Case Studies

Helen May, 33, felt her calling to God as a young child. From the age of 12, she knew her vocation was to lead a church.

Following encouragement from the Diocese of Winchester, Helen attended a women’s vocation day. Here, Helen sat in on an inspirational talk from Rt Rev Dr Joanne Grenfell, then Archdeacon of Portsdown, on how women can overcome challenges and take up positions in church leadership. Her training to become ordained was not easy. A year into her degree course, Helen gave birth to her daughter, Evangeline. Keen to continue her education, she chose not to take maternity leave, and so juggled the challenges of being a new mum with online learning as well as running a small business.

Helen said:

“Training as a new mum has certainly been a challenge but I always knew that God was with me and I felt at peace about that. I have been so grateful for the support of friends and family during this process. My ministry is about people – loving and helping them through the highs and lows of life – and my experiences in my training have only confirmed this calling.”

After struggling with her mental health in her teens, Helen chose not to follow her calling at that time, but instead pursued her passion for the arts by studying for a degree in textile arts and getting a job in fashion management. After finishing her career in management, Helen used her artistic skills in her work as learning support at a special needs school.

As she moves on to serve her new parish, Helen is keen to pursue her passion for arts and culture, combining her skills from her first degree with her more recent theological education to provide alternative forms of worship for the congregation.

Claire Robinson (55) is going on to serve Maybush and Southampton St Jude. Before being ordained, Claire served her calling through volunteering at Holy Saviour Bitterne, Southampton.

As she raised her three children, Claire assisted Bitterne with its youth work and music groups, channeling her passion for service and creativity, as well as spending many years supporting the church admin team. She also served other communities in Southampton, working with education leadership as a governor at a local church school. While Claire enjoyed and was fulfilled by this work, she always had a sense of being called to do something more. She wanted to hone her skills and stretch her wings.

Once her children had moved out of the family home, Claire decided to explore theological education. She studied for a graduate diploma at Westminster Theological Centre. Claire thoroughly enjoyed her education here, being able to study in depth topics and stories that had always inspired her. This education helped confirm her dedication to serving people, however she still remained unsure about where to take it.

A rain-filled camping holiday with friends and family a couple of years after completing her diploma was a pivotal moment for Claire. A friend recognized Claire’s calling to service and asked her why she had not sought ordination yet. This sparked a lot of soul searching for Claire, and she decided to enter the vocations process with no ideas or plans, other than feeling a deep calling to serve people.

Claire truly understood her calling while on placement in a church in Maybush, Southampton. Moving from the church she had served for several decades was a significant change for Claire, and through engaging with pastoral work with the local community, she began to truly see her calling.

Claire said: “Arriving at Maybush felt like coming home. My calling has always been to the door, not the altar and I want to meet people where they are and welcome them in. The Liturgy of Ordination speaks of ‘reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible’ and I have really felt I can do that here.”

At Maybush, Claire has led services, focusing on outreach beyond the Sunday service. She started a drop-in coffee morning, and worked to connect with older members of the congregation during the pandemic lockdowns. More recently, Claire’s husband, Phil, has joined the Maybush congregation – they are really glad to be worshipping and serving together again as her training draws to a close.

Most recently, she launched a new foodbank marketplace at All Saints Redbridge, called the Millbrook Marketplace, in partnership with the Southampton City Mission. Founded in May 2022, the foodbank is in its early stages but has already come to be a welcoming space for members to access good quality healthy food as well as to meet and share their stories. As she continues her service at Maybush and Southampton St Jude, she is hoping to expand this community project into other forms of life, especially mental and emotional wellbeing.

Throughout his career, Clive Beard (50) always felt a calling to serve and help others.

Before being ordained, Clive worked as a civil servant for 27 years. Having started out as an Immigration Officer, he eventually became a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Justice, with responsibility for prison buildings. Working in the Civil Service gave him an opportunity to develop his skills and see the importance of community.

Clive volunteered in mission work while at university but it was at a course at Christ Church Winchester about growing leaders where Clive first considered seeking ordination. Though a long journey, through the encouragement of others and lots of exploration, Clive realized that God wanted him somewhere else. Putting aside his reservations about being too old or busy, Clive began training for ordination, all while still working full-time for the Government.

Clive said: “I have always felt a pull towards helping and serving other people. My time at the civil service allowed me to utilize and develop these skills and I am looking forward to taking them further in my work with churches and communities. Throughout training, I learned so much not only from my teachers but from the others learning with me. Hearing their stories and experiences was truly a blessing.”

As Clive goes on to serve St Luke’s Hedge End, he is keen to help develop the parish’s work with young people and the broader community. He has also been called to help the Diocese Environment Group, where he will assist churches in cutting carbon emissions and caring for God’s creation.

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