I am now halfway through my ordination training at Trinity College; it has gone by very fast!
My husband Paul and I have come to feel more and more settled in this large city as we gradually explore bits of Bristol and the surrounding countryside. There are many nice places to explore and plenty of excellent restaurants that we are slowly trying. I am very grateful to have three years of study before being ordained, although I’m sure the second half of my training will go just as quickly!
First year at college
It was a lot of hard work to get my essays finished in time, but all the work was hugely valuable. I had a number of excellent classes, one on the book of Genesis, specifically looking at chapters one to eleven. Another was on sacramental theology for which I did a really interesting essay on whether bishops are essential for the authenticity of the church. And my favourite module in my first year was a doctrine class exploring salvation; we read extracts from different theologians over the last two thousand years and were then able to discuss as a class many challenging topics around the area of salvation with guidance from the lecturer. I also had classes on some of the practical elements of ministry, such as pointers for conducting weddings and funerals that included a very helpful visit from a funeral director.
During study and prayer over the last year I have come to realise that my academic work is not separate from my spirituality. By that I mean that I am spending time with God just as much when I am reading a theology book or writing an essay as I am when quietly praying. My excitement as I study theology and learn more of God causes me to praise him and talk to him as I work; it is not separate from my devotion to him. In a way this is a re-realisation, as I had this feeling while studying chemistry at Oxford University. As I learnt more chemistry I discovered more of God, which led to a deeper engagement with him as well as the subject.
Over the summer I began a full-time church placement in the Sodbury Vale Benefice. At Trinity we are placed at churches throughout the year, but being in the Sodbury Vale Benefice for a month gave the opportunity to experience more of the day-to-day life of a vicar which is not possible during the academic year when we are studying full time.
The placement proved to be an extremely valuable one. The benefice was made up of a large market town church, with three surrounding village churches. My first lesson was seeing how many miles a vicar racks up in a day driving between the different villages! On a Sunday morning the vicars are often rushing from one service to the next, making it hard to talk to parishioners for any length of time following a service. The vicar of the benefice was a female priest who was one of the first-ever women to be priested! She was fantastic and we had great discussions on the different issues that cropped up while I was working there. One of the key reflections was on balancing family life and ministry, in particular for women priests.
The highlights of the placement were deaconing at a baptism service where the babies were placed in the font with just their nappies on! Bowls of water were poured over their heads as they were baptised and both babies thoroughly enjoyed themselves! Another highlight was leading my first school assembly. That was a pretty nerve-racking experience as working with children is not my strong suit. However it went really well and the children asked some brilliant questions on what it was like to train as a vicar. I also helped at some home communions, attended meetings, helped at the mums and toddlers group, led prayers at a funeral, helped at the mid-week communion service, led my first sung evensong, spent a morning being driven around the Badminton Benefice (where Prince Charles worships!) talking with the vicar about rural ministry, and I got to wear vestments (the white robes) for the first time.
The fantastic month in Sodbury Vale Benefice was followed by our summer holidays. Then the autumn term began, with new students arriving and the familiar faces of friends who had been away all summer. I was very much looking forward to getting back into the routine of having morning prayer in chapel every day; I had been missing the corporate nature of our prayer life at Trinity. And of course I was excited about the different classes I’m taking this year; there is just so much to learn!
Alison Walker is a second-year ordinand from Hereford Diocese on the Graduate Diploma/MA programme. Prior to arriving at Trinity, Alison and her husband Paul spent three months travelling in New Zealand, Fiji, and Sydney for their honeymoon.