Diocese of Newcastle

Vocations Stories

Revd Tracey Usher

Born and bred in Newcastle, I attended St Peter’s, Cowgate, from the age of two years old, when my Mum first started taking me to the toddler group. For me, discerning a call to ordained ministry was a shock to the system, it wasn’t something I had ever considered. It has been quite a journey, and although it has been challenging, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world and have met some amazing people along the way.

I had a perceived idea of what curacy was going to be like. I was going to be a stranger in a church, with ideas and suggestions, and I was only going to be there for a few years. Yet these words and actions could have major implications, and impact people in ways I may never know or understand. With this in mind, I felt I needed to talk with and listen to people, to have conversations about faith, the community and the place of the church in that community. What I have really loved about being a curate, thus far, is that these conversations truly happen when we work together. Whether its washing dishes, cooking pies or tidying tables away - working together in the day to day jobs somehow enables a freedom of conversation that I think only God can create. I really feel God has called me to serve in such an unexpected and wonderful way and I am privileged to be part of it, and look forward to what the future brings.

Darren and Leanne Bell

Until Leanne and Darren Bell had their youngest child baptised eight years ago, they had rarely been to church. But it was a moment that would change their lives forever. In June, both were ordained together in the Diocese of Newcastle.

The baptism of their youngest child took place at St James Shilbottle, just outside Alnwick. At the time, there was a vacancy at the church and the Reader and the Ordained Local Minister prepared Leanne and Darren for the baptism service, with members of the congregation welcoming them to the church.

Leanne describes this group as ‘brilliant’ including the congregation members who visited them at home. ‘These were women who had worshipped in the church for decades, who had this faithful ministry that they exercised year after year. They were fantastic, so open, welcoming and non-judgemental,’ she said. A former solicitor and law lecturer, Leanne recalls her feelings at the baptism: ‘I remember feeling very emotional, it felt like I had been away somewhere unfamiliar and I had come back home.’ She added: ‘We were walking down the path out of the church and I cannot remember which one of us said: “I think I’d like go back next week” and the other said “yes, so would I”.’

The couple had been baptised as babies, but had not been churchgoers up until this key moment in their lives. They started to attend church regularly and were confirmed in 2010. ‘Darren always used to joke that had he not gone into the police (as he did) he would have been a chaplain in the Army,’ Leanne said. ‘A few people at St James Shilbottle had a word with him and he started exploring his vocation. I had a sense of calling almost immediately, but I was adamant that I was not going down that path. It was two and a half years before I gave in and went to see the Diocesan Director of Ordinands. I had not been able to imagine ever being the person who wore the robes who stood at the front of a church.’

‘However over that time God made it clear that first, it’s not about being at the front, it’s about being alongside people, and second, He’s calling me to do it. Looking back, I can see God was working in my life all the way through, whether I was aware of it or not.’

Leanne and Darren Bell trained for the priesthood at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, Oxfordshire, and were among the 14 men and women ordained this year as deacons. Leanne has started work as an assistant curate in the parish of St Peter, Monkseaton and Darren to serve as assistant curate at Holy Trinity, Seghill and St Mary Holywell.

David Johnson

Before going to university I always lived in villages, and going to university in Durham wasn’t much different – it’s basically an overgrown village with a big church opposite a castle. As such the idea of living in any urban area wasn’t even on my radar. One summer I accepted an invitation to a UCCF urban mission team where I was able to spent two weeks alongside a small, mostly elderly church that was doing amazingly faithful and thoughtful mission in their surrounding area. I was so excited by what the church was doing despite the hard area they were in that I went on the same trip the year after and then spent two years doing an intern scheme with my church in Durham with a focus on urban mission.

I am now employed as a youth worker with four smallish Anglican churches in Byker and Walker in Newcastle. I feel pretty chilled saying the excitement I feel, about equipping and accompanying urban churches as they seek to reach out to their local areas, is a calling because it both fits well as the next chapter of my life and at the same time sort of came out of nowhere. On the one hand I’ve been able to use lessons I’ve learnt and networks I’ve built through my life in my work here, but on the other hand it’s a little ridiculous to think that I, who at one point had only ever lived in leafy villages, would end up where I am now.

Jo Mundy

The vocation to life a Single Consecrated Life is a person’s response to a call from God to live out their Christian life under the vow of consecrated celibacy. This autonomous avowed life has been recognised in the Eastern and Western churches from earliest time as an authentic Christian tradition. It was revived by the Church of England in 2002, and at present there are around thirty or so people – widowers, widows, the divorced and single – who have made vows, with several more exploring the idea.

Each Christian has a unique personal call from God. Some who have committed themselves to a Single Consecrated Life are active within the Church as priests, others in roles in the wider world, and still others live as solitaries focused more on ‘being’ than doing.

