Rev Ben Hudd is a recent MA graduate of CMS Pioneer Mission Training. He shared his remarkable life story with me – from army life to social enterprise in Bangladesh to pioneer mission in Cornwall – and all points in between!
HH: You graduated with an MA last December and were ordained as an Anglican priest. Congratulations. Quite a journey! I understand you first felt called to the priesthood at 17. Tell us more…
BH: Yes, as a teenager I went to a great church that was full of life, had a flourishing youth group and most of us we’re engaged either in singing in the choir or serving as acolytes; I chose the latter as I can’t sing in tune.
I think my faith became “activated’ when one Sunday during the service, aged about 16, while saying the Lord’s prayer I had a sense of really meaning the words and connecting with God on a personal level.
It was maybe a year later, one Sunday when Fr Roderick elevated the host during the Eucharist that I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me that priestly ministry was God’s call upon my life.
I didn’t tell anyone. However, a few months later Roderick suggested that I attended a vocational conference run by the Additional Curates Society.
It is worth adding that at the same time that this was taking place, I was also drumming in a heavy metal band called Misty Villain!
Anyway, I attended the conference but to be honest it all made very little sense to me and it clearly wasn’t the right time.
“Faced with the hopelessness I witnessed in the eyes of the victims of genocide, I began to question where hope existed in my own life.”
Two years later I entered the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and was commissioned as an officer in the British Army (still drumming I may add – but this time for a band called Danger Close).
During a decade of military service I served in Central America, East Africa and on operations in Northern Ireland among both nationalist and loyalist communities in public order and anti-terrorist contexts, a time that deeply impacted this young 20-something-year-old drummer, leading me to question religion’s connection to violent struggle.
I think this was also the seed bed for the slow spiritual reawakening that began in Bosnia Herzegovina where I served for over a year both during and after the war. Faced with the hopelessness I witnessed in the eyes of the victims of genocide, it was like a mirror being held up to my own understanding of hope and subconsciously I think I began to question where hope existed in my own life.
In your late 20s I understand you had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in your car in the Pyrenees mountains and came back to an active faith – please do tell us more!
So, after a decade spent away on operations, my marriage fell apart and having left the military to try to save it, I sadly found myself alone and in my own place of hopelessness.
In summer 2002 I was driving back from visiting a friend in Portugal and late at night parked up for a rest in a small lay-by near the border between Spain and France, contemplating what on earth awaited me back in the UK. Everything of the previous decade had simply come to nothing it seemed.
I can only describe what followed as a baptism of love. The car simply filled up with the tangible presence of God which was so overwhelming that I knew in my heart, with a conviction that has never left, that I was unconditionally loved by God, accepted, forgiven and belonged to him.
My response was to find a church, and knowing only one Christian where I was living, asked her to take me that Sunday to where she worshipped.
“I came to believe in a gospel message that is rooted within the context of those on the edges of society, those that have fallen between the cracks, the forgotten majority…”
Sixth months later, after completing an Alpha course I recommitted my life to God and became engaged to that kind woman who took me to church that Sunday.
This year is our 20th wedding anniversary and we have been blessed with four amazing daughters.
My whole life and ministry since has been birthed in the knowledge that God meets with us at the moment at which we are ready to receive him, restoring us not to how we once were, but how we were always meant to be.
Can you tell us about your work in Bangladesh setting up a business as part of Oasis and Stop the Traffik?
It was at that moment of encounter that I became an evangelist (I’m really privileged to now be part of The Archbishops’ College of Evangelists). However, I think it was my time on military operations – and in part sadly who I became during those years – that gave me the context within which to minister.
Simply put, I came to believe in a gospel message that is so rooted within the context of those on the edges of society, those that have fallen between the cracks, the forgotten majority that often only God himself would be prepared to stand with, that I find it impossible to ignore the call that comes through Isaiah 61, coupled of course with the knowledge that if God could reach out to me, he reaches out to everyone.
“What I learned in Bangladesh is that missional community means being prepared to risk your life for each other, for the gospel and sometimes literally sharing all you have with your neighbours.”
This context of a gospel that prefers the poor and marginalised (i.e. those that have been excluded and therefore pushed to the margins) led my wife and I to offer ourselves to a mission organisation to go anywhere in the world they felt we could serve.
We ended up in Bangladesh where my wife worked in public health and in the slums (Nicole is an A&E doctor and General Practitioner).
Having already established my own business in the UK, I was tasked with setting up the process and manufacturing element of a social enterprise that seeks to give employment to those families that are so poor that they face a choice to sell one of their children.
It’s hard writing that as a father of four daughters, and no doubt challenging reading it, but it is harder being in such position where you are forced to even contemplate that choice.
What I was really in Bangladesh for, however, was for God to teach me about what the term ‘Christian missional community’ really means – far more significant than perhaps what we are used to in the Western church.
