I learn as much from the candidates as they’ll ever learn from me

Revd. Judith Dunkling, Vicar at Church of the Holy Spirit, Dovecot, shares the story of her own ‘LifeCall’ with us.

We hear how Judith first experienced God’s call to ordained ministry and her subsequent faith journey. Currently Judith is able to guide and encourage our new ordination candidates as she serves as one of the Assistant Diocesan Director of Ordinands.

“It’s very hard to pinpoint how I first experienced God’s call to ordained ministry – I think it first began with a growing feeling with of being called to serve God in a way that involved a greater personal commitment and a sense of ‘identifying’ with the role of a priest during the celebration of the Eucharist.  As a relatively new Christian, I didn’t talk to anyone about these feelings fearing that they would think I was daft!  Then without warning my Vicar said to me ‘do you think God is calling you to be a priest?’  My immediate response was ‘Vicar’s aren’t people like me!’.  Over time, other people in the church congregation and at work began to say things like ‘why don’t you become a Vicar?’  - it was at this point I had to acknowledge that this was perhaps a genuine call from God as I’d never shared my own feelings with anyone. 

After I plucked up the courage to speak to my Vicar about my feelings of being called to ordained ministry and that admitting that he had a point – my sense of calling was affirmed after my first meeting with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands who didn’t laugh, was very positive and encouraging and was able to give me guidance as to what I needed to be praying about and next steps that I needed to take.  Inevitably, I still had some doubts, as at this time (the late 1990’s) I had very little experience of Christianity let alone the Church of England, and coming from a parish very firmly rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition I had never experienced the ministry of women as priests so had no role model that I could relate to or a priest of a similar age to myself (early 20’s).  Another major doubt that took a lot of prayer to overcome was giving up a flourishing career as a Funeral Director that I absolutely loved.

I enjoyed the whole discernment process with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands an enjoyable, encouraging and challenging process.  The interviews really forced me to think about what I believed and to formulate my sense of call.  As part of my discernment process, as I was relatively young and a new Christian, I was asked to go and serve as a Pastoral Assistant to gain more experience. So I came to Liverpool for the two years that proved to be so formative and really ‘grounded’ of my sense of being called.  I learnt so much during those two years thanks to the support, encouragement and training from Revds. Ricky Panter & Jackie Waterman and the congregations of St John & St James, Bootle & St John the Evangelist, Walton.

Now, after ten years in ordained ministry, I still feel very privileged to serve God and His people as a priest.  The past ten years have included their fair share of ‘ups and downs’ but I have been and am blessed to meet and minister to a wide  variety of wonderful people and have worked alongside some great colleagues both lay and ordained.  A real joy for me, is serving as one of the Assistant DDO’s here in the Diocese of Liverpool, it’s great to see the enthusiasm and passion for God and ministry that the candidates bring and to be able to guide and encourage them on the journey of discerning their vocation – I always say that I learn as much from the candidates as they’ll ever learn from me! 

I would encourage anyone who may feel that they are being called to ordination to pray about their sense of call, and please don’t be afraid to talk to your priest or to any of us and ask about your calling and what ordained ministry is really like.

Sometimes though when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror wearing a ‘dog collar’ I still think: ‘God’s got a wonderful sense of humour’!”