The idea of my taking this step was put to me in April 2010 by the Abbess of Malling Abbey, of which I am an Oblate, and confirmed by Bishop Frank White. I made my First Vow on St Alban’s Day 2011, and my Life Vow just over a year later; both in the Chapel at Shepherd’s Dene. They were very moving and affirmative occasions, especially when Bishop Frank anointed and consecrated me with the holy oil of chrism, and placed a ring on my finger.

My particular vow is to live for the rest of my life as a contemplative urban solitary according to the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict, in a celibacy dedicated to God to bring healing and wholeness to the world through my involvement in my local church, my personal commitment to fair trade, care of the environment, and bridging the gap between rich and poor, and my support of organisations with the same commitment. Needless to say none of this would be possible except by the grace – the charism – of God, and the prayerful support of the nuns at Malling Abbey.

John Vilaseca

God works in mysterious ways. Three years ago I applied for a pastoral assistant job in the Diocese of Newcastle, as part of my vocational discernment for ministry in the Church of England. I was appointed for the job and I moved to this fantastic part of the world; from Barcelona to the North East of England. Friends back in Spain thought I was mad; however, I was sure that God was calling me to go north; God has a strange sense of humour. In Newcastle Diocese I met great, friendly and warm people, who welcomed me with open arms. The Diocese gave me the fantastic opportunity to discern my vocation meanwhile I was experiencing parish life and ministry. I was appointed to serve as pastoral assistant in the parish of St. Peter’s Balkwell (North Shields), where I could explore community and youth work together with pastoral care and parish worship. As pastoral assistant, I worked closely with my incumbent; she was a great support and inspiration. During the time I worked in the parish I lived with two other young people who worked as pastoral assistants too. The fact of living together was a great blessing; we could support each other and share our different experiences; growing together in our discernment. Nowadays, I’m serving my curacy in the Diocese of Newcastle. When I look back to my pastoral assistant year I realised how important it was for my ministerial and spiritual life. The experience gave me a well-grounded idea of ministerial life; it provided time to pray and discerned my vocation as I was serving in parish ministry.

If you are discerning your vocation and thinking of parish ministry I strongly recommend you to join the diocesan pastoral assistant scheme, it will be an amazing way to use your time for the service of God and God’s people. The Diocese will provide you with the best resources to make the most of your time and help you to find out God’s calling in your life. Bearing always in mind that God works in mysterious ways, let God surprise you!

Karen Charman

I trained for ordination at Ripon College, Cuddesdon (in rural Oxfordshire) from September 2014 – June 2016, then returned to the Newcastle Diocese and was ordained on 2 July 2016. I’m serving my curacy in Delaval Parish, in the Bedlington Deanery.

My husband and I moved to Cuddesdon – along with our dog, Marlowe, and Samwise, our cat – in August 2014, and spent an idyllic month exploring Oxfordshire before term began. We lived in college-owned accommodation – a small cottage in the village, only a few minutes’ walk from college.

I found residential training a wonderful experience. Training as a full-time residential student included far more than attending lectures and writing essays. For me, the most valuable aspect was probably spending two years living in a rich and diverse worshipping community. On a daily basis, I mixed with both single and married ordinands and their spouses, partners and children; the Cuddesdon Sisters of the Community of St John Baptist and Companions of Jesus the Good Shepherd, who lived alongside us and worshipped with us in their wonderful chapel; tutors and lecturers (both ordained and lay); with other college staff; with villagers; and with those who attended the parish church. I benefitted from the pattern of daily worship; weekly lessons with our voice coach; and exposure to new ways of praying and worshipping. Community life introduced me to a wide range of worship styles and traditions. I also enjoyed various extra-curricular activities, including playing football; and a weekend at Walsingham.

When I was going through the discernment and selection process, my spiritual director once said, “God does not call the equipped; he equips the called.” I certainly found that to be the case at Cuddesdon. Although – along with the majority of ordinands – I faced many challenges and struggles during my training, I enjoyed a huge increase in confidence in my second year and really feel that God did equip me (and is still equipping me) for ordained ministry. The summer placement I completed at the end of Year One played a significant part in my development, with the opportunity to experience ministry and mission in a thriving parish six days per week, for a four-week spell.

I know that, for some ordinands, residential training will not be an option. However, my experience at Cuddesdon showed that it can be a wonderful experience – and not only for the young and single. Giving up my secular job and selling our house to train on a full-time residential basis proved to be a great decision for me, my husband and our pets.

