Hornsey PAs Blog

Hornsey PAs blog

Tottenham PA Interview

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Jake was interviewed last year about his life as a PA in Tottenham…

Tell us something about your work

Part of my work is to be chaplain to the youth group. I had no experience of working with children before I came here and, to those who are worried at the prospect, I would say it does come naturally after a while and is very rewarding.  I’ve also been running the Winter Night Shelter which has been a huge responsibility. It has taught me a lot about working with volunteers and has really boosted my confidence.

 What do you say when people ask you about Tottenham as a place to live and work?

It’s really nice!  My own small home town is worse where there is at least one fight in the pubs nearly every weekend!  You might expect to hear about drugs and guns and stuff but it’s actually very quiet here and most people go into the centre of London at the weekend to party. There’s no trouble and it’s friendly, people aren’t on edge – but it is London so people aren’t necessarily wandering around all day with smiles on their faces!

What are the worst things?

There us currently no internet access in my study area and the loft can be cold in winter but by far the worst physical thing was when we had to deliver almost 3000 leaflets in the local area in the freezing cold!

How has working as a Pastoral Assistant helped you to think about your vocation?

It has helped a lot.  It has made me think not just about what and where God wants me to be but also how he wants me to be which is not always the same thing as I have in mind.  This gives me a lot of comfort, particularly when I’m faced with a new challenge such as preaching for the first time as I did this morning.  Being a PA gives you the opportunity to experience parish ministry at first hand and to decide whether it might be for you.  Everyone is so supportive – of course you will make mistakes – but it is a learning curve rather than a job. 

How is your Lent going?

I wish I hadn’t given up biting my nails, particularly as I had to preach for the first time today!

How do you relax on your day off?

Well it’s London, so there’s so much to see and do.  My priest is a workaholic (!) but is also very strict about rest and the importance of protecting that rest time which I really appreciate.

Camden PA Interview

IMG_3158 FeeneyRebecca Feeney worked as a Pastoral Assistant in the Parish of Old St Pancras for two years at St Michael’s and is now an ordinand at St Stephen’s House.

What did you do before you came to work in the Parish?

I studied music at Cardiff University.

What were you most looking forward to?

I wanted the opportunity to work alongside others discerning their vocation – and particularly to work alongside people with different theological slants to my own.  I was looking forward to being part of a team that, I knew from others, worked very hard to be the church in its community and was very committed to what it did.

Were you nervous?

Not especially because I had spent a year in a different church in London before coming here.  I was excited, but the first time I was very nervous. Having had that prior experience helped me to relax but in any case I was made to feel at ease here very quickly.

How is the placement shaping up?

I am comfortable with what I do, my job and responsibilities.  I feel very warmly welcomed and was made to feel very much part of the community very quickly.  I am supported by the team and members of the congregation and feel generally very secure besides all the otherwise terrifying and insecure elements of the job!

What’s it like where you live?

The house is fantastic. We have our own rooms and share a large living room and garden (with family of foxes!). I live with two other PAs and a House Co-ordinator.  We get on ridiculously well and are very good friends.  Living communally is not without difficulty but on the whole we get on ridiculously well and have become very good friends.  In theory (!) we have film night every Wednesday, the house is in a quiet residential area, our privacy is respected and it is very good to go back to.

Have you taken any services?

I lead Healing Prayer occasionally, effectively a lay ministry service of scripture, prayer and laying on of hands.  I preached my first Sunday sermon on Advent 4 and am on the rota for leading morning and evening office. 

What about outside church?

On Monday I work at Women @ the Well, an organisation supporting vulnerable women, on Wednesday I work in our church primary school in class and run an after school club. On Friday I form part of the chaplaincy team at the Huntley Centre and I also do pastoral visits as directed by my incumbent.

How have you found being a female Pastoral Assistant in an Anglo-Catholic parish?

I have found being a PA in this Parish incredibly fulfilling, particularly as a woman coming from a traditional Catholic background.  I have never once felt that I was not respected or that my vocation was not important or genuine.  The team, and particularly my incumbent have been extremely supportive in every way they can.  Of course we experience all the knocks and bumps that any close working relationship with a team will bring but the benefits are huge.

Finally, how are you feeling about your vocation?

I can say that since coming here I am more at peace with my sense of vocation than at any other point. 

