mahalha’s journey as a priest in training

For the last four years two ordinands, that is trainee priests, have undertaken a week long work placement with the Marketing and Events Team at Durham Cathedral. Their vocational training is at Cranmer Hall, the Theology College at St John’s College, Durham University. 

The placement happens immediately after a communications conference organised by CODEC, the Research Centre for Digital Theology at St John’s College, led by the Rev Dr Pete Phillips. It explores the impact of digital culture, especially on faith and community communication in the life of the contemporary Church.

One of this year’s placements at the Cathedral is Mahalha Wachepa, originally from Malawi.  Mahalha moved to the UK in 2002.

Growing up in a different culture and environment, I experienced a different life style from what I experience here in the United Kingdom. As a girl, I was taught that there are specific roles, specific professions and specific behaviours of a girl/woman or boy/man. I grew up with this idea in my mind. I was told the professions that were there for a woman were teaching, nursing and office assistant. I therefore went to teacher training college and trained as a teacher.

Despite of the differences in culture and life styles that I experienced when I just arrived in the UK, I decided to keep and practice my faith as a Christian as I was born and raised up in a Christian family. From a young age, I believed that God provides, God heals God answers all prayers. Growing in a third world country where there is lack of medication, lack of food, lack of clean water and living in poverty, faith in God grows every day and prayer is the only source of hope. I grew up praying for healing, praying to get food, praying for energy and strength as I walked long distances for school and to fetch water. This faith that grew and developed in me, is the same faith I have today.

I lived in Leeds from 2002 to 2010 and moved to Stockton-On-Tees. I joined Stockton Parish Church (Church of England) in 2010. After a few months I was asked to serve in the Pastoral Team and I accepted. I then started the training as Authorised Pastoral Assistant (APA) with the Durham Diocese from 2011 and was licensed in July 2014. I worked as Authorised Pastoral Assistant for Stockton Parish Church voluntarily, not only for the congregation but for the whole community. Taking the leadership role in the church as a woman, empowered me and I started taking challenging roles which I grew up believing they are for men.

Durham Diocese asked the APAs and the Readers if they could be trained as Funeral Ministers. This message came to me as a personal message and after having a chat with my vicar, I was recommended for this training. I joyfully took this role which previously I thought was just for men. I continued to serve in Stockton Parish Church without the limitations as a woman, believing that God who provides, God who heals and God who hears, will continue his goodness and be with me in the work that I do.

I had a sense of calling when I was in my country Malawi but could not take it seriously because I believed it is for a man. After carefully listening from God and considering my calling to ordained ministry, I had a discussion with my vicar who supported me to go through the vocations and the process to train as a minister. Despite the encouragement and the support, I still did not have confidence or believe in myself because I thought I was going to do a man’s job. The Anglican Church in Malawi does not accept women in ordained ministry. Other denominations like Presbyterians, Methodist, and Pentecostals etc do accept women in the ordained ministry.

After serious consideration and responding to my calling, the vocational process started, I went to the Bishops’ Advisory Panel in April 2017 and I was accepted to start training at Cranmer Hall, St John’s College, Durham University.  I have just completed the first year of two.  I look forward to starting my ministry as a priest and continuing to sharing God’s Grace with the wider community wherever my vocation takes me.

Written by Mahalha Wachepa

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