Equipped for a new role as ‘the Reverend’

    Faith stories
    4 June 2024

    THE call to ordained ministry for Tom Cooper came pretty quickly after his conversion experience.

    He had been brought up Catholic, but never felt comfortable with faith and stopped attending from around the age of nine. One Christmas, he attended Midnight Mass in the village where his dad lived and felt a sudden conviction that God existed and that he should take Communion.

    “It was as if the church filled with light and I heard a command to take Communion,” he said. “It was quite an intense experience. It felt as though something had moved in the universe.”

    Not long afterwards, he moved to Buriton and was walking past the church when he heard a voice from God suggesting that he should be presiding at Communion.

    “I heard what seemed like a voice saying: ‘You should be saying these words’,” he said. “It was extraordinary, as it seemed to come from outside me.”

    At the time, back in 2004, ordination seemed impossible. Tom’s wife Bronwen worked full-time at the University of Portsmouth and he was the main carer for their young son Jamie. Tom was also a lecturer for the Open University, which involved working from home and teaching people remotely.

    “I mulled it over for a long time,” he said. “I was 48 at the time, so if I’d gone for ordination then, I would have been an incumbent, and I knew that wouldn’t be right for my wife. When we’d met I wasn’t religious and my recent conversion had come as something of a shock.

    “I talked it over with my vicar, Judith Bee, and her husband David. They encouraged me to become a Reader, as a way of responding to God’s call.

    “I became a Reader seven years ago, and that has been a valuable ministry. I also play the piano – and sometimes the organ – as part of our worship, so that has been a way of serving.

    “But last year I was at a PCC meeting when the Michaelmas cohort was mentioned – a group of people who could have a year’s theological training and then become ordained and serve locally. I normally don’t attend PCC because of my work, but it was significant that I was there that night.

    “It was almost as powerful as my conversion experience, as my heart burnt within me, and I felt this was my last chance to respond to God’s call to ordination.

    “I spoke to my vicar, Will, who thought I could do it. And that evening I spoke to my wife. She said that if that’s what I wanted to do, I should do it.

    “Our son has grown up, and this would be self-supporting ministry in our church, so it feels manageable. Most importantly, I feel supported by God, who has got me there in the end!

    “I feel as though God has been very gentle with me. I could have missed out on responding to God’s call, but this has actually been an amazing journey.”

    Tom will be ordained on June 29 in our cathedral, and will serve as curate in Buriton and Petersfield, with much of his ministry being at St Mary's, Buriton.

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