Ben is an ordinand studying part-time at Trinity House, Southwark, and West Malling Abbey, St Augustine’s College of Theology. We asked him to tell us a bit about himself, and what being a student here means to him.
In my secular job I work for Serco, running their in-house think tank and philanthropic arm. During the coronavirus pandemic that has involved setting up a support fund for small charities and community groups, which has been inspiring.
My religious background is quite varied. My wife’s family are Roman Catholic and Buddhist, and I was brought up Jewish. I was baptised in my late teens, and quite quickly started to wonder about ordination, but I didn’t feel I had much to offer at that age!
Since graduating 12 years ago I’ve worked in the civil service and the Houses of Parliament, and in a school and a college. I’ve also been lucky to hold a range of voluntary roles, including running a charity which I founded, and being a school governor. Apart from singing in choirs, I didn’t have any church leadership role in particular.
In 2015 I stood for Parliament, and lost – as I knew I would. What was particularly interesting during that experience was that I hated having to make it all about myself – the social media, the press notices – but loved engaging with all parts of the community – especially those who, historically, hadn’t had much voice. I remember talking to a vicar friend who said, “you’re realising what a lot of us have known for a while – you’re meant to be a priest.”
Other people kept encouraging me, too, but I was waiting to hear it from God! Then a good friend who is a retired clergyman looked me in the eye and told me that sometimes God talks to us through other people. That’s when I contacted the Diocese.
Why St Augustine’s College of Theology
As I went through the formal process of discernment it became clear to me that I didn’t see my priestly calling as a new ‘career’ or something that meant turning my back on my secular life. For me, there was a really powerful call to be part of ‘the church in the world’.
So I wanted to train alongside full-time work and carry on working in the secular world once trained. That’s still quite rare in the Church of England. I visited several other colleges – they were wonderful places but didn’t feel quite right for me. Then I met Alan, and realised he would help make this work.
I felt that St Augustine’s College of Theology is incredibly open to a diversity of ordinands and callings, and this diversity of life experience leads to a greater diversity of ministerial experience.
There are increasing numbers of us who feel that ministry can work alongside employment, and that there are strong theological models and rationales for that.
How is your course helping to shape your leadership?
There’s an incredible reality to studying at St Augustine’s; having the opportunity to combine study and prayer with real-life adds to the formative experience.
It’s hugely enriching to study alongside people who aren’t like me, and whose experience of going to church is wildly different from mine. We will be called to minister to all types of people, so that diversity of worship experience is very valuable, and I’ve formed deep and long-lasting friendships with people I wouldn’t otherwise have met.
I’m trusting that God knows how I will combine a secular career with a ministerial role on the future – because I don’t yet. I certainly don’t know what it’s going to look like in five or ten years’ time.
What I do understand is that my calling is two-fold, with the workplace itself being part of the ministry –ministering alongside people as a worker priest. It means ministry isn’t something we ‘do to people’. We walk with them.
That’s one of the reasons why being able to study part-time and non-residential is important to me. We study the same modules as those at residential colleges, with exceptional staff and plenty of academic rigour. But to me, being able to combine my secular work and life with formation is incredibly important. After all, if ministry is about people, why wouldn’t we be where many of them spend 5/7 of their life?