Grace Hart, Lewis Oliver and Ben Brady are taking part in the Church of England Ministry Experience Scheme (CEMES), living together and working in the diocese as Pastoral Assistants before they decide whether to put themselves forward to be considered for ordination. Grace is based at St Ann’s Church in the centre of Manchester, Lewis at St Chad’s Ladybarn and Ben at St Edmund’s Whalley Range and St James, Moss Side.
For Ben, who grew up on the Isle of Man, it’s certainly been a change living in a city. “It was very challenging at first. I was early for my first service so I parked the car and decided to walk around Moss Side and I kept saying, “God what have You done to me? Where have You put me? But over time I’ve come to love it and I wouldn’t be anywhere else!”
For Lewis it has been a real learning curve. “I would call it a wholesome experience. We are given a very earthy view of what parish work is like. We see some hard times as well as good times.” And Grace too has found her own faith developing over time. “As my dad had been my vicar all my life I struggled to trust what anyone else was saying. But I now know that I probably needed space to grow my own faith outside my home church.”
Lewis admits it’s a privilege to have this experience. “One thing we’ve all come to realise is that we are learning from people and their experiences too, both good and bad, and that influences our faith as well. I find that incredibly humbling.”
It’s certainly not all plain sailing. As Ben explains, “The day I came out of the MRI after visiting a sick parishioner, I learnt to value my life more, and value my family more because I’m just at the starting point of my life. Those are the days where you really think hard about your decision.”
Experiencing that first sermon, getting to know a parish and learning to live together has been a life-changing experience. “It wasn’t easy at the beginning because we all come from different backgrounds,” says Ben, “but we’ve grown so much. There have been so many challenges along the way but we can still tell the tale. It’s all worth it!”