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Begin at the very Beginning - 2012 June


David Bell

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Three years ago I joined 25 other mature students at Southwark Cathedral to commence a three-year course in ministerial formation which includes a foundation degree in Theology for Christian Ministry.

We had all been selected following an extended interview and discernment process and we were now under the instruction of the South East Institute of Theological Education (SEITE), which specialises in the provision of part-time education for those who are working in secular employment and are planning to be ordained as priests or deacons in the church – either full-time, or part-time, as volunteers, like me.

Those first evening classes and residential weekends seem a long way off now but they do remind me of an enduring benefit of my time at college, which was getting to know the fellow classmates in my year and sharing all the ups and downs of the journey with them. Many are working in the public sector – in education, health, social work or government; some are self employed, psychologist, barrister, pest control operator; and only a couple of us were working for commercial organisations. Sometimes the college gave us project work to complete, as a team, and this really encouraged us to work collaboratively together.

One of the most important skills that I learnt over the whole course was the ability to step back after a piece of work, or initiative, and take stock on how effective it had been and how much, if any, my involvement had helped or hindered what had been done. This practise of reflection, linked with regular prayer, has made me much more aware of myself and how God is enabling the Holy Spirit to be my inspiration, as I look forward to the finishing post of this first half of my training. That is being ordained by the Bishop of London, the Rt. Revd. Richard Chartres, with other ordinands, or trainee priests, in the London diocese.

During the course I have shadowed a hospital chaplain at University College Hospital in London and met many patients at their bedside, including celebrating the eucharist with them. This was a humbling experience and made me realise what a wonderful job these priests, who are employed by the NHS, undertake. They are also role models for different denominations and traditions of faith working closely together. They were always putting the needs of the people ahead of any other consideration and yet each religion was distinctive in its worship and patient care.

Earlier in the course a team of us had attempted to assist a vicar in a London suburb as he attempted to engage with the young professionals who passed his church on their journey to and from the train station. This involved us talking to people in the pub and discovering what they thought about life and spirituality. Naturally we had to have a drink or two just to be sociable!

One unexpected aspect of my training is that I have been constantly called away from St James’s in order to complete different projects and last summer I spent three months leading worship and preaching at St Faith’s Church in Brentford. This is an evangelical church which is generally less formal in its services and usually has quite a large band to support their singing of worship songs. Having come from a ‘higher’ tradition of worship before joining St James’s, this was very good for me in showing the wide range of styles that encompass the Church of England.

During all my college training, I cannot express my gratitude enough to Peter, our vicar, who has regularly and gently enabled me to learn and practise different skills. He has always been available with ready words of advice and encouragement and has, as it were, set me on the path with a good pair of boots ready for any terrain.

I am looking forward to being at St James’s now as Assistant Curate and starting the next phase of my training. I hope not to test your patience too much as I discover all the different aspects of the church and grow in the role over the next three years. I have enjoyed being involved in our sessions about scripture that have been held during Advent and Lent each year and I would like to be involved in this informal study in future (especially as I have several new books!). Also, I have some experience in all-age services. I will be involved in the exciting plans for the 150th anniversary of the consecration of our church that will run from Advent this year right through 2013 and culminating with the Bishop of London coming to Hampton Hill for a very special ‘end of year’ service.

Never underestimate the power of the Holy Spirit!

Source: David Bell, The Spire Magazine - 2012 June

David will be ordained deacon by the Bishop of London at St Paul’s Cathedral at 3pm on Saturday 30 June. Please include David in your prayers as he prepares for this important step in his life.

After ordination David will join us at St James’s on Sunday 1 July as our new curate. At St Paul’s Cathedral David will be set apart through prayer and the laying on of hands by the Bishop of London to be a deacon within the Church – part of the historic three-fold ordained ministry of bishop, priest and deacon.

God (and the bishop!) willing, David will be ordained priest in a year’s time. What David will become later this month is a deacon; what he will do is to carry out the tasks of a curate, the assistant ordained minister within a church and parish. He is not able to preside at the eucharist until he is ordained priest, but David will become ‘The Reverend’, will robe in a particular way, and exercise a specific role within the eucharist. David will be ‘self-supporting’, which means that he will not be paid by the Church, but will give freely of his time to this ministry while continuing to work in publishing, combining sacred and secular, as he has done throughout his training. I am delighted that David will remain with us after ordination.

What is a deacon? The word literally means servant. In the Acts of the Apostles Chapter 6, seven men are chosen to be servants to ensure that gentile widows receive their fair share of support. This servant ministry is seen as part of the inspiration for the deacon’s ministry today. Like any Christian, deacons are ultimately to take Christ as their model.

The ordination service puts it this way: "Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known. Theirs is a life of visible self-giving. Christ is the pattern of their calling and their commission; as he washed the feet of his disciples, so they must wash the feet of others." The full ordination service is well worth looking at.

The whole Church is called to serve, and deacons help to remind us of this. At a local level, men and women will go out from St Paul’s Cathedral to their parishes. They go to give, but most importantly, to receive: specifically to receive training and formation as newly ordained ministers. David has already demonstrated competence in a variety of ways, but now he must learn how to baptise, officiate at weddings and funerals, and very importantly be a deacon and then a priest. St James’s will have a crucially important role in forming David. Unrealistic expectations are unhelpful for a newly ordained person. I urge our congregation to be, in the first instance, accepting, welcoming, generous and gentle to our new curate.
Accepting: David will bring gifts, but also faults. Let him be human!
Welcoming: David does not have to prove himself worthy of our warmth. Let it just be given.
Generous: David will be in a vulnerable position as a newly ordained person. Let us be generous spirited, assuming the best and always looking for it.
Gentle: David remains human despite ordination! Let us be quick to encourage.

Source: Revd Peter Vannozzi, The Spire Magazine - 2012 June

The Parish Church of St James, Hampton Hill, TW12 1DQ
Main site: stjames-hamptonhill.org.uk