocesan bishop. Much depends on the candidate’s academic background. Some will be recent theology graduates, others will be returning to study after many years in employment. Training involves a mix of academic work and practical secondments, often in unfamiliar territory.
Mrs Foreman and her husband, Jamie, a freelance film-maker, had no family ties; so she opted for a full-time residential course at Cranmer Hall, Durham. Her three years were divided between parish placements and academic studies, which led to a bachelor’s degree.
After her BAP, Mrs Windsor spent the next two years teaching for three days a week, and studying on the Oxford Ministry Course for the other two days. This meant an overnight stay. “After seven years studying through the Open University, I wanted to be learning alongside others,” she says.
In January 2014, Mr Cashmore was invited to attend a BAP in May. “Everything seemed very slow, but I learned to appreciate the pace,” he says. He was working at the time in a high-pressure and well-paid publishing job. By September, he had started training part-time in Oxford diocese, but quickly began to think that he was only “dipping his toes in the water. I was not making a sacrifice, I was pursuing a hobby.”
By December, he had given up his job, and by the middle of the next year was studying full-time at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, and reading for a degree from Durham University. His studies were modular, interspersed with parish experience.
He was destined, he assumed, for ministry in the Oxford diocese, but, when his wife was offered a job in Hereford, he found himself being ordained deacon by the Bishop of Hereford and joining the West Hereford Team, where he featured in the BBC2 series A Vicar’s Life (TV, 26 January). Edmund, whose birth marked the start of his father’s journey to ordination, is now five years old.
Mrs Osborn’s first meeting with her DDO was in November 2014, and her BAP was in April 2015. She trained over two years on the Eastern Region Ministry Course with the Cambridge Theological Foundation. Her journey from meeting her DDO to ordination had lasted three years.
Three years is a typical length of time, though as these stories show, the whole process can take from two to seven years, or even longer. And, although potential candidates can enter training with a huge range of experiences of life, following different promptings, the path of testing and exploring their vocation is a well-trodden route.