Lee Cleminson

Serving the people in the parishes of Bothal and Pegswood with Longhirst in the Morpeth deanery is certainly busy, but what's different is that there is no bottom line. Since my ordination, I have had the freedom as assistant curate, over the past few months, to settle into my role, discover the projects in which I will participate, and to work out how much time to devote to each. It was a bit of a struggle deciding how best to fill up my diary at the beginning of my curacy, but the freedom to explore what is happening in the parishes I serve has been a vital part of my settling into a life of ordained ministry and using this settling in period as an opportunity to get to know the people I both serve and share ministry with. It has also helped me to experiment in different places and figure out what my strengths, weaknesses and, most importantly, interests are. I remember leaving theological college like it was only yesterday. Feeling nervous about ordination and settling into an area that was totally new to me. I had been used with the busy flow of life in the Benwell area and to serve my curacy in rural Northumberland was a huge change, but a good change - bringing me out of my comfort zone.

A big part of my role is meeting people at different stages of their spiritual journey, whether this is at the Faith and Life course that I help lead with our local Lay Reader, chatting over a meal at Longhirst Village Hall, learning to knit at Pegswood Chapel with a craft group, meeting a bereaved family in preparation for a funeral, welcoming children and adults into the life and witness of the church through the administration of baptism and building up relationships through pastoral visiting.

But one thing that has touched me deeply since ordination is what I like to call a ‘GOD INCIDENT.’ One day, I went to visit a parishioner in a local care home and met another lady who was confused, crying, and didn't know who, or where she was. She looked up to me (her eyes so red with crying), 'in a clerical collar'. She instantly stopped crying and started to pray 'The Lord’s Prayer'. The staff were absolutely astounded, this lady they said hadn't been able to string two words together for months, yet said this prayer without a problem. Sometimes we think that we have to use a lot of words to comfort people, that day I didn’t speak a single word, I was simply present and she recognized who I was representing. I reflect daily on the promises I made alongside many others, that day I was ordained, “Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known among all whom you serve?”

When Jesus said, "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me," he was speaking about the demographics I am called to serve here: people who are poor in spirit, those who are lonely and mournful. These people have become Eucharistic to me, and I personally experience God through them. Overall, I have developed a service-driven theology in which faith and good deeds are, as Martin Luther once suggested, as inseparable as fire and heat.

I’m really loving my curacy, working, praying and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with and alongside those whom I serve.

Pat Moran

Hi – my name is Pat. I was ordained priest in July 2015 and am currently a Curate at St Mary’s Monkseaton in Whitley Bay. I am a self-supporting minister (SSM) which means that I also work too. I started training to be a Reader before realising half-way through that God was really calling me to be a priest. In total, I spent 3 years training with Lindisfarne.

Because I am an SSM, and still work part time, training with Lindisfarne worked for me. I suppose training in this way instead of full time might seem as if you were losing out in some way, especially the more formational aspects, but I felt it worked very well for me.

I am quite academic so I found the academic work enjoyable and stimulating, although I know for other people it was more of a struggle. But that was one of the joys and strengths of the training really – together we discovered that we all had different strengths and weaknesses. For some, it was a struggle returning to the classroom after many years out of formal education, for others it was trying to hold work, home and training together, for yet others, it was preaching, or leading worship, for others, like me it was things like overcoming a lifelong fear of flying when we were told that we were going to Israel for our summer school. For each of us it was a personal but a shared journey.

As students we were a very mixed bunch – older and younger, from different social backgrounds and with different experiences of life, church and work, and with different ideas about the way forward. It was an amazing and truly formational experience to train alongside people with such a rich variety of experience and gifts... police officers, nurses, teachers, accountants, office workers, retired, and from such a breadth of church experience. And for me one of the formational experiences was precisely that - reflecting on what ministry might mean in the midst of our ordinary, everyday commitments, which is after all where each of us is called to serve God and each other.

And the training and formation was thorough – a full programme of academic study, plus six residential weekends a year, which were an opportunity for a more in-depth engagement with some aspect of ministry, an annual summer school (in my case, in Israel one year and in Northern Ireland the second year), and a long placement (6 months in another parish). And all this alongside any training that might be offered in your home parish.

Overall, I would say that training with Lindisfarne was a good choice, and for me personally a great joy.

Nicola Denyer

Believe it or not, I only started going to Church six years ago. I was baptised as a baby (as most people were in 1975), but apart from the odd wedding, Christening or funeral I had never been back. I didn’t really plan to start going either, but after popping into a family activity afternoon I felt the need to go one Sunday. The welcome I received meant I kept going back and found faith almost but not quite in a flash. On the advice of our then incumbent I completed the Living Theology North East course and began to explore a calling to licensed ministry. I had had to retire early from a career in the NHS due to a back injury and didn’t feel called to ordained ministry. Instead, reader ministry seemed to be where I was meant to be, and after a period of prayer and discernment, I started my training in September 2012.

