Portsmouth’s Rajiv Sidhu ‘I discovered I was dyslexic when I started training to be a vicar’

It was only at the start of his training to be a vicar that Rajiv Sidhu was diagnosed as dyslexic.

That came as a surprise, as he’d worked as a teacher for 10 years and hadn’t had any issues. It was his challenges studying Hebrew that prompted the diagnosis. It gave him a deeper insight into who he was, and also into why some people struggle with Christian teaching that can often be based on words, rather than images or symbols.

He’s one of seven people who will be ordained for the first time at Portsmouth Cathedral on Saturday (June 26). They will be ordained as ‘deacons’, which means they’ll be able to wear a dog collar, lead services and call themselves ‘the Reverend’. They will then work as curates in C of E churches in south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.

Another three people who were ordained as deacons last year will be ordained for a second time on June 26. They’ll be ordained as ‘priests’, which means, among other things, they can lead Holy Communion services. They’ll continue their training as curates, probably for another couple of years, before they can become vicars.

Rajiv Sidhu is especially pleased that he’ll become a curate at St Cuthbert’s Church, Copnor, working alongside the vicar, the Rev Allie Kerr, as she is an old friend – and is also dyslexic.

Rajiv, 32, is a lifelong Anglican. He spent some of his childhood growing up with his grandparents in Malaysia, where Christianity is a minority religion and traditions are very different. He trained as a geography teacher and worked in a school in Dagenham before heading to the Isle of Wight. He went to St James Church, East Cowes, where Allie was the vicar.

He taught at Christ the King College, which is a joint Church of England and Roman Catholic secondary school in Newport. He was moved by the daily rhythm of prayer there and talked to a colleague who was also a non-stipendiary minister.

“I had always assumed that my vocation was to be a teacher, although I now realise that you can have different vocations at different points in your life,” he said. “I was happy doing the church website and dealing with the technical side. One day, I met Allie in a pub to talk about starting a Bible group in the parish and, out of the blue, she suggested that I should think about becoming a vicar.

“I spoke to the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and we explored that vocation for a year. Discerning vocation was a rollercoaster of experiences. But throughout it all, I had a strong sense of God calling through the most unexpected ways. So in 2018, I was accepted for ordination training and I resigned as a teacher.

“I studied at Oxford and learnt a lot about the breadth of theology, the Church and about the different perspectives and priorities that people have. My experiences have probably made me difficult to pigeonhole, as I am as comfortable with incense as I am with open prayer.

“I was able to go on placement to a prison ministry in Malaysia, which was amazing. What stayed with me was the importance of loving Christian action, loving your neighbour is an active thing. In a world of social media and pressures around, it’s easy to lose sight of what is ‘right’. Yet here we were, driving in 4x4s to remote locations to deliver essentials to those who needed it most.

“In 2019, my uncle, grandfather and mum all died separately and suddenly within a few months. I learnt first-hand the importance of someone offering you a loving, listening ear, as that’s what I needed. I learnt how vital loving pastoral ministry is, and also found solace in the Anglo-Catholic tradition of praying for those who have died. And it was my Hebrew tutor who suggested that I might be dyslexic, which gave me a deeper insight into myself.

“We are all created in God’s diverse image – and this applies as much to our minds as anything else. What does this look like for church? How can we include, welcome, and celebrate neurodiversity in Christian spaces and places? We often shy away from the images and symbols in church, though these can be the most effective teachers of the faith.

“I’m excited about being at St Cuthbert’s, partly because Allie and I think alike, and also because our set-up here is unique, with the community hall, café and GP surgery making it the heart of the community. I’m also keen on exploring ways that we can offer even more pioneering ministry.”

Rajiv and his wife Freya have now moved into Portsmouth with their twins Ranjini and Rajvir, who are both six.

Saturday’s ordination services will be led by Bishop Rob Wickham, commissary bishop for Portsmouth, and will be live-streamed on diocesan and cathedral Youtube channels. The others who are being ordained this Saturday are:

Ordained deacon (11 am, June 26, Portsmouth Cathedral):
Derek Johnson (who will work at Cosham and Wymering); Kate Lloyd Jones (Greatham, Empshott, and Hawkley with Priors Dean); Anthony Lawrence (Ventnor and Bonchurch); Katharine Message (Harbour Church, Portsmouth); Heath Monaghan (pioneer minister, All Saints Ryde and Bembridge) and Alison Waterhouse (Petersfield and Buriton)

Ordained priest (4 pm, June 26, Portsmouth Cathedral):
The Rev Hannah Barraclough (who will continue to work at Newport and Carisbrooke); the Rev Catherine Edenborough (Portsmouth Cathedral) and the Rev Matthew Grove (Christ Church, Portsdown, and St John’s, Purbrook)