What I learned in Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries on earth where it is illegal to proselytise, is that missional community means being prepared to risk your life for each other, for the gospel and sometimes literally sharing all you have with your neighbours.
“…God simply expanded my heart. I learned that the banquet is at his table, I’m simply fortunate to be there.
I fall well short of all three by the way, in case you were wondering, and while that is often not our context, we should live with them as a voice of constant challenge.
This led us on our return, to start working among the mainly British Asian and Muslim population in the city where we were living, establishing a missional community that continues 14 years later to still be quietly working for the gospel and seeing God’s salvation in the most unlikely and costly (for those that receive it) of places.
Can you tell us about answering the call to ministry?
Having finally got around to answering my call to ministry, and worshipping in a local ecumenical partnership that was led by Baptists, but had Anglican and House Church roots, I answered my call to ministry as a Baptist minister.
I did look briefly at the Church of England; however, at the time and within the context (and with plenty of encouragement) decided that the Baptist denomination offered more acceptance to slightly unusual cases like myself, and perhaps more importantly recognised (again within my local context) the gift of evangelism as an integral gift within the church.
The church that I was privileged to pastor both during and after my training was located in a challenging area of my city. We had a congregation that included asylum seekers, those struggling with addiction, recovering sex workers, ladies from a local refuge house and plenty of middle class, privileged people like myself all getting along with each other, most of the time!
We naturally were a church that was made up of the poor and those on the margins, rather than church ‘for them’. However, as a charismatic evangelical (which I still am by the way), our greatest challenge was that people from the LGBTQ+ community kept coming to church.
To be honest, in the early days it was a bit challenging as God had taken our prayers to be a church that was representative of our community a little too seriously! This presented me, as an evangelical, practical theologian, with a real dilemma.
This dilemma was short lived however, as these amazing, Jesus loving and Holy Spirit filled people contributed with such humility and faithfulness to our church community. Rather than presenting me with a trite theological answer, God simply expanded my heart. I learned that the banquet is at his table, I’m simply fortunate to be there.
Please do tell us more about your passion?
My passion? Well, I’m probably what they call a one trick pony. I walk into a church and naturally notice not who is present, but who is absent. I’m passionate about local gathered church and dispersed missional community working together as one to engage with those who God has invited to the banquet table laid out in the presence of their enemies.
To go to those communities, you have to, as we all at CMS know well, follow Jesus across the lake. Crossing the lake isn’t easy, there are storms and uncertainty, and sadly popularity rarely follows you there, but wasn’t that the ministry of Jesus?
For the last 18 months I’ve been planting a Centre of Mission called Fairwinds Community Hub in Falmouth, and through that planted two missional communities that are rapidly outgrowing the space, both student and young adult focused (with the odd oldie like me).
What were your highlights of studying with CMS? “…the process of looking at mission through lenses that I was completely unfamiliar with. In fact, using glasses that I didn’t even know existed.”
Both are now lay-led and I simply oversee them while together we enter a process of developing a new evening congregation in the local parish church that sees the dispersed and gathered elements of church interact and eventually overlap.
Both are growing, thriving and LGBTQ+ inclusive, contextually relevant as Falmouth is home to the largest LGBTQ+ community in Cornwall and the South West. The challenge of course is for church to also be called home to all that wish to make it so.
We also work with the homeless, work with mental health awareness, community chaplaincy and very much follow the asset based community development model that has seen an eclectic mix of local communities, aligned with the principles of the Kingdom, become our friends.
The vision is simply one of seeking justice, being a voice for those who have none and showing hope to those that, like I, had little.
Completing your MA in just two years is quite an achievement. Congratulations again! How did you find study with CMS and what were your highlights?
MA in two years… yes it was a feat of endurance at times. That said, I had good support from the diocese in terms of funding and incredible support from my amazing wife.
What really nailed it though was the process of looking at mission through lenses that I was completely unfamiliar with. In fact, using glasses that I didn’t even know existed.
I’m about to embark on a journey of helping the church and community come together to reflect upon the contested heritage surrounding a slave trader memorial that sits almost above where we work for social justice; an interesting parodox.
The MA not only hit this issue (among others) head on, but has given me the confidence to not be ashamed of embracing a narrative that recognises the part that colonialism had to play in distorting theology and practice away from the richness that true majority world contextualisation has to offer the West.
How can we pray for you?
Prayer? Yes please! All of those reading this and who have followed Jesus ‘across the lake’ will recognise I am sure that getting funding for such projects is sometimes a bit like searching for the last penny in the piggy bank using your granny’s butter knife! Not sure why, but it always seems so and always surprises me.
That said, our local community is looking to help us and the local church family who owns the building is more than hospitable, so there will be a lesson in here somewhere – but prayers for provision so we can extend the tent pegs out into the community would be welcome, as our current finding stream ends…today!
Find out more about Pioneer MA courses with CMS.