With his shaven haircut, broken nose and tight t-shirt, Adrian Teare was undoubtedly not the usual candidate to appear before the Bishops’ Advisory Panel.
Just hours out of an exhausting army exercise, the Parachute Regiment soldier was there to convince the church luminaries that he was worthy of becoming a priest. Despite his unorthodox appearance before the selection panel four years ago, his devotion and determination obviously impressed.
On Saturday Private Adrian Teare, “Tea Pot” to his fellow soldiers, swapped his light machine gun and boxing gloves for a cassock and diaconal stole when he was ordained as a deacon amid the splendour of St Paul’s Cathedral.
Last week, sitting in the 4th Battalion, Parachute Regiment mess in west London, the 33-year-old already seemed to be balancing two worlds. Still wearing his maroon beret and uniform, he proffered some cake he had just made from his mother’s recipe.
Baking, he explained, was a skill he hoped would fit well with his new position at the Parish Church of St Paul the Apostle, Tottenham, where the ethnically diverse congregation are always keen for a gathering over culinary delights.
From this week, the Reverend Teare’s new home will be a flat within the small church sandwiched between White Hart Lane football ground and a large housing estate. From there he will minister to the largely African community as he prepares for priesthood.
It is the fulfilment of a long held ambition, despite a diversion into Afghanistan’s war zone. He was, he said, an accidental soldier, who joined the airborne regiment’s territorial army battalion almost haphazardly, seeing no clash between the harsh nature of infantry life and his long term devotion to Christianity.
The son of a solicitor and a school receptionist from north London, it was while reading history at Durham University that he first had an “embarrassed” conversation with his college chaplain, confessing a yearning to join the priesthood. The chaplain’s advice was to go away for a couple of years and experience life.
Moving to Gateshead, he took up kickboxing while working as a clerk for the local police where an ex-soldier recommended the Territorial Army in 2004.
“I was told you will have more fun in the parachute regiment so on that basis I signed up, passed P Company (selection) and ended up going to war. I didn’t want to be an infantry soldier. I thought it was for hard, tough people. I wanted to fly about in a plane and I thought that was what paratroopers did. It was an accidental career in the infantry.
“The recruiting sergeant asked me why I was doing this and I said to smooth off a few rough edges. He then proceeded to smooth them off for me,” he explained.
He then volunteered to deploy alongside the 3 rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment, in 2006 when the British first went into Helmand, Afghanistan, and encountered what NATO commander, and now Chief of the Defence Staff, General David Richards described as the fiercest fighting since Korea.
Private Teare went to war with a light machine gun in his hands and a small version of morning and evening prayers in his pocket. Everyone, he insisted, has conflicting emotions that need to be held in tension.
“My story is about the naiveté of not having a clue. But I joined the TA and if you are joining something you might as well do it properly,” he continued.
Momentarily lost for words, he explained that Lance Corporal Luke McCulloch, 21, a Royal Irish soldier killed in a mortar attack on their base in Sangin, was a friend, adding simply “That was a terribly sad day.”
Instead he reminisced fondly of how his platoon Sergeant Colin “Tom” Beckett went out of his way to get Private Teare’s leave dates changed so he could attend an old friend’s wedding. Last year Sergeant Major Beckett, 36, an “inspirational leader” was killed on his third tour of Afghanistan.
Despite the ardours of his army life and the grief of losses, he insisted: “I don’t think that because of what I have done I will be better than anyone else. When it comes to the priesthood, it is important not to be in front of people pulling them or behind pushing them but by their side.”
Private Teare returned from Afghanistan as determined as ever to become a priest and went on to study theology at Cambridge, where he excelled at boxing for the university.
Then in 2008, having just finished two weeks of exercise up in Catterick, Yorkshire, he drove down to London to appear before the Bishops’ Advisory Panel selection board, where he was recommended to train towards ordination.
On Saturday his church friends mingled with parachute regiment soldiers as he was made a deacon by the Bishop of London , the Rt Rev Richard Chartres.
“It has taken ten years, a long time but what is time between friends. It is just simply my life and now it will be in the community in Tottenham, just like the TA and in 3 Para, it will be people working together towards a common end.”
He continued: “The Tottenham community is very spiritual. They take church going very seriously and there is an average of 200 people on Sunday, 300 at Easter, the kind of numbers lots of ministries would crave for.”
He is obviously relishing the future but has perhaps not relinquished his past completely. Asked what he had done with the desert uniform from his Afghanistan tour, he replied: “It is washed and pressed in my kit bag - good to go.”