During the discernment process around my personal sense of calling to Pastoral Ministry I was struck by how the Lord called Samuel three times, but he needed Eli to interpret those calls as coming directly from God. (1 Samuel 3: 1-10).
In my case my sense of calling has been growing over the years, I just did not understand. On reflection my personal and professional skills, abilities and experiences have all prepared me for pastoral care service. For example, my first formal training in listening skills was as a Samaritan. This was strengthened during my training and experience as a Welfare Officer working in Military Hospitals, dealing with grief, loss and change in all its different forms. Training to be a professional Social Worker required a lot of reflection and understanding of myself in terms of learning styles, values and ethics, acceptance and diversity, boundaries, and self-care. As a Social Work Educator, I was able to support others to look within to identify their own coping mechanisms, to trust their own judgments and instincts, and to accept and manage change. I am a CIPD accredited Developmental Coach and Mentor and my recent training in Mindfulness Life Coaching has served to further strengthen and embed my skills and abilities in supporting and enabling others. Throughout my professional life, whether working in the city, local authority, national charity or university, my deepest interest has been in helping people to be the best that they can be.
During this time, I was also becoming more active in the church and in a previous parish I was a member of the PCC and the Ministry Team. As well as being an altar assistant and crucifer, I co-facilitated a bereavement course and a home group which looked at bridging the gap between the Sunday bible readings and everyday life. It was during my training in Leadership through the Guildford Diocese that I began to make some links between what I was doing and how I could serve the church in a more meaningful way. I still did not make the connection between working in the church and having a personal call from God. However, the seed was planted.
I moved to Surbiton in 2018 and became a member of the congregation at St Andrew St Mark where I was being asked to become involved in church activities. I became a member of the PCC and the Charities and Social Action Committee as well as a welcomer/sidesperson.
I believe I was being ‘called’ at various stages but still looked upon my work in the church as an extension of my professional life.
I began to look at what I could do that would offer more satisfaction to me as well as providing some sort of service to the church. During a long recovery from surgery, I had time to reflect on where I was in my life and where I wanted to be. In April 2021 I took a great leap of faith and left my part time post as a Senior University Lecturer in Social Work to pursue my passion in helping people to see what life could be like, whether personally or professionally, and to take the steps to make that happen. However, I suggested to God that I would be ready for this in September!
I began to look at what I could do that would offer more satisfaction to me as well as providing some sort of service to the church and I learned about the work of one of the members of the church who was a Southwark Pastoral Auxiliary (SPA). Following an informative meeting with the SPA in early September I suddenly knew how I could serve the church while also putting my skills, abilities, learning and experience to good use. Within a week I had been selected to attend the Bishop’s Certificate in Discipleship, the first year of training in becoming a Commissioned Pastoral Minister (SPA). God had listened. (Matthew 7:7-8).
Attending the course constituted a complete transformation for me. I moved from marking and evaluating assignments and projects as a senior lecturer, to being marked and evaluated myself…a very humbling experience. The Bible became my core ‘library’ with its 66 books, some of which have 66 chapters! (Isaiah). In addition, we were expected to use Commentaries, books, and other relevant resources to underpin our reflections and comments. I have now developed a deeper understanding of the Old and New Testaments and how they relate to my life as a Christian. One of the outcomes of the Bishop’s Certificate Course for me was that it strengthened my call to pastoral ministry. I met regularly with our outgoing SPA and her support and advice was invaluable as I reflected on and examined my possible vocation in this area. I was also blessed with support and guidance from my Incumbent as well as the Curate, Deacon and Reader and other members of the congregation. Following meetings with a Vocational Advisor, a thorough discerning process, and a selection panel at Southwark Training Centre I was able to start the course in Lay Pastoral Ministry (SPA) Training in September 2022.
During the discernment process, and the reflective sessions with my Vocations Advisor I suddenly realised that I had been misinterpreting the situation, I was being directly called to serve God in the capacity of pastoral ministry, not just providing a service within the church as I had mistakenly understood.
Samuel needed Eli to interpret the call of God for him. Interpretation for me came through the discovery of pastoral ministry and the vocational discernment process. Now pastoral ministry training is building on my skills, abilities, and experiences and more importantly it is giving me a sound theoretical perspective on the work that I feel I am called to do in service to God.
There are 7 modules over the academic year with weekly attendance, and some weekends at Wychcroft. (Lucky me!). Written assignments are expected for each module based on my own Reflective Journal, as well as regular meetings with a Spiritual Director. Other requirements include a Parish Walk; a Parish Profile identifying possible areas of needs and resources, and a related Project. There are group visits to various institutions and organisations, and a Placement to build on and widen my experience and understanding of pastoral care. I am excited to learn more about God as healer (Psalm 34:18), the God of justice, mercy, and fruitfulness (Matthew 23:23), the God of compassion (John 11:32-35), and the God of the outsider (Luke 19:1-10) for example. This will provide a sound theological underpinning for my future work in pastoral care.
Currently I am a full member of the PCC and of the Communities and Social Action Committee subgroup which raises funds for both church and secular local, national, and international charities covering health, education, and the environment.
In the last year, with the support of the Parish, I have been trained as a ‘Mental Health Champion’ by the Southwest London Mental Health Trusts and Citizens UK’s Be Well Hubs initiative. My role is active listening, signposting, comforting, supporting and otherwise enabling those within the congregation and the parish community who self-identify or are referred as needing help and support. Currently I co lead a monthly Be Well Hub Wednesday Lunch at St Marks and have been able to be of service on several occasions, provided additional listening/coaching sessions to specific people as required. As of this month I have taken the lead on the fellowship aspect of the Thursday Eucharist, and have also become a participating member of the Ministry Team, my particular focus being pastoral care.
As the course progresses, with support from my Incumbent and my supervisors, and guidance form the Holy Spirit, I will be able to identify other areas where I can use my spiritual, secular and pastoral gifts to continue to be one of ‘those able to help others.’ (1 Corinthians 12:1, 13:28).
I look forward with excited anticipation to September 2023!
Find out more about Lay Ministry in The Diocese of Southwark at southwark.anglican.org/layministries.