A story of teenage vocation…
I was 14 when I first felt God tapping on my shoulder – it was the last thing I ever wanted to do. I wanted a well-paid professional job – a lawyer or an engineer. I definitely didn’t want to be a priest.
But the tapping on my shoulder didn’t stop. My own faith had been coming alive over the previous year or two. I had been brought up in a Christian family and God was always a part of our lives, but more recently I was asking questions and making that faith my own. At the very time when I was beginning to wonder if this God was real, he made it abundantly clear to me that he was very real. There was no choice – I had to follow him. And now I had the feeling that he wanted more.
To begin with I said ‘No’.
I thought I had said it clearly and definitely, but apparently God didn’t hear. The tapping on my shoulder continued, and I kept saying no. This continued for the next 2 years, back and forth. I never heard a voice, or saw a sign, but I knew what that tapping meant – it meant “I want you to be ordained”.
During this time I desperately tried to settle on something else. I spent hours in the school careers room reading about different jobs and careers. I talked to the RAF Careers Officer who visited our school. I went with my class mates to do ‘aptitude tests’ which told me I should work with people, perhaps in a caring profession. And there was that tapping again.
By the time I was 16, God and I were at an impasse. I knew what he wanted, and he knew my response, but one of us had to give in.
And then it happened. I remember it was a Saturday.
I had been to a big day of celebration and renewal at a church a few miles from home. It was an inspiring day of lively worship and tangible prayer. Everyone there had felt God’s presence very strongly and in the back of the car on the way home, I started a kind of conversation with God. It went something like this.
“Oh God, I really want to tell people how amazing you are, but it’s so hard to pluck up the courage to do that.”
As I paused to reflect on this for a moment, a thought came into my mind and before I had thought it through, I had said it in my head.
”I know – if I was ordained and wore a dog collar it would be easy – because everyone would expect me to talk about you!”
As soon as I said it, I realised what I had done. I tried to pull back – to take back my words – to un-say what I had just said. “Oh, no God – I didn’t mean that” I said.
But it was too late, and for the first time in my life, I think I actually heard God speak. It wasn’t anything holy or religious, it wasn’t a deep thundering voice; I simply heard a chuckle and the words “Got you”. And deep down, I knew that he had.
That is when I gave up running. I gave up saying no. I gave up arguing.
I began to gently ask other people what they would think, if I said I was thinking about ordination. They all said ‘yes’ apart from my parents who were very careful not to put pressure on me in any direction – they knew I didn’t like being pushed into things.
And as I stopped arguing with God. – as I stopped pushing back – as I stopped saying “No Lord” (which is, after all, a contradiction in terms) – an amazing peace settled on me and I knew this was right for me.
So at the age of 16, I filled in my first form for the Diocese to enquire about ordination. I knew the road would be a long one, but I had made the first step. The adventure had begun.