Fr Daniel Burton, Assistant Curate, All Saints’, Carshalton

An aphorism I’ve learned to be true is that God uses any trick in the book to show us he loves us. My own journey within the Christian faith – and to preparing to be ordained priest at the time of writing – started in September 2011 at my great-uncle’s funeral. The funeral service was a very standard Common Worship liturgy lasting for about twenty-five minutes. Yet, by the time we had reached the Lord’s Prayer, I realised there was something extremely special about these prayers and ancient texts, as well as the ideas and emotions which they conveyed. I also worked out that the retired priest who was taking the funeral was doing something extremely important. Two weeks later, I found myself turning up alone at my local Anglican parish church’s Sunday Eucharist (I was fifteen at the time). That said, I know now that I wasn’t alone, as God was clearly walking with me on that ten-minute walk from my home to the church, a walk which would change the course of my life. All of this was unusual as up until that point I’d had very little to no interaction with any church, my family largely being agnostics or atheists. From my first Sunday Eucharist, my journey of discovering God’s revelation of himself through Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, the sacraments, and the traditions of the Church has become a central aspect of my life and will take on another dimension on 2nd July when – God-willing – I’ll be ordained a priest in God’s Church.

Over the years as I took my GCSEs and A-levels and went off to university, I fell more deeply in love with the rhythms and people of the parish churches and college chaplaincy I attended. I found worshipping God and coming into his presence happened more easily for me through catholic, Eucharist-centred, liturgies. By my second year of university, so many people had said to me they could see a call to ordination developing in me that I thought God was trying to tell me something. I also felt a desire to get closer and closer to the altar in my own prayer life. After spending two years as a pastoral assistant at St John the Divine, Kennington, to figure out whether full-time ordained ministry was for me, I found this sense of call coming more and more from within myself as well. It was then that the discernment process really took off and I was sent off to train for ministry.

Since being ordained deacon last June, I have found ministry to be both challenging and extremely enriching. I’ve relished being able to put my call into practice and working as a ministerial team with my training incumbent and learning from his years of ministerial experience. Serving the people of my parish and striking up pastoral relationships with a numerous array of people has made me feel very privileged, and I’m humbled by the trust and confidence many people have placed in me in pastoral matters. Taking the occasional offices of baptisms and funerals has been one of the highlights of the past year. I love trying to communicate the love and grace of God expressed through the liturgies of the occasional offices, especially as I often have in the back of my mind that it was a funeral that set my own faith on fire. Wearing the “dog-collar” around the parish took some time to get used to – I find I have to leave extra early to get to a service, meeting, or event as more and more people are starting to speak to me as I travel around the parish on foot. As with so many people in ministry, the greatest challenge of the past year has been trying to manage time; particularly building in constructive free time during the more hectic periods of parish life.

For me, being ordained priest will allow me to follow the pull and call to celebrate the Eucharist which I’ve felt for years now. I am both very anxious and excited about presiding at the Eucharist and fulfilling what Jesus commanded us to do at the Last Supper. I’m also looking forward to growing closer to my church community and parish as a newly ordained priest and experiencing the further pastoral opportunities which will come about.

I give thanks to God for the privilege and joys of the journey he has led me on so far.

Revd. Gemma Birt, Assistant Curate, St John the Evangelist, East Dulwich

I was born in London, my father is Chinese and from Singapore and my mother from Germany. I grew up in Singapore, attending the German Lutheran church there with my mother, and sometimes the catholic church with my father.  My father’s parents were Buddhist, and so we would also regularly visit the Buddhist temple. I attended a German primary school where I was one of the only non-white pupils, and then an international school where there were over 45 different nationalities.

My vocational journey so far has been very much supported by these early life experiences, blessed with a rich mixture of different religious influences and ethnicities. Whilst it was not always easy, I now realise that the lived experience of feeling like I never quite fit in, of almost always being the one on the margins,  gives me some insight into what it may feel like to be “othered”:  sometimes valued, sometimes shunned, other times just ignored.  It has instilled in me a desire to understand more about what it means to love our neighbour as ourselves and it has very much influenced my vocational journey. More than anything, it has taught me that we must both honour and cherish our differences, and seek to love one another, bound in and by our common humanity.

