Vicar Academy - TV series profiles ordinands
Ordinands (l-r): from left - Alex Grace, Huw Bryant, Rachel Simpson, Steve Bunting, Lorraine Badger-Watts, Marcus Zipperlen - with Dr Peter Sedgwick
A scientist who gave up his job in alternative technology to train as a vicar stars in a new TV series starting next week.
Marcus Zipperlen from Penparcau, Aberystwyth, is one of a number of trainee priests who were followed around for a year by the cameras at St Michael’s College, Cardiff. His journey will be featured in Vicar Academy on BBC1 Wales starting on Monday 15 October.
Made by an independent company, Presentable, Vicar Academy shadowed several full-time students, (“ordinands”) from St Michael’s College – Wales’ only theological college – who came from all corners of the country.
The cameras followed them into prisons to help offenders, to schools to lead assemblies, to hospitals to visit sick and dying people, on the streets to feed the homeless and to the seat of government to campaign. The documentary captures the challenging but richly varied life those called to ministry can expect today.
Marcus, 41, was a second year student from Holy Trinity Church, Aberystwyth, in the diocese of St Davids. Before training for ministry he was Head of Biology at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, for six years where he taught, researched and developed ecological water treatment, ecological toilets, and conservation.
Viewers will see him helping at a night shelter for homeless people at a church project in Merthyr Tydfil.
Marcus, who is married with two young children, said, “I enjoyed working in alternative technology very much but I could not escape the nagging feeling that I should really be a priest, and after a few years of uncertainty, finally gave in, and went to chat my vicar about ordination. A year and a half later I was at St Michael’s College.
“The life of faith and seeking to answer God’s call needs some air-time. People do have strange and antiquated notions about the church, and vicars in particular, largely garnered I imagine from media stereotypes or even misrepresentations. Showing trainee vicars that aren't wet misfits, endearing bumblers, or strict puritans, will I hope show the church to be, as it is, home to as many types of people as there are.”
Also featured in the series is a divorced mother of two Alex Grace from Carmarthenshire.
Alex, now assistant curate in Tenby, who grew up in Penbre and was sent to train from the Cynwyl Elfed group of churches north of Carmarthen, is shown during her third and last year at the college. The cameras followed her preparing for her ordination in the summer at St Davids Cathedral, being ordained and settling with her two children, Elizabeth, 11, and Hannah, 9, in her very first parish in Tenby.
Alex says, “The cameras were there on the first day of my last year at St Michael's, and my last day there too; they were with me when I received my letter from Bishop Wyn, telling me that he would like me to serve my curacy in Tenby, and when I told my daughters, later that day, about where our new home would be; they were there with me on the day of my ordination, and finally they were there when I preached in my new parish and then as I baptised two babies. In a place of formation and huge personal change, those cameras followed some of my most formative and precious moments, and I look forward - albeit with some degree of trepidation - to seeing the results of those hours of filming. I hope that it was worth it, that I really was able to 'be myself', and most of all I hope that in some way, somehow, it is to God's glory.”
A mum-of-four from North Wales is shown preparing to lead a particularly high-powered service at the college chapel – attended by both the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of Wales.
Lorraine Badger-Watts, 36, from Llandegla, who used to attend St John’s Church, Rhosnesni, Wrexham before moving to Cardiff to train – said:
“I agreed to take part in the filming because so many people had asked me 'What happens when you train to be a Priest? What do you do? What is a Priest?'. Hopefully this film will give some insight!
“When I first arrived at St Michael's College I was pleased and surprised to find out how different it was to my expectations. I hope the film will show some of the joys, soul-searching, laughter, spirituality, prayer, fellowship, community, variety of traditions, study, sermons, frustrations that are experienced by all in what is just the first step of the formational journey in training to be a Priest.
“With four small children and a working husband I hoped some of the filming would portray family life and how we have had to learn to juggle and adapt. As my husband Carl tested his vocation, we both wanted others to share the journey of following a call and ultimately discovering where that leads. The children very quickly got used to having the cameras and other equipment around the house and loved being part of the filming process. My hope for the programme is that those, both inside and outside the church, are given an insight into people who are committed to following the call God has upon their life, no matter where that leads them.”
Meanwhile, viewers see a former bank manager from Swansea helping a bishop shine shoppers’ shoes at Swansea Market and wash feet at Brecon Cathedral.
Single dad Steven Bunting, 31, was filmed as he began his third and final year of training and was followed through to his ordination as a deacon and appointment as assistant curate at Oystermouth benefice, where he is currently serving.
