When your friend finds God: Liz Nice on James Marston's ordination into the Church of England
PUBLISHED: 13:32 01 July 2019
Liz Nice was at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds at the weekend to see our columnist James Marston ordained as a deacon. This is what happened...
In one of the worst years of my life - 2017 - one of the best things happened as well.
I made a friend.
My friend was someone I had worked with for some years and we had always got along well, sharing the same rather naughty sense of humour - but somehow, around 2017, the friendship deepened and we began to confide in each other.
My friend had been thinking for a while that there was something he wanted to do and felt called to do, but it was a big step and it took a lot of thinking about.
What he was thinking was that he wanted to go into the Church - but he knew that it would be a big commitment to give himself over to that way of life, to always be available for others and to devote his life to God.
From the outside, we were a strange pair, spending hours of our time discussing religion - particularly considering that, despite having been brought up in the Church of England and being confirmed, I was now an atheist.
Nonetheless, I have always been fascinated by the subject and, more importantly, I couldn't think of anyone I knew who would be better suited to a life of serving others.
Throughout my most difficult years, the years of our friendship, my friend, unfailingly, always found a way to make me laugh.
He would message me, out of the blue, just to check I was OK.
Often, the messages came at just the moment when I most needed them.
"You seem to have a sixth sense," I would tell him.
He would smile. "I think it might be something - or rather Someone else," he would say quietly.
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When my personal circumstances were at their most difficult, my friend let me stay at his house and introduced me to his lovely family, his dear mum Sue, his hilarious father Duncan, and his sister Claire - who is one of the warmest people I have ever met.
How could my friend James Marston give himself over to a life of helping others? Well, as far as I was concerned, he was doing that already - not just for me, but for all his devoted friends, and also for people he spoke to as part of his work as a journalist who would often be going through difficult times themselves.
On Saturday, I attended James's ordination at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds and his life of service is now about to begin in earnest.
It was a magical day: Glorious sunshine, friends and family were dressed in our best, and, as Lucy, a mutual friend of ours pointed out, it was "a bit like going to James's wedding".
"He's marrying God," I said.
That's how it felt, anyway.
Then, afterwards, we all stepped out into the sunshine - and it felt, rather, as if that was what was happening in our lives as well.
I have followed James all through his training at Westcott House in Cambridge, the ups and downs, the internal wrestling that such a deep commitment requires, and I could only marvel at what he has achieved.
Meanwhile, James supported me through one of the most difficult periods of my life and helped me to come out the other side to the happy place I am in now.
I feel lucky - blessed even - that we became close friends at a time when we were both at a crossroads of our lives.
I like to think we helped each other, and will continue to.
I once said to him: "2017 was one of the worst years of my life but it was also the best because I became friends with you."
I believe it was luck that brought James into my life at such a time.
James would say differently. Something about the Love of God, I suspect.
You know what, he's probably right.