As a child and young adult, I cannot remember having any desire at all to be ordained priest! First, I wanted to be a trapeze artist, then a teacher, then an astronaut. As an adult, not really sure what to do I went to university and studied law, then became a lawyer specialising in dispute resolution.  Quite early into this I began to sense deep down that “lawyering” was not a good fit for me, especially with my young children at home.  This was a very difficult realisation for me at the time, and one that I struggled with quite a bit.  I found myself praying for God to give me the courage to let go of ambition, and to trust him to help me through the process of discerning a way out of what was making me incredibly unhappy.

Taking the first steps on the vocational path to ordained ministry was extremely unsettling.  On the one hand I felt a strong pull towards ordained ministry, but on the other, following God’s call has meant having to leave behind many the “traditional” markers of success:  a defined career, a good income and a way of life that I had clung to for over 40 years.  Thankfully, knowing how tentative I can be about change, God has led me firmly but gently along this journey to the priesthood.   And I am so glad and grateful that this is has been so!


The one thing that I have loved to do all my life is cooking and bringing people together to eat.   Feeding people, and providing nourishment is something that brings me great joy. I believe that the Eucharist is God’s invitation to us to be spiritually nourished and strengthened so that we may be sent out to become people of reconciliation, valuing one another’s differences and loving our neighbours as ourselves.  We are all called to minister Jesus’ love for us to each other. As I approach my priesting, I am ever thankful that I will be permitted to live out my vocation and help in this nurturing and building up of the body of Christ.

As I write this blog, my ordination as a priest is exactly one week away. I am  excited, joyful and grateful that I have been able, with the help of some very special and kind and patient people, to discern this calling.  I am grateful because for the first time in a long time, I sense that I am where I am meant to be. I have a fantastic training incumbent, The Revd Gill O’Neill, who has encouraged and enabled me to settle into being a deacon.  Here at St John’s I am ministering, and being ministered to, in a parish and a community that has welcomed me and warmly encouraged me in my first year as curate. I have enjoyed preaching, serving at the altar, co-leading a Living in Love and Faith course, learning more about the richness and challenges faced by the people and communities in our parish; and most of all, seeking to share with them, in word, deed and service, the love of God. It is also a huge joy to know that it is my job to pray!

When I look back, much has changed in my life, and in our family life. The vocational journey is sometimes challenging, and there have been times where I have wondered if I am doing the right thing.  But the God who calls us is faithful.  And so I can whole-heartedly say that the journey so far has been a joyful experience and one that I look forward to continuing on, God willing, for many years to come.

Henry Akingbemisilu, Thamesmead Team Ministry

Through Baptism, all Christians are baptized as priests, prophets and kings. This gives each Christian a special mission to make sacrifices and serve others, helping everyone they meet to better know and love God. This forms the foundation for the ordained ministry.

Ordination changes a person in the very core of who they are. Ordination is a permanent change, creating what is sometimes called an indelible or unerasable mark on the soul. Ordination happens through the laying on of hands, which is a throwback to the Apostles. In the Anglican Church, you can be ordained as a deacon, priest and bishop.

My priesthood experience in the last year calls on the full spectrum of what it means to be human: all of the emotions, all of the experiences, the ups and the downs of life. One of the wonderful things about the priesthood is that people take us and make us part of their lives. They welcome us into their lives in moments such as Baptisms, Confirmations, Funerals and all those things that are part of people’s lives. This includes moments when there are lots of trials, sorrows, sicknesses and deaths.  As a priest,  you are part of being able to walk with people of all different kinds at different stages of life through the most difficult moments in life and also through the most joyous moments in life.

