OPINION: I hope I live up to my vocation when I am ordained
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Columnist James Marston has a big weekend ahead of him culminating in a special service this Sunday
On Sunday, September 6, I will be ordained priest at the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds.
For those of you who have followed my journey from hopeful enquirer to ordinand and theology student at college to deacon here in east Suffolk, you will know this is the culmination of a journey of several years, the climax of a transforming process in which I have learnt much, realigned my life, and revalued who I am.
In some ways I think we have all gone through something of this in recent months, the lockdown has brought to the fore many of the things we don’t want to face up to; the feelings we usually do our utmost to bury and ignore, the realities about ourselves we would rather not see.
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So as you might imagine the last few years have, at times, been a bumpy ride.
Nonetheless it has also been a fascinating and fantastic experience – one in which I have learnt much about myself as well as something of God. The faith remains something of an amazing mystery to me, but I cannot deny it has changed me and challenged me, fascinated, delighted, amazed and overawed me.
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And yet all through this journey to this Sunday I have held on to journalism, my work here in the newspaper world. It has been not only a constant in a changing life but also nothing less than a vocation for me, one which has run alongside and with my vocation to the priesthood.
One of the reasons, I became a journalist in the first place, aside my from mother suggesting it might be a good idea and that I ought to listen to her, is simply because I wanted to know what was going on, added to which I enjoy discussion and conversation, as well as the contact and access to people that the trade demands.
Journalism enables me to often meet those who are making the news, to discover the story behind the story, to see something of the person behind the headlines.
I have often thought and am often asked how might my newspaper work fit alongside my role as a minister of religion in the Church of England. Indeed, some have asked the question of me – how can I offer an opinion yet also proclaim the gospel of Christianity. It is a valid point and my great friend and colleague in journalism, and self-professed atheist, Liz Nice has often asked me about this.
Christianity, it seems to me, and journalism are both concerned with community. The church is concerned with offering its followers a community of faith which, in turn, reflect the love of God to themselves and to others. I am an Anglican, a minister in the Church of England and, despite its faults and flaws, believe it remains an effective vehicle of God’s grace and shows and lives out to those outside and inside it something of the divine love it proclaims.
I am also a journalist in a regional newspaper concerned with the lives of those in the community it serves. I also maintain that journalism, at its best, is often pastoral and concerned with people’s lives, their stories, in good times and bad – just like the priest.
Christianity is also, at its root, a religion that has always been a political force and one that offers opinions, often that others aren’t keen to hear. The faith’s manifesto, which includes, challenging oppression, speaking up for those with no voice, and the questioning of authority has much in common with the practice of journalism.
Christians are, as followers of Jesus, called to all sorts of service to others including, occasionally, speaking out into the political and social sphere. Priests are called to this aspect of service as well as shepherding their flocks, keeping the faith and nurturing the faith among others.
Perhaps above all, as a priest, I am, and the others to be ordained alongside me, called to communicate something of God through who I am and in all I do.
I only hope I live up to this vocation, and sometimes I will surely get it wrong and certainly won’t always know best, but as I approach Sunday, I recognise this isn’t so much an end as another marker along the way of a ministry and a life ahead in which I am called to be ever more truly who God moulds me to be.
Today I thank you, as ever, for reading and engaging with me, and ask, of those among you of faith and of none, for your prayers and thoughts as I take this step.
For those who would like to watch, James’ ordination service will be streamed online here from the cathedral at 5.30pm on Sunday.