Scientist trains to be a vicar…on TV

Vicar Academy shadows ordinands from St. Michael’s College, Cardiff, to explore the changes and challenges facing the Church in Wales. Photo: Church in Wales
Vicar Academy shadows ordinands from St. Michael’s College, Cardiff, to explore the changes and challenges facing the Church in Wales. Photo: Church in Wales
Published October 12, 2012

A scientist who gave up his job in alternative technology to train as a vicar stars in a new TV series starting next week.

Marcus Zipperlen from Penparcau, Aberystwyth, was one of a number of trainee priests who were followed around for a year by the cameras at St Michael’s College, Cardiff. His journey will be featured in Vicar Academy BBC One Wales starting on Monday, October 15.

Made by an independent company, Presentable, Vicar Academy shadowed several full-time students, (“ordinands”) from St Michael’s College – Wales’ only theological college – who came from all corners of the country.

The cameras followed them into prisons to help offenders, to schools to lead assemblies, to hospitals to visit sick and dying people, on the streets to feed the homeless and to the seat of government to campaign. The documentary captures the challenging but richly varied life those called to ministry can expect today.

Marcus, 41, was a second year student from Holy Trinity Church, Aberystwyth, in the diocese of St Davids. Before training for ministry he was Head of Biology at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth, for six years where he taught, researched and developed ecological water treatment, ecological toilets, and conservation.

Viewers will see him helping at a night shelter for homeless people at a church project in Merthyr Tydfil.

Marcus, who is married with two young children, said, “I enjoyed working in alternative technology very much but I could not escape the nagging feeling that I should really be a priest, and after a few years of uncertainty, finally gave in, and went to chat my vicar about ordination. A year and a half later I was at St Michael’s College.

“The life of faith and seeking to answer God’s call needs some air-time. People do have strange and antiquated notions about the church, and vicars in particular, largely garnered I imagine from media stereotypes or even misrepresentations. Showing trainee vicars that aren’t wet misfits, endearing bumblers, or strict puritans, will I hope show the church to be, as it is, home to as many types of people as there are.”

The series producer, Ian Durham, said, “We wanted to explore and understand the changes and challenges facing the Church in Wales through the eyes of the St Michael’s Ordinands who are its future.

“Through their individual and shared journeys we hope that the programmes will reveal not only the human face of the Church in Wales, but also show the Church as an institution to be an accessible and relevant entity with a – sometimes unexpected – core role in contemporary Welsh life.

“The overall hope is to move away from still commonly held public perception that opening fetes, drinking tea and eating cake are the primary roles for which those who are called to Ministry should be trained. Instead, we aim to truly reflect the varied, complex and impactful roles the ordinands, chaplains and clergy have to play in day to day Welsh life and culture, at a time when the Church in Wales itself is undergoing dramatic changes and challenges.”

The Principal of St Michael’s College, Revd Canon Dr Peter Sedgwick, said he hoped the programme would inspire others to a life in church ministry. He said, “As this programme clearly shows, being a Christian minister is a demanding role and one which is changing fast. A pastor needs to be alongside people in the midst of life’s crises and celebrations. But they must also be community leaders, preachers and teachers – they are the public face of the church.

“I hope this programme will give viewers a more up-to-date impression of what today’s church is all about and perhaps inspire them to get involved in any way in which they feel called. I’m also very grateful to the students who took part as it’s not easy being the subject of a film at such a crucial time in your life.”




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