Esther is a first-year ordinand based in Surrey and studying full-time at West Malling Abbey. We asked her to tell us a bit about herself, and what being a student here means to her.
I’m originally from Barry in South Wales, and grew up with a Pentecostal Baptist church background. I spent some time doing missionary work in Nicaragua, and when I returned to the UK, God gave me the opportunity to move to Surrey to work with young people in an Anglican church.
Having never worshipped in the Anglican style it was very new, but I loved working with children and young people and wanted to learn more about scripture and the Bible through Bible training. So I talked to my curate and vicar about study opportunities. It took me completely by surprise when they said they recognised in me a calling to Ordination, as I’d never even considered it at that stage!
After much thought, I began the discernment journey with the Diocese, learning a lot about myself and my faith and leading to my BAP two years later.
Why St Augustine’s College of Theology?
Choosing the right college was really important. I got married a few months after my BAP, and knew I’d be leaving my role as a youth worker to study full-time, so a lot was going to change. I needed a College where I knew I’d be supported.
Residential study wasn’t an option, so initially I expected my only option would be mixed-mode, context-based training. But I saw this three years study as a great gift and wanted to make the most of it, and was unsure how mixed-mode would work for me.
When my bishop mentioned St Augustine’s I thought that full-time student, non-residential sounded ideal. I explored the London and West Malling campuses and they are both amazing options. Trinity House in Southwark was great, and I loved the idea of being in London. But West Malling Abbey is so special; it’s like being on retreat. What a privilege being able to study in such a prayer-saturated place.
Through informal meetings with tutors, and discussing what training looked like, I recognised straightaway that all the staff at St Augustine’s are committed to each student’s individual formation – taking their own pathway. They really look at what works best for you, which was unique compared with other colleges I’d seen. I also thought that their partnerships around the world, including Jerusalem, Estonia and Tanzania might offer some interesting opportunities.
The opportunity to discuss with senior staff what sort of training would be best for me was really valuable – they knew how my personal training would look and could answer all my questions. I really valued the opportunity to learn and explore St Augustine’s richness of worship.
There are so many study options that it can seem a little confusing at first, but it falls into place when you talk to them. Those choices allow them to create the perfect pathway for you. They really want you to flourish, and offer you study support if you need it.
How is your course helping to shape your leadership?
The academic content of the training – like modules in church history, and biblical studies – is incredible, challenging and feeding my formation and my understanding of Christian faith and doctrine. This understanding is affecting and deepening my own relationship with God and leading me to experience God in new ways.
We’re all from very different backgrounds and traditions here, which is great as when you’re going to be a priest you need that broad experience of people and church traditions.
I love that the Church of England offers so many options in modern ministry. St Augustine’s looks at you that way – it’s your formation, and there’s no one size fits all.
There’s so much to explore and, in time, God will reveal where I’ll go next. I’d love to think that partnering with people overseas is still in my future, and I’m passionate about innovative ministry; but I’ve discovered that I also love the traditions. If there were a place for all those things in my future, that would be wonderful.
Ordinand, Guildford Diocese