Steven says, “It was an interesting experience being followed by cameras but it didn't take very long to forget that they were there and it was good preparation for a vocation that puts your life into the hands of the public! My hope is that the programme shows the people of Wales that the church is very active, very often doing much ‘unseen work’ in local communities and that God is still calling people of all ages and backgrounds to lead his church into the future.”
An ordinand from Bangor Diocese who describes himself as an “anarchist Christian” is followed during his placement to the chaplaincy team at Cardiff Prison.
Huw Bryant, 28, from Llanegryn, was a second year student and is seen offering pastoral care and support to offenders, including those on suicide watch. He was also followed taking part in a protest outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay.
Huw says, “If I'm honest, I did not want to take part in the documentary. Being in training for ministry makes you very vulnerable. It is a place where all your assumptions, ideas and beliefs are questioned daily. It is a place where you must face the weakness of your faith. It is a place where you question your calling, and fear for where the future may take you. It is a place where your ministry is forged in the fires of doubt. It is not a place you want to open up for all to see, to show your weaknesses and vulnerability publicly.
“However I was reading about the ancient Celtic Church practices. It was their custom to worship God by high standing crosses outside in the open air. The place where you encountered God in the Celtic Church was the context of earth, sea and sky. The emphasis was that God's sanctuary was in creation itself, and it included all things.
“For a long time the Church has retreated into our buildings, our churches and chapels, and even theological college. We have removed ourselves from all things in order to practise our faith. It is my hope that in this documentary, in opening ourselves up to society, those with faith and those without it, in being honest about our doubts and our struggles with our faith that we can help break down the walls we have built around ourselves.
“It is my hope that through this documentary people will see us truly for who we are. Not people who claim to know all the answers, that say that our way is the only way. But people seeking truth and reason. People working out just what our faith means, and how our faith interacts with those around us.
“Yes we must learn the practical issues of being a Parish Priest, how to take a Eucharist service, funeral, weddings, baptism and more. But more than that, we are searching for how we are able to reflect God's love to his creation through a life of service.”
First year Rachel Simpson, 23, joined St Michael’s College not long after graduating at Bangor University. She is an ordinand at St Asaph Diocese and is filmed during her placement at a school in Cardiff, St Monica’s Church in Wales Primary School.
The daughter of two vicars, Rachel grew up in England. She said, “It took me a little while to get used to being in front of a camera, but once I did I quite enjoyed the experience. It helped my reflection in college to a certain extent as they were asking me to give my thoughts on issues I'd found difficult. I'm looking forward to seeing how it came out.”
Another first year student was Roz Forbes, 24, from the Diocese of Durham. A keen rugby player, Roz is seen getting voice coaching lessons in preparation for her first sermon, as well as training hard for Cardiff Harlequins. Viewers see her agonising over whether college life is really right for her.
The series producer, Ian Durham, said, “We wanted to explore and understand the changes and challenges facing the Church in Wales through the eyes of the St Michael’s Ordinands who are its future.
“Through their individual and shared journeys we hope that the programmes will reveal not only the human face of the Church in Wales, but also show the Church as an institution to be an accessible and relevant entity with a - sometimes unexpected - core role in contemporary Welsh life.
“The overall hope is to move away from still commonly held public perception that opening fetes, drinking tea and eating cake are the primary roles for which those who are called to Ministry should be trained. Instead, we aim to truly reflect the varied, complex and impactful roles the ordinands, chaplains and clergy have to play in day to day Welsh life and culture, at a time when the Church in Wales itself is undergoing dramatic changes and challenges.”
The Principal of St Michael’s College, Revd Canon Dr Peter Sedgwick, said he hoped the programme would inspire others to a life in church ministry. He said, “As this programme clearly shows, being a Christian minister is a demanding role and one which is changing fast. A pastor needs to be alongside people in the midst of life’s crises and celebrations. But they must also be community leaders, preachers and teachers – they are the public face of the church.
“I hope this programme will give viewers a more up-to-date impression of what today’s church is all about and perhaps inspire them to get involved in any way in which they feel called. I’m also very grateful to the students who took part as it’s not easy being the subject of a film at such a crucial time in your life.”
You can read more about the filming experience on Steve Bunting's blog for BBC Wales at http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/wales/posts/Entry-to-Vicar-Academy
Entered By Anna Morrell - 18.10.12Anna Morrell, Archbishop’s Media Officer
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