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I'm about to become the Rev James. No more swearing for me, then

PUBLISHED: 13:16 25 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:11 25 June 2019

James Marston is being ordained in the Church of England on Saturday. Picture: GREGG BROWN

James Marston is being ordained in the Church of England on Saturday. Picture: GREGG BROWN

James Marston is being ordained in the Church of England on Saturday. Will he now have to start wearing sandals?

By this time next week my life will have changed. I will have started a new way of life as The Reverend James Marston.

This is a big thing for me. It is culmination of some years of what the church calls "discernment" - to ensure I have a genuine calling to the priesthood - and theological study over in Cambridge.

While I say this is a big change it seems, paradoxically almost, also to be an exciting natural progression, just as it did when I became a journalist more than fifteen years ago - I knew then, as I know now, that I was doing the right thing and that I was in the right place at the right time.

While not all of us have religious faith, I think most of us know the feeling of doing the right thing.

We also know the fear of change. There's no denying that while being made deacon on Saturday is exciting and I am looking forward to it, change isn't always easy.

I have moved house - from my small flat with sea views (distant) in the Edwardian spa town of Felixstowe - to Friston, a village not far from Aldeburgh, and a parish which is part of the communities where I will serve as deacon, an ancient role of the church which is akin to servanthood to the people of God and to the wider community.

I also have to change my name from simple Mr to Rev'd - this comes with it responsibility and some high expectations - even, I think, in today's secular world.

My mother has already told me I shan't be able to swear when I'm ordained. In a way she's sort of right - a man swearing in a dog collar isn't exactly edifying - but by saying so she is pointing towards the fact that people expect certain levels of behaviour and demeanour from a clergyman, at least I think they still do in our part of the world.

On Saturday, I am also signing up to obeying the Bishop and working within the structures and hierarchies of the Church of England.

This institution hasn't always had the best press, and on occasion, too many occasions, it has fallen far away from what people expect of it. Nonetheless, I still strongly believe the church is a force for good and an instrument of God's grace.

As a journalist, my job is to inform, reflect and provoke public opinion - it is what people expect of me. When I get a mailbag of outrage, I know I am doing my job, indeed the outrage of others can often affirm I am on the right track - people often don't like the truth. Sometimes, of course, I get a mailbag that makes me rethink and I am not above changing my mind, or accepting I haven't been nuanced enough in my analysis.

Nonetheless, we all carry expectations and presuppositions of each other, often defined by our jobs:

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* Accountants are boring and always wear suits.

* People who work in IT are odd, or at least no one knows exactly what they do.

* Farmers shoot intruders while saying "get off my land".

* Lawyers are sharks.

* Journalists are only interested in scandal and distorting the truth.

* Vicars wear sandals and go on too much about God.

* Teachers have an easy ride with lots of time off.

* Politicians are only in it for themselves.

Our presuppositions emerge in stereotypes. We all use stereotypes all the time, journalists often attempt to confirm or subvert them as doing so sells.

And yet we know that stereotypes are dangerous - indeed, though we all do it to others, we rarely like it when we are prejudged ourselves.

And let's not pretend, we all too often apply race or sexual orientation or class or other methods of definition to enforce and create stereotypes.

Contrary to and rising above using stereotypes in order to live with and understand one another, Christianity's central message is to love God and love one another - everyone. And alongside hearing this message I have observed over the years the remarkable transforming power of faith in people's lives. I have studied the fascinating historical setting of the story of Jesus, I have asked some of the bigger questions of life and pondered the mystery so deep, I have sought and seen the - to me - obvious place of God in the world and in people around us. These things, and others, have combined to form my own faith which has led to all the changes, challenges, joys and excitements I now face in my own life.

I'm going to have to try to stop swearing but even if you don't believe in God, the love one another bit can still apply.

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