Tom Rout is vicar of the Ipswich Waterfront Churches (St Helen’s, Holy Trinity and St Luke’s) and Anglican Chaplain to the University of Suffolk and Suffolk New College. He is married to Nicola and father of 3 young children.
There was a loud rumble of thunder and out of nowhere I heard a voice say, “Tom, I want you to be… a vicar!” Maybe that’s how we imagine people are called…the reality in most cases - and certainly mine - was quite different.
Growing up, I never thought of being a minister. Not least, because I was personally ambivalent in matters of faith. I grew up in church because my parents took us every Sunday. But despite familiarity with the language, culture and beliefs of Christianity, Jesus was to me like mis-directed mail; “unknown at this address - return to sender”.
At 19, I went to university in London where a friend said, “Come and try my church…and try the University Christian Union.” I did - and both had a profound effect on me. It was during this time I met a speaker called Andy. He gave 4 talks from John’s gospel; his words about Jesus struck home with such force, I knew he was real (Jesus, that is, not Andy… though Andy was real too!).
All Christians are called; to serve God in the local church in whatever way they can. But some are called to have oversight, leadership and teaching responsibility within the church, I seem to be one of them.
I began to explore this possibility of ordained ministry. I wasn’t entirely sure about the idea, but other people who knew me well encouraged me. There was quite a long discernment process involving reading, interviews, visits to other churches and eventually a national selection panel, called a BAP. The final decision is well and truly in the hands of others - experienced people seeking God’s will for your life and the church. I was recommended for training.
I studied at theological college in Oxford for 3 years before a curacy (think vicar-apprenticeship) in Leicestershire. In 2014, that ended - it was time to move.
People often ask me “does the church just deploy you and you go where they send you?” as if clergy have no choice in the matter. It’s not like that at all. You trawl through the vacancies and apply for the ones that appeal, much like any other job. We weren’t sent to Ipswich. We chose to come - called by God to a unique opportunity in a unique town.