The Revd Nicola Butt had been studying for the priesthood full time for two years, involving 30 hours of reading a week.
She was ordained a deacon on Sunday 02 July 2017 at Wells Cathedral and is now a curate in the Exmoor Benefice. She spends three days a week working in the parish and the rest of her time tending to her flock of sheep on her farm on Exmoor.
Here she retells some of her journey to faith and the priesthood, via a spot of sheep farming, and how prayer and a sense of God’s call confirmed to her that ordination was the right path to follow.
I’ve always been aware of God’s presence; though I can’t put a date or time on when I came to faith. I went to a Catholic convent whilst attending Church of England church on Sundays, so I always grew up with people of deep faith all around me. I never questioned God’s presence. That has stayed with me all my life.
University was a time when I distanced myself from God and explored questions for myself. I didn’t believe he wasn’t present; my faith was still there, but I chose not to pursue it whilst at university. I was put off by a very persistent Christian who wanted me to go to the Christian Union!
Once I’d completed my studies reading Law and returned home to the New Forest, I became more involved with the local church. My faith developed from that and it’s been a gradual journey ever since.
I married and had two children and moved up to Cheshire for a job. I joined the local church there which was more evangelical than I’d been used to. I was participating in the PCC and house groups on a voluntary basis fairly regularly.
Once my children had got through university, I was offered voluntary redundancy and decided to retire at 52 and move down to Exmoor. I could have continued with a lucrative profession, but redundancy made me think.
We wanted a new lifestyle so we decided to take up farming. We already had family who farms on Exmoor, so we visited them and fell in love with the area. Knowing someone in the area already, made it much easier to take the leap. We own 8 acres of our own land and rent another 15. We have a flock of 48 sheep which we show at local shows which has helped us to integrate into the local community.
When we moved to Exmoor, my preference was for the evangelical church tradition, of which there are very few on Exmoor. Looking back this was a blessing. I think this is where God wanted me to be. I think he wanted to show me the other traditions and for me to experience something other than the evangelical church.
Country churches are old fashioned and wouldn’t be out of place in the 1980s. Yet they are very well connected to the community, even if people don’t go regularly on Sunday.
The churches are used for harvest festivals and funerals which people attend in large numbers. Church is an important part of rural life even if people don’t attend regularly.
After taking redundancy, I had more time to think and reflect. I said to God, ‘what do you want me to do with my life?’ I prayed that for six months. It was at this point that my local vicar, the Revd David Weir, pulled me to one side over lunch. He said, ‘God has asked me to ask you this: have you ever considered ordained ministry?’ David suggested I go away and pray again.
I felt entirely amazed and very happy. I had never even considered it before David asked me. If someone had have asked me whilst I was living in Cheshire, I’d have said, ‘get lost!’
So away I went, once again, to pray. I prayed that evening and asked God, ‘do you want me to do this?’
At that moment, I felt an intense sense of his presence in a way I have never experienced before. Tears flooded down my cheeks. Never had I experienced anything like it – it was complete affirmation for me. Revd David Weir helpfully said afterwards, that I had experienced the ‘gift of tears’.
I think God needed me to see things clearly and it’s very hard to resist a call like that. I’ve never questioned it since. With that sort of experience, of feeling his presence so clearly, I know I am on the right path.