Erica Wilke

Five years ago I was working part-time in a job I loved and looking after my young grandchildern on my days off. Mid-year I had my skin checked and was shocked when the biopsy results confirmed I had a malignant melanoma. Although I felt hopeful, while I waited for surgery I reflected on all possible outcomes. I've been  a Christian since I was 7 and knew whatever happened our family could trust God but it wasn't easy to stay positive. I took it as a sign of unfinished business in my life, though I had no inkling what that might mean.

Later that year I read a flyer. It  was an invitation to consider a calling to lay or ordained church ministry. I felt strangely compelled to attend but dismissed it immediately because I was too old, too busy and frankly it seemed ridiculous. However, it niggled away until I eventually spoke with my vicar, Stephen, who encouraged me to attend.

The paradoxical nature of a mysterious 'call' from God means there is no peace unless you respond but if you do, life transforms. I began the lengthy Church of England 'discernment' journey, plagued by doubts, hoping I'd got it wrong because acceptance necessitates change for candidates and families. How could I ask this of my family who hadn't signed up for it? I asked God for a clear sign. My doubts were answered swiftly, unmistakeably and painfully. My son and his family unexpectedly moved away from the area and I lost my childcare responsibilities. My workplace closed suddenly and my role was redundant. I know coincidences happen but this indicated the way was being cleared to allow time and space to charge direction.

Following a selection panel, I was accepted to train for the ordained ministry as permanent deacon with the Portsmouth Pathway Cuddesdon. It wasn't easy to study again. Theology (the academic study of God and the Christian faith) is a demanding subject and I quickly realised there were gaps in my understanding of a faith I have lived for most of my life. Alongside studying, I've had opportunities for practical experience, leading church services, preaching, visiting schools and helping with a community project.

Assuming there are no unexpected detours, I will be ordained in Portsmouth Cathedral next year, I will leave Crofton Parish, my church home for 42 years and join a different community. During the past few years my life has changed immeasurably, I choose to embrace the change. When the unexpected happens, no matter what stage of life you are in, I would encourage you to keep what really matters, take with you what you can and to have the courage to see where God leads.