For some, the pathway to becoming ordained is a clear calling that is impossible to ignore and fulfilling to follow. For many others, the journey can take rather longer, the route being more convoluted and the calling harder to discern in the din of life experiences, hard knocks and diminished self-confidence. And so it was for Tess, but it’s a journey that has enriched and strengthened her, fortifying her resolve to become ordained.

From feisty atheist…

When Tess was young she loved to sing in choirs but looking around a cathedral one day, seeing older ladies sat apart from each other, she said to herself that if God were real, his church wouldn’t look like this. So she became a feisty atheist, relishing the arguments she had with Christians she met at university.

“I loved to argue, but one guy struck me as so different he stopped me in my tracks. He never got angry, instead showing concern for me when he couldn’t agree with my point of view and genuinely had something different about him.”

Wanting to know more, Tess dug deeper and, as she says, convinced herself of the truth about Christ and threw herself into the life of a charismatic, evangelic Christian – much to the amusement of her fellow students.

“I was 20, I thought I had it all figured out and delighted in the difference between what I saw as the dry husk of cathedral life to the dynamism and energy of life as an evangelical.”

…to zealous missionary

Her zeal took her to a mission in Albania. “I did things I was terrified of and recoil from now when I think of it – knocking on doors with an interpreter, haranguing people because their belief system didn’t match with mine. I wanted to fit in but ended up feeling ashamed.”

Inevitably, Tess’ faith withered and she drifted away from the church for the next 10 years. But she was still searching for something more than the worldly treasures she found her professional life as a hedge fund analyst and programmer afforded her. “I had everything that most people think they want – a satisfying job, professional kudos and lots of money. But it wasn’t enough.” There was a hole that Tess didn’t know how to fill, but had a good go at trying!

…and from spiritual searcher

She spent time on a commune on Dartmoor. “But it was so cold I had to give up! I loved their holistic, communal approach to life but I couldn’t cope with being cold.” Tess had slipped into a vague agnosticism, believing the church useless in all its forms, seeking comfort instead with friends who were pagans and wiccans, responding to the esteem in which they held women, especially after her experiences of the stronghold of men in conservative evangelic churches. Buddhism and the Advaita philosophy were explored, notably the believe that the ego is an illusion and we are all one together.

Her search, Tess believes, did achieve a level of enlightenment, helping her to grasp something about herself. She knew that she no longer wanted to shift and adapt herself to please other people, but to be accepted for who she was.  All of this coincided with a move to Wales and a time of unemployment following the pursuit of a job that transpired to be much less than promised.

“I started to encounter people from ‘emerging churches’ who were more inclusive and concerned about social action, doing Christ-like things and not the perceived ‘right’ things from a tick list. Suddenly this was different.”

…to home, a loving and well-loved child of God

Tess enrolled on an Alpha course, fighting against her innate scepticism and belief that, given it was second time around, she had all the answers except to the one question she struggled with – is it real? She spoke to a vicar and said she found it hard to pray as, intellectually, she just wasn’t feeling it. He told her to pray as if God was really listening, and so she did.

“I prayed on my own, in my room, at night and was hit with the almost audible words, “I love you.” I had the most overwhelming sense of peace and I wept. I’d never felt anything like it and it didn’t leave me – not that night, or the next day or the next month. This sense of being held and loved not only changed how I felt about myself, but how I felt about other people as well.”

Tess laughs that from being the only one in an evangelical church with arms firmly by her sides, she became the only one in a traditional rural Welsh church with her arms held high!

“Rather than trying to fix myself like I’d been doing for the past 25 years, I was fixed in an instant by God – there are still things that need to be fixed but I’m a work in progress! But the self-recrimination stopped, making space to open my heart to others. And that’s when I felt my first calling to be ordained.”

Don’t imagine that’s the end of Tess’s journey. What followed was a time of exploring a life of obedience in a Franciscan, then Benedictine Monastery before finally accepting the truth of her call to ordination. “When all there is to do is contemplate the task in hand, be that the smell of washing as it goes through the roller, the light that comes through the window as it rests on a nun across the way, the birdsong outside, it can be extremely liberating. I had to test myself, be convinced that my calling was from God and not because of any arrogance within me.”

Happily, for Cornwall, God won through and so Tess joins the other ordinands at the end of June in the cathedral, before taking her place as Curate at St Columb Major.