As part of the first year, I had to do a Chaplaincy placement. I spent mine at St. Oswald’s Hospice in Gosforth and enjoyed the experience so much that later that year I returned as a volunteer. 3 months after that and I was lucky enough to be employed by the Hospice as a member of the Chaplaincy team, and soon I’ll be coming up to my 2 year anniversary.

Working in Chaplaincy is varied, enjoyable and at times challenging. We are tasked with providing religious and spiritual care to patients, relatives and staff of all faiths and none. I lead religious services in our Chapel, but also give spiritual and emotional care on a one to one basis. I assist in funerals, but have also been involved in a wedding blessing – there are no two days the same! People often comment that it must be so hard and sad to work in a Hospice, and of course, there are difficult times. However, I also laugh lots every day and am honoured to walk alongside people in their journeys, through the good times and the bad. When I started my Reader training I didn’t know that it would lead me to another vocation in Chaplaincy, and the two roles fit together incredibly well. I am extremely lucky and extremely blessed.

Stephen Ramshaw

When I first became a Christian back in 1998, at the age of 36 my whole life changed in a huge way.

I had just had Jesus explained to me for the first time, and I just kept thinking why has no one told me this before? How has it taken 36 years of my life till someone has actually explained to me who Jesus really is? From that moment on I had a passion for ordinary, everyday people to hear the Good News of Jesus.

At the time I became a Christian I was working in the construction industry, an industry I still worked in until 5 years ago. I was just an ordinary bloke working in a very ordinary job with not one academic qualification to my name. I was brought up on a council estate; I was still living on a council estate. I went to a comprehensive school which I left the first chance I got and had various run-ins with the law in my younger years. I used to look about at the blokes I worked with, the people on the estates where I lived, and had a real sense of God wanting me to take his love to those people and places, the places and people who were in real need of Jesus, but the Church seemed to have overlooked. It used to; it still does tear at my heart and fills my belly with fire and a passion to reach out with the love of Jesus.

I started getting more and more involved with the life of my local Church, but I always had a feeling, you could say a calling to be out in the wider community. I did all I could in the Church I was at, I dabbled with the idea of going into fulltime ministry, but I kept thinking I had no skills or education what could I offer? Who would want me? Then one cold snowy night there was a knock on the door, our new vicar was standing there looking all sheepish. I invited him in, and said to him “spit it out, what’s on your mind?” He just said, “Stephen I’ve never said this to anyone before, but I feel God’s calling you to be an evangelist with Church Army.” “Is he really” I responded jokingly. He said to think about it, and pray about it and see where it goes. So I prayed, and listened to God, I knew a lot of other people were praying too, it felt right to apply. Just filling in the application was a job in itself, never mind the selection panels, but Jesus was beside me and helped me through it all.

Now after 4 years of training, which was brilliant, I am doing something which I absolutely love. Living and working in an area of North Tyneside that has some very real social problems and is in the bottom 10% of areas of deprivation in the country, God loves this community where I am at, and he wants them to have the very best lives possible. I want them to know that, and for our community to thrive, not just survive. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Praise the Lord.

Clive Gray - Reader since 2015

After a long break from Christian practice ‘for bad behaviour’, I was back in Church, asking difficult questions. My Vicar challenged me to think of daily life as ‘joining in God’s work in the world’ rather than seeing being a Christian as purely personal internal spiritual exercise. It rang bells for me. I signed up for the Faith and Life course discovering I had some talent for teaching and pastoral care. Not something a retired Royal Marine Officer and business leader imagined of himself. And slowly it dawned on me that I was being called to exercise my talents in the world for more than just shareholder dividends or the defence of the realm.

That moment of crossing the line, of giving yourself over to the call, was so small but fundamentally life changing. Initial fear was calmed by a sense of ‘rightness’. The consternation of going back to education was smoothed by how supportive the staff and your fellows on the journey are. I loved the challenge to my preconceived ideas and limited perspective to the point where I am continuing on with the degree after finishing the Diploma. And as a ‘non academic’ I was delighted to realise theology is the most practical of subjects, where everything you learn can be worked into your daily life.

Yes I can now deliver a sermon that doesn’t put everybody to sleep (I think) and run a Bible class, but it didn’t stop there. I also felt called to leave corporate life and set up a charity in Blyth working to transform the community’s vision of itself through providing ‘into work’ engineering training working on heritage boats and building resilience and seamanship skills by recreating the original voyage of discovery of Antarctica form Blyth in 2019 (200 years later). We even hosted the Tall Ship Regatta in Blyth this summer! My talents, skills and new perspective are now working to build better lives in the messiness of the world and I feel a sense of fulfilment and thoroughly enjoy being the Captain of a tall Ship!

What have I learnt? That I understand more and know less, God’s timing is perfect (despite you not being ready!) and salvation can be practical everyday events, like a helping hand, an ear to listen, a cup of tea made or a simple decision to take a new path.