Cancer catapulted me into the unknown
SIX years ago, Erica Wilkie was happy – she had a secure job, grandchildren to care for, and didn’t want to change a thing.
An unexpected diagnosis of skin cancer changed everything. Erica went through surgery and was given the all-clear, but then felt she had unfinished business in her life. She wondered about becoming ordained as a clergy person, but thought she was too old.
Then her workplace closed suddenly, and her son and his family moved away – meaning she was no longer needed for childcare. Suddenly she had time and space to respond to God’s call. Erica spent three years learning theology, and now she’s preparing to be ordained, along with other deacons and priests, in our cathedral on June 29.
“Most of us long for stability and comfort in our lives, but sometimes life can take an unexpected turn and we are catapulted into the unknown,” she said. “Do we ignore it, embrace it, or crumple under it? Whatever choice we make, life changes.”
Erica, now 58, was working as a library officer for Hampshire County Council six years ago, helping detainees at the Immigration Removal Centre in Haslar, when she had her skin checked. She was shocked when the biopsy results confirmed she had malignant melanoma.
As she waited for surgery, she reflected on all the possible outcomes. She had been a Christian since the age of seven, and knew that her family would trust God, but it wasn’t easy to stay positive.
However, after she received the all clear, she happened to see an event flyer inviting people who were considering lay or ordained church ministry. She felt compelled to attend, even though she felt too old and too busy. But it niggled away until she spoke with her then vicar at Holy Rood Church, Stubbington.
She began to go through the process, but was looking for a clear sign from God. When her workplace closed suddenly and her role became redundant, and when her childcare responsibilities ended, she felt this was an indication for her life to change direction.
She was accepted to train for ordained ministry as a permanent deacon with Portsmouth Pathway, a three-year, part-time course based at St Luke’s Church in Southsea, and Ripon College, Cuddesdon.
“It wasn’t easy to study again,” she said. “Theology is a demanding subject, and I quickly realised there were gaps in my understanding of a faith I have lived for most of my life. Alongside studying, I’ve had opportunities for practical experience – leading church services, preaching, visiting schools and helping with a community project.”
That project was in Leesland, Gosport, alongside pioneer minister Rev Tim Watson. Erica helped with Prayer Spaces in Schools, the Trash Café, and the vision for a clothing exchange.
“I loved every minute,” she said. “I loved Leesland and working with Tim. We are different in our gifts and experience, yet connect in our passion for serving God and serving community.”
She was pleased to discover that she would become a curate in Leesland, and also be licensed to the deanery. She said: “As an older curate and long-time Christian, I have served in many different capacities and areas of parish life. I can’t wait to see how God will use me in this new context.”
And Rev Tim Watson said: “I’m really excited that Erica will be joining in with the work in Leesland. At the heart of pioneering is a deep desire to meaningfully engage with a local community and a recognition that we as individuals and as the Church don’t have all the answers to challenges communities face.
“To pioneer requires a posture of openness and receptivity: to be prepared to be shaped by the encounters in and with a community. Erica brings with her lots of energy and experience, but her real gift is a Christ-like openness with those she encounters. Erica’s curacy will give her great exposure to aspects of traditional, inherited ministry, as well as already established pioneered projects and Fresh Expressions.
“My hope is that a significant amount of Erica’s curacy time will be devoted to listening to the guiding of the Holy Spirit and the hopes of the community, so that in turn, she might develop new partnerships and pioneer new initiatives in Leesland.”