BBC documentary charts year in life of ordinands

A TV crew from the BBC have spent the last year following ordinands from across Wales for a new four-part documentary.

Vicar Academy starts on 15 October on BBC1 Wales and sheds light on the highs and lows of the ordinands at St Michael's College, Cardiff.

The documentary reveals that there is much more to training for the priesthood than simply studying the Bible and writing sermons.

The ordinands are shown visiting offenders in prison, leading assemblies in schools, visiting the sick in hospitals, feeding the homeless on the streets, and heading to the seat of government to campaign.

Marcus Zipperlen, from St Davids Diocese, was a second year student. He said: “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.”

Alex Grace from the Diocese of St Davids, was one of the ordinands followed in the film. Viewers will see her completing her final year at St Michael’s College which culminated in her ordination and appointment as a curate in Tenby.

She said, “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.”

Series producer, Ian Durham, said he wanted to move away from the commonly held perception that the primary roles of those called to ministry are "opening fetes, drinking tea and eating cake".

“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," he said.

“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 Principal of St Michael’s College, Rev Canon 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.”

Huw Bryant, a second-year student from Bangor Diocese, had this to say about his experience:

“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.”