Wendy Stephens, Diocesan SPA

On the evening of Monday 26th July over 90 Southwark Pastoral Auxiliaries (SPAs) gathered at Southwark Cathedral for a service of celebration, re-dedication, welcome and farewell.  It was a very special evening and my first opportunity as Diocesan SPA to meet many of the SPAs in the Diocese.  As well as re-dedicating ourselves in our ministry as SPAs we were there to welcome the four SPAs who were Commissioned via Zoom on 30th November 2020, to bid farewell to the 11 SPAs who have retired since we last met in June 2019 and to remember the SPAs who have died in the intervening years.  It was also an opportunity for us all to say a big thank to Gerie Knights who stood down as Diocesan SPA in November 2020 and for Bishop Jonathan, standing in for Bishop Christopher, to present her with the Lancelot Andrewes medal.  It was a truly memorable evening made even more special in that we were allowed to sing (with face coverings in place) the final hymn, ‘Praise my Soul’.  For many this was the first time people had sung in church since lockdown began and to hear the cathedral resound with the sound of voices, was very emotional. Our thanks to everyone involved with the service in some way and for the beautiful music provided by the choir and organist of Southwark Cathedral.  A perfect evening was rounded off with the opportunity to mingle and catch up over a glass of prosecco in the cathedral courtyard.

Paul Budgen, Reigate Archdeaconry SPA

SPA ministry is varied and deep, some are chaplains in East Surrey, HMP Highdown or in their local Parish running house groups, prayer groups, bereavement services or marriage courses.

I always think of individuals having both IQ and EQ. As a quick reminder, IQ is the most familiar and is a good way of understanding people’s intellect (our knowledge base) and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is a great way of demonstrating ‘how we do things’. SPA ministry excels at EQ. Sometimes it’s called ‘soft skills’ which always makes me smile as it undersells the value of that skill set. For example, just because you know how someone died through the biological process, that knowledge is of little help when ministering to someone who is going through grief, it is much more useful to understand how they are feeling and to use an appropriate tone, language and sensitivity.

As SPAs we spend two years training, the first year now is the successful completion of the Bishops certificate, thereafter, a year learning more about the pastoral, the emotional intelligence side of the ministry. At this point we are exposed to many different types of experience from hospital, to prison to homeless shelters and everything in between. What is particularly useful and joyful is the relationship built up within the learning group or cell. There is no one ‘a typical’ SPA, we are made up of retired people from all walks of life with some of us in full time employment.

In my parish I had a particular challenge in that the pastoral committee was well established with excellent volunteers and our Messy church was flourishing, therefore, what was my role? I do believe in adding value, to make a difference and if it’s not broken don’t fix it! Whilst I was a member of the Pastoral committee I was not its leader, I looked for alternatives to help. I started to run home groups, Alpha and Pilgrim courses. These were hugely rewarding, they are tough as they come with lots of questions, finding time to prepare, organise and run but also seeing people’s faith blossom and mature. I also set up a Parish Whatsapp prayer group, as of today we have over 26+ members in it, we post prayers almost every day, during lockdown it was a wonderful way to keep in touch but to pray. Wonderfully (almost) everyone contributes.

I found God calling me prison, I saw myself as our parish mission to the local prison – HMP Prison Highdown where I started to run the Alpha course. I asked the congregation for some home made cakes, which they obliged in abundance and the cakes were very warmly received. As is the case with Alpha, there are videos, discussions and people sharing testimonies. Picture the scene – at the end of one session I stood in the middle of 12 inmates, praying out loud, I encouraged them to also pray out loud, four did, they prayed for the group and their families, we came together with the Lord’s prayer. Lots of hugs and calling each other brother afterwards.

SPA ministry is one rooted in what I call Christianity at work, it involves a lot of active listening and prayer, and at times what might seem like a mountain of a problem we overcome, as is always the case in our faith, nothing is too big for God.