Path to St Mary’s

This months contribution by Philip


Beware of holiday dreams. Sometimes they come true. In 2008 I was on holiday in Padstow in Cornwall. I was 36. I’d just finished my first year as a partner in a management consulting company, and I’d had a good year, as those things were judged there. I had a lovely wife and a young son and daughter both flourishing. Things seemed pretty well set up.

I went for a walk just to think over where I was, and to reflect a bit. My first reflection was – now finally I am finding I can use my gifts in my job, am developing in it, am being valued for what I’m doing, and this is a blessing truly to be thankful for. My next reflection was – well perhaps I have ‘found my vocation’ then, and I can set out my stall for a couple of decades to develop what I am doing. I paused on that for quite a while.

By this time I’d reached the churchyard of St Petroc’s church, the site of St Petroc’s ancient monastery, and I was sitting on a bench there. I got to wondering how to tell whether I had ‘found my vocation’, or not. I thought I should ask myself not only whether I was using my gifts, but whether I was using them for what was most important to me. ‘Well, what is most important to me?’ I asked myself. ‘Perhaps it is building up these institutions – the businesses, NGOs, charities, who we are consulting to – who are, to my mind, doing various kinds of good’. I paused on that for a while too.

The next thought I had was one which took me a bit by surprise: that it was not really those institutions and their ways of helping people which were most important to me, but the Church and helping people to grow spiritually. The next thought came pretty quickly and was initially intriguing if disconcerting: ‘well, perhaps I need to think about ministry in the church then.’ The next thought came even quicker: ‘Certainly not! How ridiculous. That could never work!’

I had never in my life ever consciously considered ordained ministry before that moment. So in one sense, I had a distinct ‘moment of call’. On the other hand, it was in three senses not a bolt from the blue. That day, it came in a kind of dialogue with myself (and with God), where one reflection led to another. Also, in terms of the previous five or six years when I later reflected on them, there were signs of something brewing: in my work life, in my spiritual life, and in the philosophy studies I was doing part-time. More broadly, when I came to look back on my whole life, I realised it could be seen as leading up to a call of that kind. My philosophy had become more and more focused on questions of spirituality. I had spent much of my work in and around churches, as a worshipper, and as a choir member both amateur and later professional. In leading people at work I had had to dig deep into my values and sense of ethics, and had found deep Christian conviction when I did so.

But in summer 2008, it seemed an almost crazy idea, scarcely to be serious entertained. Nonetheless, it did not go away. It took me a year even to go and see my vicar to discuss it. Once that was done, and the exploration got going, things moved forward. By early 2010 I was in the Southwark Diocese discernment process. In late 2011 I was at a national selection conference and telling my fellow partners I would be retiring from the firm. In autumn 2012 I was at Westcott House, alongside people of all ages and backgrounds, most, but not all, a bit younger than me, and beginning my training. By summer 2013 we were waiting to hear where we would be asked to serve. My wife Claudia used to commute from Putney to Blackfriars by the Thames Clipper and pass St Mary’s. She said to me, ‘what’s the name of that beautiful church by the river before Battersea Bridge, I don’t suppose we could serve there?’

The parish profile arrived in autumn 2013 in my inbox, and I convinced Simon and the churchwardens to take me on. So now we find ourselves joyously installed in Kerrison Road: the four of us, our eight goldfish, and, the newest arrivals, two guinea pigs. We look forward to getting to know you all, and to serving with you here.