Reverend Eric Noel: Transitioning from primary teaching to priesthood
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/05/reverend-eric-noel-transitioning-from-primary-teaching-to-priesthood/
Note: Reverend Eric Noel serves as one of the curates at St. James Cathedral in the Ruharo neighborhood of Mbarara municipality (southwestern Uganda). After graduating with a Master of Divinity in 2015 from Uganda Christian University Bishop Tucker School of Theology and Divinity, he was posted to the country’s western Ibanda district where he served for one year before he was transferred to St. James Cathedral, which has an estimated congregation of 2,000. Similar to most churches, more women attend St. James Cathedral than men. Ages vary among four Sunday services that include a children’s service, two youth services (attracting urban youth, including neighboring university students) and a service for the elderly that is conducted in Lunyankole, the native language of Mbarara. Recently, UCU Partners spoke with Rev. Noel to learn about his priestly experience. Part of his story is shared below.
By Brendah Ndagire
How did you come to study at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Bishop Tucker School of Theology and Divinity?
I started out as a primary school teacher within Uganda’s education system, and as a simple small-scale farmer. My career trajectory was very different from other theology students UCU. Many students joined UCU when they had served in the church for a long time, including as lay leaders. They came with Biblical interpretation knowledge and experience. But for me, I began with teaching and farming, with limited Bible interpretation skills. However, it is not surprising that most teachers in Uganda end up becoming church leaders, because teachers can do practically anything.
How did UCU prepare you for your priestly role?
UCU prepared me very well. The knowledge and experiences I was exposed to were very important for the work I am doing at St. James Cathedral. It is interesting to look back and recognize that the moment I was ordained, God opened up a door for ministry in Ibanda and now here in Ruharo.
What theology class stood out for you?
Biblical Interpretation and Church History. Everything was very new to me, and it was fascinating to learn how to interpret the Bible, and to know how the Church started and grew into a very powerful institution globally.
What scripture defines your work?
John 3:16, which states that, “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” At St. James Cathedral, we make it clear that it is upon people to choose life, and live, and that to not do so, they perish.
What about a scripture that defines you as a person?
I love the scripture where God says, “Let us create man in our own image…”, it has taught me to really love myself because I am the real image of God.I never used to love myself, as a dark-skinned man. But when I started to think about that particular verse in the Bible, and knowledge that I am made in the image of God, I learned to love myself.
How many other churches within the area are Anglican?
There are many Churches of different denominations, but for administrative purposes St. James’ Cathedral as a parish, has four other daughter Churches affiliated to the main parish Church, and we have nearby parishes such as Kyamugolani, All saints Church in the center of the town, and others. There are more Churches in rural areas that are a part of St. James Cathedral as a deanery. It is called a deanery because it is a center with the seat of the Bishop.
What is it like for you to minister to the congregation in this community?
In an urban setting, it can be challenging because of time management. Since we have four services every Sunday, we feel like we are rushing the service to prepare and get to another service. Secondly, people in the urban setting are transient, and this presents a challenge when it comes to pastoral visits. Sometimes, I can go to what I believe is someone’s house, and I find that she or he moved to another neighborhood.
What do you find rewarding about your role?
I served the government for 20 years as a primary teacher and head teacher in the public education system. The money I was earning there was greater than the money I was going to make in the church setting. My desire and intention has always been to serve the Lord regardless of income. Ultimately, whatever remuneration I get, I am grateful to God.
Do you have any other economic activity apart from your spiritual role?
I am a farmer as well. However my farm is located away from Mbarara municipality, and that brings certain challenges of supervision, and monitoring. I have coffee, banana, and tree plantations. That is something I have always done while I was teaching as well since 1995. I am doing really well especially when I enjoy the fruits of my farming labor.
What is most difficult part of being a priest in this community?
Moving from one parish to another really affects building relations, community, children and the priest’s family life. Moving impacts children’s education performance. Sometimes moving to new parishes makes it difficult for a priest to have a “home.” This may be challenging especially when we are thinking about retiring.
What is your biggest reward serving the Lord?
As He says, those who love Me, I also love them. When we pray and commune with God we understand serving the Lord, brings peace; loving Him promises eternal life; then, I know my greatest reward is in Heaven.
Thinking about the local Church in Uganda, what do you think is the biggest challenge facing the Church in Uganda?
False teachings within different Churches. People have developed ideas on how they can squeeze money from poor people. Since our people are faced with many economic and social problems, bad people take advantage of that situation to get money from poor and underclass people. With so much unemployment among Ugandan youths, some Church leaders declare to them that, “now is the time you are going to get employed, or to go overseas on a plane.” With those false and empty promises, many young people and adults leave authentic Church spaces for prosperity Churches. Such promises have dire consequences, including suffering and human trafficking.
More information about Bishop Tucker School of Theology and Divinity at Uganda Christian University can be obtained at: http://ucu.ac.ug/bishop-tucker-school-of-theology.