By Ben Thompson,
One week during Advent 1998 changed my life. I was an ambitious student with good grades and every expectation that I’d land a rewarding job in the City. I’d grown up in a Christian home, but God had always been remote to me. He was more of a hobby, just one more ‘thing’ to add to my CV to show that I was a truly rounded person…
Somehow I found myself spending a week shadowing a vicar on a deprived housing estate, just north of Kings’ Cross Station. And as I watched this man, God began to unpick and reshape the desires of my heart. I saw him tirelessly visiting, encouraging, supporting, loving and teaching the gospel to a damaged community; something he had done, thanklessly, for the previous two decades. I had an overwhelming sense that I was seeing the glory of God and the grace of God at work.
Thirteen years later I find myself preparing to be ordained deacon to serve in the Diocese of Gloucester. It’s been quite a journey.
A year or two out of university I began to meet with my DDO and was extremely grateful for her encouragement and support as I spent four years on a church staff team and tested out the growing conviction I had that the Lord meant me to be ordained.
By the time that I had been approved for training I was married (to a very beautiful woman!) with a newborn daughter. It proved a huge wrench for us to leave the church family that had loved us so faithfully. But we left for college with a deep-rooted sense of the central place the local church has in the heart of God and a very real excitement about the prospect of being trained at Oak Hill for local-church ministry in years to come. In particular the concern at Oak Hill to equip ordinands with a clearly Bible-based, joined-up training resonated with us, as did the evident love and humility of the faculty. They were committed to doing everything possible to help us stay faithful to Jesus and be creative in the way we serve him.
My vicar warned me that the pressures at college would be the same as the pressures in ministry – the temptation to worry what others think of you; the constant challenge of honouring and enjoying God when there is more work to do than hours available – his gold-dust advice was to use college as a chance to grow in godliness in these areas. Added to that, the time spent engaging with the early church debates about the Trinity and Christology have shown me how fundamental knowing God is to every aspect of ministry (and how little I knew him!); wrestling with the Reformation debates about God’s grace in salvation has helped me begin to see what riches there are in the 39 Articles for addressing the issues of today; a placement in a deprived mining community in Barnsley persuaded me again of the two essentials for ministry – a genuine faithful love for people; and a deep enough grasp of the gospel to be able to contextualise it, without changing it.
So we find ourselves preparing to leave college (now with three children!). I’m very conscious of how fickle my heart is – in many ways my simplest ambition is to stay faithful to God – but I’m conscious even more of what an awesome heavenly Father we have through Jesus Christ. I can’t quite believe that I have the prospect of serving him for a lifetime. May all the glory go to him!