Swimming the Tiber

David Babbington shares the story of his own vocation

Born in the Sixties, of a Roman Catholic mother and Church of Ireland father, I was raised as Roman Catholic, attending church every week, becoming an altar server and going to Catholic school. I, like so many others, immersed myself in activities like choir, youth groups and youth retreats. It was a wonderful time of life, which included the visit of the Holy Father to Coventry. Church was central to all of my activities.

Call towards priesthood

This joyous phase of life was set within a period of growing self-awareness, where I felt the ever-present call towards priesthood. Not everyone was supportive of this. The school careers officer told me it was a Ďpie in the skyí idea. However, I was finally selected and was initially sent to Campion House, Osterley, to get my academics up to scratch. I have to admit I hated it there at first.

It was run by Jesuits who followed their maxim: ĎGive me the child for the first seven years, and I will give you the maní. In my case they crammed the seven years into two. It was a strict regime but established education, prayer, structure and order in my life, which still exists to this day.

Whilst studying, attending Mass, benediction and the daily office, I still felt God had more in store for me and therefore went to Holy Trinity, Brompton, every Sunday for a more informal structure to my prayer. There was no conception on my side to leave Rome and join the Anglican Communion. I simply wanted to know more about God and went wherever I could to discover him.

Discerning Godís will

At the end of my second year, I was sent to St Maryís College, Oscott, to continue my formation. Intensive study followed for the next four years whilst I explored my vocation and the direction in which God was calling me; discerning Godís will. We live in a world that is often very busy and noisy and seminary was a chance for me to try to hear that still small voice of calm, tugging at me, calling out my name. There is a necessity for reflecting and listening and this was done in a particular way, at a particular point in my life, at seminary.

My training involved living in community which means you donít only have to think about yourself but about other people too. This journey led me along a path I never expected. In Rome, as a priest you are either in a religious order or incardinated into a diocese, meaning that you would remain a member of that diocese for life. I felt God call me out of this to become an evangelist. This was not the

norm! I joined a community and was sent to another seminary for the next two years of my study. Whilst here, I continued the discernment process and was never more convinced of my vocation. Eventually I was approved for ordination.

Choosing any direction in life is both complicated and involves risk. Entering seminary and then changing direction within it is one such occasion, but this was compounded by the change of direction once more. Just before my ordination, I left seminary.

Changing circumstances

Because we question things, because we are unsure, because circumstances and situations change around us, we should not become afraid, nervous or anxious. I believe it is an opportunity to hear Godís call in the midst of the noise and cacophony of life. In my case, God called from the Roman Catholic Church and eventually into the Church of England.

I am, to the very core of my being, a Catholic. I believe in the one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. I am a traditionalist, a progressive and a charismatic Catholic who is simply continuing to answer Godís call.

I am now looking at priesthood within the Church of England and the process is no easier. It is frustrating, long-winded and annoying at times, but thatís life. I do not necessarily like the frustration but I am keeping my eyes on the goal Ė service of God. Sacrifice is about giving all, whatever the cost and I believe now, after many years of searching, I have finally been led to a church that may appear confused, searching for direction and fearful for its future but one that, in my heart I know, is looking outwards, relying on God alone, now more than ever.

Vocations conference

My journey has taken many twists and turns. What about yours? From what I understand it has never been easy to be a Catholic in the Church of England and some might want rid of us, but for me, the beauty of the Anglican Church is its ability to embrace and accept so many differing traditions and beliefs. The Church of England needs more Catholics and I would encourage you to take that step of faith and join me in the water.

The Catholic Societies are organizing a Vocations Conference this coming September at St Stephens House entitled: AĎ certain Call in Uncertain Timesí. Booking Forms can be found at the ACS Website: <www. additionalcurates.co.uk>, or look on the God Calling website.

Yes I am swimming the Tiber, but against the tide. I am a small fish, but Godís ocean is wide and deep and although I am small, he is big. The church has its depths and its strong currents and swimming within it is not always easy. However, whatever the direction, it is Godís church and I am a part of it.

If there is one thing I have learned it is that it is not my call but Gods, it is not my direction, but Godís. It s not my church, but Godís Ė and I am a part of it, thank God!

What about you? ND

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