Revd Canon Wendy S Robins, Director of Discipleship, Lay Ministry and Continuing Ministerial Education
One of the things that I most enjoyed doing before I was ordained was helping to establish and to run the home groups in the parish in which I lived and worshipped. I had recently been fortunate to go to Fuller Seminary to study with their Assistant Professor for Christian Formation and Discipleship, The Revd Dr Roberta Hestenes, who taught courses on working in small groups in church. So, as the Adult Education Adviser for the Bible Society by day I was keen to implement all that I had learned. It was a great time with flourishing small groups and social activities to help to build the communities.
I am as sure as I can be that it did not for a moment dawn on me that this was a form of ministry that might in some way be recognised. I was just someone who knew a bit about running small groups and a bit about helping to lead Bible Studies and we went from there. In the years that have followed, especially as I became more involved in helping churches around the country to think about growing lay leadership, I was aware that there were many church reports on how we should encourage and value the laity. So, many years later, when Bishop Christopher became the Bishop of Southwark, I was so pleased that his charge from Archbishop Rowan included the call to empower the laity.
The new lay ministries which we have recently launched in the Diocese are a response to the charge and I very much hope that this will encourage many of you to think about what God might be calling you to do in the church to help to build God’s Kingdom. Many of you, I know, will already be involved in all sorts of voluntary work within the church but if you feel called to helping to grow new churches, to work with children, young people and families or to share the good news or offer people pastoral support then these new ministries might be for you.
We have recently sent to every parish leaflets about our affirmed, commissioned and licensed lay ministries. Look out for them, ask you vicar about them or look on the Diocesan website to find out more: https://southwark.anglican.org/mission-ministry/ministry/discipleship-ministry/lay-ministries/
Philippa Parry is about to begin training as a Licensed Lay Pioneer:
Setting out on a new training route for licensed lay pioneers
I would never have described myself as a ‘pioneer’ or imagined that I would be taking this next step on my faith journey, towards St Augustine’s College of Theology. Yet here I am about to begin the new training programme developed for those wishing to become Licensed Lay Pioneers in Southwark Diocese.
In my working life, I have what might be described as a ‘portfolio career’. I’m self-employed in the arts – a community choir/singing leader, project manager and consultant. Over the years I have worked in professional theatre, as a performer and on the admin side, in community arts settings and at one stage was part of a creative arts team with Youth for Christ.
During the initial phase of the vocations process, I talked about wanting to bridge between the church and the community, feeling a call towards lay ministry. That hasn’t changed. I have wanted to explore arts or theatre chaplaincy for a long time and am aware now that many people working in the creative industries have been hit incredibly hard by the Covid-19 crisis. I also continue to think about ways of using the arts and creativity to engage with the dechurched and unchurched.
I was so excited to hear about the appointment of the Rt Revd Rob Gillion as Bishop for the Arts in Southwark Diocese last year, knowing a little about his experience in theatre and chaplaincy. Alongside that there is some incredibly exciting pioneering work involving the arts already taking place within the Diocese and nationwide. The monthly Pioneer Gatherings set up by the Dean of Fresh Expressions Will Cookson are one of the ways I’ve already had the opportunity to connect with and learn from other pioneers in the Diocese.
So now that long-felt ‘niggle’ (a very technical term for some sense of God’s call!), which led to the start of my vocations process, is about to become something much more tangible and cerebral. Lectures, study days, reading lists, essays and deadlines, and a learning platform called Moodle. It’s both incredibly exciting and daunting. Feelings that were backed up, with reassurance, by College Principal The Revd Dr Alan Gregory’s declaration to us as a new cohort that theological study is difficult. One of our tutors reminded us that undertaking theological study is a privilege and a responsibility. I was already feeling this, having been moved to tears (in a good way!) by Bishop Christopher’s letter informing me that I’d been accepted for training and being immensely grateful for my vicar Richard’s support throughout the process.
Our induction day on Saturday 11th September was a chance to visit St Augustine’s College of Theology in West Malling, Kent for the first time. If you have never been but have the opportunity or inclination to visit Malling Abbey, do! Arriving somewhat discombobulated from trying to get myself ready physically and mentally, whilst also thinking about the needs of my 2 young children, I was immediately struck by its beauty and tranquillity. The sound of sheep bleating accompanied some of our morning worship in the Barn Chapel, “The Lord is my Shepherd…”
Approximately 50 students gathered in the grounds of the College, a diverse group of trainee ordinands and lay ministers representing 4 dioceses – Canterbury, London, Rochester and Southwark. As we sat in the marquee for our introductory sessions, with what remains of the original 11th Century abbey building to one side of us, there was a profound sense that we stand on the shoulders of spiritual giants. I was minded of all those who have walked this ground before us. A family friend who was one of the first cohort to go through Southwark Diocese’s new at the time Southwark Ordination Course which allowed trainee ordinands to continue living and working in their own settings whilst studying. Now some 50 or so years later, I’m stepping out on another new diocesan training route.
One of my favourite parts of our induction day was listening to three of the Sisters from Malling Abbey talking to us about their lives as part of this Anglican Benedictine Community and the rule of St Benedict, of prayer, work and study. As we step forward into the unknown, we were assured of their prayers for us. It was also lovely to meet Minako in person. A fellow licensed lay pioneer in training, we have only previously seen each other on Zoom. There were inspiring conversations with other students too throughout the day. Whatever our particular background, passion or experience, we are united by the sense of God’s call on our lives to some form of ministry within the Church of England. Alongside the theological foundations I’m hoping to build on, it is that sense of shared learning that I’m looking forward to, whilst having more opportunity to consider and develop a ministry as a lay pioneer.
For more information on pioneering, visit https://southwark.anglican.org/mission-ministry/mission/pioneering-ministry-fresh-expressions/pioneer-ministries/.
To find out more about St Augustine’s College of Theology, visit https://staugustinescollege.ac.uk, or to find out more about the Anglican Benedictine Community at Malling Abbey, visit www.mallingabbey.org.