As Christians, if we choose to follow Christ then we have to be ready to embrace the cross to follow him to Calvary and the resurrection. And I think that mirrors the life of the priest as well. There are many challenges and Jesus never said it was going to be otherwise. And I think one of the trials of the priesthood is realizing that you can’t solve every problem, you can’t make things right lots of the time, and all you can ever do is be there for people.

I also think being a self-supporting priest today is tough because we are called to be those virtuous heroic sacrificing men and women on behalf of our families and on behalf of the people that are entrusted to us and that means constantly setting aside our needs to meet the needs of others that come to us. We are being called to walk in the footsteps of the Good Shepherd and that’s a very big challenge for any Priests.

The priesthood is something that I think someone could never be bored in. There is always something new, fresh and challenging. The priesthood can leave you very humbled, it can leave you very exhausted sometimes, and it can also leave you with a deep sense of gratitude to God that he has called you to this.

I hope to be a part of the people God will use to transform unjust structures of our society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.

Sylvia Collins-Mayo, Curate, All Saints, East Sheen

This time last year I was looking forward to my ordination as deacon, wondering what my new church would be like and what the coming year would hold.  It turned out to be a wonderful year in which I conducted my first baptism, began to find my voice as a preacher and embodied liturgy in way I had not done so before.   The Anglo-Catholic tradition of All Saints was new to me, but I wanted to learn all that it involved.  Had I been told at my deaconing that I would be singing the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil I would not have believed it – something like eight minutes of unaccompanied chant is no mean challenge for a non-musician like me.  Still, my incumbent, Fr Alex, our excellent choir and the congregation were all very patient through that  eight minutes and we all survived!

We’re taught about ‘formation’ in college – the process of deepening our faith so that in word and deed we conform more closely to the image of Christ, ready to serve those around us.  The first two or three years of college training focuses on the “renewing of our minds” as St Paul might have put it.  We dig deeply into scripture, explore theological ideas, get a grasp on the history and tradition of the Church.  The second half of training, our curacy, focuses more on action and service, and the formation of character.   It is the Holy Spirit who is the prime mover in this process of formation, but He does so with help of the people who are beside us on the journey.  It is those people, the body of Christ, the congregations of which we are a part, who shape our character, and help us to become the priests we will be.  This is why our time as curate is so important.

Last year I took my ordination vows not knowing the people I would serve, this year I will make them with the people of All Saints in mind and with them alongside me.  I cannot think of a greater privilege.

The week after my ordination to priesthood I will take my first Mass. The liturgy looks smooth and seamless when I see others leading the service, but having spent a number of practice sessions trying to read the prayers and coordinate actions I find it is much harder than it looks.  This will be my next big challenge after the Exsultet.  Fortunately, there is less singing on my part, but I rather suspect I will be relying on the patience of the people of All Saints once again.  I thank God for them.

Post script:

A day after writing this blog, I tested positive for Covid.  Covid shaped much of my training.  Most of my time at college was online, my ordination to deacon was socially distanced, and at All Saints we adjusted the liturgy every so often in response to the latest Covid safety guidelines.  Throughout all this time I never caught Covid myself.  But now I have it and so my ordination to priesthood will be delayed until the Autumn.  The party I was anticipating has been put on hold and the caters cancelled.  The choir and those helping to organize my first Mass have all been ‘stood down’, and whilst my fellow deacons from across the Diocese are at their priesting retreat, I’m on my own Covid ‘retreat’ at home.  Needless to say I am very disappointed indeed. 

Still, our times are in God’s hands.  This delay is a good reminder to me that ministry is a constant process of trusting God even when things don’t seem to be going to plan.  I have been overwhelmed by the good wishes I have received from so many people.  And on the plus side, this delay does mean I have extra time to practise my liturgical skills for my first Mass and, when the priesting does happen more people from All Saints will be able to come to the service.  In the meantime, I wish my fellow deacons who are becoming priests this Petertide a joyful day of celebrations and fruitful ministries to follow.