It’s a good job God doesn’t give up on us easily! It took me well over 20 years from the first time someone suggested to me that I might be called to preach (and various nudges from other people) to speak to our Superintendent about going ‘On Note’. One of our supernumeraries who’d been taking a service in our church one Sunday said to me, completely out of the blue, ‘have you ever thought of preaching’ – and I finally realised that I was going to have to give in to God and get on with it. It happened at a particularly difficult time in my life since I’d been struggling with a bullying, controlling manager at work for the past few years and it was getting harder to cope – but I still felt I’d run out of excuses regarding preaching, and was invited to the Local Preacher and Worship Leaders Meeting to explain why. I was paired with a mentor who I knew fairly well and who, it turned out, was also struggling with work related problems. But, as usual, God was able to bring good out of a painful situation.

We took to walking together once a week to chat about how we were feeling and to offer each other support – each perfectly placed to understand how the other was feeling - and our mental health gradually began to improve. With the help of my husband, also a Local Preacher, we both gradually began taking part in services again. Sometime later I wrote an article for our church magazine about our experiences, which led to us being invited to speak around the Circuit about depression. God, having brought us together at a point where we could support each other (despite my delays in admitting my call to preach!) was now using us to help other people, and my burgeoning skills as a Local Preacher were, in turn, giving me confidence to address groups of people about my experiences of mental illness.

To be with people in some of the darkest places imaginable, people truly at rock bottom, and in some cases those desperate for forgiveness, isn’t easy but it’s a real privilege.

Naomi, a local preacher from Bristol in the pulpit

I then worked for a year for the Salvation Army as a Community Coordinator, supporting and running drop-ins for people who were homeless. It was a steep learning curve, and, again, my training was helpful as I led devotions for the teams of volunteers. However, it was only a temporary contract and I soon found myself wondering where I’d end up next. I applied for a role as Chaplaincy Coordinator at our local university, and was offered the job – I was later told that my communication and presentation skills had been a big part of that. Thanks again preaching! I soon discovered that I absolutely loved Chaplaincy work – it’s such a privilege to be meeting and working with people in the community, going out to share their messy and complicated lives rather than waiting for them to come into our churches.

Seven years later I was diagnosed with breast cancer just as Covid regulations were coming into effect. A really trying time, and a test of our faith, but with the help and prayers of my family, plus my church and circuit family - who were amazing! - I got through 15 months of treatment and am currently clear of disease. But I’d only been back at work for a few months when I was selected for redundancy. But, as Paul wrote, God works in all things for the good of those that love him, and I was about to find a whole new challenge opening before me – Prison Chaplaincy. To be with people in some of the darkest places imaginable, people truly at rock bottom, and in some cases those desperate for forgiveness, isn’t easy but it’s a real privilege. If I hadn’t been an LP, regulations wouldn’t have allowed me to be a Prison Chaplain – it seems that being an LP is supposed to be a guarantee that you’ve got a good grasp of theology! Not so sure about that!

So some highly tumultuous years, but God has undoubtedly been leading me on to new challenges, and also new joys. Both preaching and chaplaincy are huge privileges, and I hope to carry on in both for a long time yet.