Ben never wanted to be a vicar, he says. And yet when you talk to him about the journey he’s been on and the life he anticipates that lies ahead, it’s plain to see that it’s something he really wants now.

Life was ticking along nicely for Ben. He’d been a solicitor for twelve years then took up the reins of a renewable energy business in Cornwall; he had a family, a lovely home and was active in his local church. So why rock that happy boat?

“I was helping to lead an Alpha course with Lindsey, my wife, and was struck with an unexpected thought: this is such a privilege to talk to people about Jesus, see them come to faith and help them to grow in discipleship – could I do this all the time?”

It was a question he tried to ignore, or perhaps side-step, taking up a distance theology course instead hoping that would satisfy him, intellectually at least. “I loved it, but it only helped to increase the call to ordination, so I spoke to friends, family and finally my vicar at Kea Church. And that was it, I began the process.”

The joy and pain of the process

Like most Ordinands, Ben found the selection process, or Bishop’s Advisory Panel (BAP), in Staffordshire, the most challenging time. “It’s very intense. We were observed, evaluated and assessed to see if we were suitable and if all the stuff we’d written about ourselves was true! Even at mealtimes, the way we interact, serve and conduct ourselves is noted.”

Although it was draining, physically, emotionally and spiritually, Ben was determined to be himself, otherwise, he says, what was the point? Nevertheless, on the train home from Staffordshire to Cornwall he had plenty of time to reflect and although exhausted knew he couldn’t have given the process any more. “Even though I was relying on God to help me, I was also working pretty hard too! Whatever was going to happen afterwards was unquestionably in His hands.”

“Even though I was relying on God to help me, I was also working pretty hard too! Whatever was going to happen afterwards was unquestionably in His hands.”

When the call eventually came on Bonfire Night, there was, as Ben says, an ‘Oh gosh!’ moment. Everything was about to change. Ben and the family agreed that Ben would benefit most from being a full-time student at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. “I am so grateful as I have had a wonderful couple of years. I’ve had amazing opportunities and experienced ministry in a completely different way.”

Church plants, student missions and ministery in a mental health hospital

During his time at Oxford, Ben participated in varying placements including eight weeks at St Mathias, an HTB church that was planted in Plymouth in 2016. “It was amazing, for a short while, to be part of the energy and focus that saw the church grow from just 30 members to over 300 in less than a year, and to witness the impact the church had on Plymouth.”

In stark contrast, Ben also took up a weekly placement with the chaplaincy team at Warneford a mental health and psychiatric hospital in Oxford. “This was a profound experience. I was spending time with people in a secure unit who were there against their will, so it was very hard to know what to do. I learnt, maybe for the first time, that I didn’t need to ’do’ anything. God was there doing the ‘doing’ and I was simply there to listen and offer comfort.” Ben says that his time at the hospital had a deep effect on him. Having an evangelical heart, he felt he should always be seeking opportunities to share his faith, but this taught him that there are other ways to engage with people and show them the loving heart of God.

“A pastoral encounter with someone who is mentally ill isn’t an opportunity for me to preach, but an opportunity to sit, listen and accept that God is at work. My role isn’t to make them do anything but help them to see what God is already doing in their lives.”

Ben also had the extraordinary privilege of working with the legendary Michael Green, a who, at 87, continues to be a powerhouse for God. “It was one of the highlights of my training. We went on two University missions together and he taught me a great deal about organising and leading evangelistic events – which involved anything from preparing and supporting students to lead, to handing out pizza and picking up rubbish!”

Has all of this changed Ben? “Most definitely. People talk about growing in Christ-likeness and I’ve discovered that you don’t schedule two hours of growing in Christ-likeness, but it happens. For me, I’m particularly aware of it happening when I realise I’ve responded differently to familiar situations.”

And what lies ahead? “For the first time in a very long time, my diary is empty! That’s a bit scary and a bit exciting. I am very happy to be serving in the Church of England. It has a special place in every community and there is still some residual understanding that it is there for everybody – and that’s a very exciting and very privileged thing to be a part of.”