Archdiocese of Birmingham
One of my earliest memories of Mass is being 8 years old and my mother telling me the parish priest had said I should be an altar boy. What the Canon said, happened, and so began my service to the Church. Since then, I’ve never been one to push myself into involvement in the parishes in which I’ve worshipped; I had always waited to be asked before taking up any involvement, not wanting to seem too forward or interfering. “More readers are needed,” Father announced that the end of Mass, so only then did I offer my services. A notice was placed in the parish newsletter asking for more extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, so I volunteered.
Yet with the diaconate, it was me who made the first move. I made an appointment to see my parish priest, and his first reaction was, “But you’re so young! I thought you were going to say you wanted to be a priest!” When I’m asked how I received my calling, I think since it was me who did the enquiring and offered myself – instead of waiting to be asked – it was God pushing me.
I had doubts. I work as a primary school teacher, I have two young sons, and my wife – although Christian – isn’t Catholic (and didn’t even realise the Catholic Church has married clergy). But I received great encouragement from family, friends, colleagues and those in the Church. When the diocesan deputy director came to our house to speak to Vicki and I, our second son was a newborn in the Moses basket, but I was reassured that each deacon has a different amount of time to give in service to his diaconal vocation, depending on his situation.
There have, of course, been challenges. “Where are we going to put all these books?” my wife asks. And if any man looks at the amount of time he has ‘spare’ in a week, the maths will never add up. But, as with anything important, you find the time to make it happen. My eldest has asked (slightly worriedly) if he would need special training to be a deacon’s boy, but he enjoys going to school with his news of having had his photo taken with different bishops he’s met. My mother now looks after my sons on most of the Oscott study days, so that Vicki can accompany me. This has been a benefit, as in our hectic lives, my boys spend more quality time with their grandma than they might have done otherwise.
At Oscott, we are formed alongside future priests. Whilst it might be daunting to serve at Mass or exposition, lead the rosary or deliver a reflection with the eyes of so many liturgical and theological experts on you, we have access to expert tutors, the vast library and the prayers and support of those we might serve alongside in ordained ministry.
When it comes to academic work, I have the advantage of a Theology degree and having done formal study within the last decade, but with four strands of formation – intellectual, pastoral, spiritual and human – each man on the programme has his own strengths and weaknesses. It is by sharing the journey that we find support. We are a large year group, from across four dioceses, but particularly with those from Birmingham, I have made firm friends. This fellowship is not merely incidental to our formation – we hope to be ordained not just to serve in a parish, or even the diocese, but to belong to the order of deacons, which exists to serve God and his people through ministry of the Word, at the Altar and through Charity.