Do this in memory of me…

Today [December 1st] the church, leastways the Anglican part of it, celebrates what one might call its archetypal failure, Blessed Charles de Foucald. One of the very few saints who would be rather delighted to be sharing his day with HIV awareness day, I feel. Charles de Foucald was a minor French aristocrat born in 1858. He joined the cavalry and led a thoroughly dissipated life and frittered away his fortune. In 1883 he was sent on an expedition to Morocco and fell in love with North Africa. Four years later he returned to the faith of his childhood and after a pilgrimage to the Holy Land he became a Trappist monk in 1890. But he sought a more austere life and in 1897 he left to become the servant of the Poor Clares in Jerusalem and Nazareth, living in their stable. He was eventually ordained priest in 1901 and went to live as a hermit in Algeria, ending up at Tamanrasset, the centre of the Tauregs, a war-like tribe and a place that has recorded some of the hottest temperatures on earth. He learned the local language and his care and concern for the local people made him accepted and then much loved, though he never sought converts. He composed rules for brothers and sisters though no-one ever joined him. He was killed ninety four years ago today, by the Tauregs, in the news at the moment for their depredations in Mali to the south, people whom he had befriended. It seems the killing was undoubtedly a mistake, somehow someone thought he was a spy. It was an unfortunate accident rather than a cold-blooded assassination.

Inspired by his rule the little sisters of the Sacred Heart were founded in 1933 and similarly inspired, Rene Voillaume and others started the Little Brothers of Jesus in 1945, during Charles’ life and until then there was nothing. When he celebrated Mass he used to consecrate hundreds of hosts and then go and plant them in the sand around his hermitage. I think you will have to wait to ask him why he did it. Archbishop Kallistos Ware said that one of the least inadequate reasons for the Church to exist is to celebrate the Eucharist. And there must be times in every priest’s life when as they look at those inside the church and think of those outside they wonder whether that is what they are doing, planting hosts in the desert.

Mercifully we have no idea of what God is doing through us; but no worry, it is still and increasingly the privilege and the wonder of the Eucharist that never ceases to feed and to enthral.

When I was most beautifully prepared for confirmation, it was generally assumed that truth that we would make our Communion about once a month. In truth that was about as often as the very small school could get a priest to come. Our school chapel was the converted stable of the old house, the great loose box at one end was the sanctuary and the stalls were where we sat. The stable was next to the carpenter’s shop and our prayers were often accompanied by the whirr of the lathe. And communion was once a month. We were given the most comprehensive scheme of preparation and thanksgiving. We began our preparation for communion a fortnight before the Sunday we were to make our communion, and we ended our thanksgiving a week after. Then we had a week off and then started the whole cycle again. We prepared the readings and searched our consciences and beat our breasts beforehand and wept copiously in joy afterwards, with daily prayers and duties. I wasn’t of an age that queried these things, but when I found I wanted to make my communion every week – pretty daring in the ‘50s in a very Anglican school where Pope St Pius xth was not often read – it became obvious that this system would not work and it was even more difficult when I was able to go to Mass every day – except that I could never make my communion on a Sunday, because the 11 am Solemn High Mass on a Sunday was non-communicating and that was when we had a lie-in. What I have always tried to do, is to remember at the beginning of Mass when I last went to Mass and then before I leave church to make myself aware of when I will next go to Mass. To make that chain of prayer through Mass complete as it were. Above all this helps me to bring all of myself to Mass: the good bits, the bad bits, the well thought through bits and the work in progress bits, the wondrous relationship bits and the total mess bits; the good news and the bad news; me in fact.

And then the second vital thing, is meditating on, turning over in ones mind constantly some part of the Mass. For example: Jesus took, blessed, broke and shared bread and wine, those four actions are at the very centre of what we are doing. The new liturgies make these four actions very obvious, whereas in some old liturgies I’d be pushed to work out which was what.

But Jesus blessed: I have always understood that the whole of the Eucharistic prayer was the prayer of blessing, that is to say that this is the prayer that sets the bread and the wine that we have taken aside, makes them holy, makes them the body and blood of Christ. I tread carefully deliberately. Yet we genuflect in the middle of it. I think that it only stems from the Schoolmen, from the middle ages, from the twelfth / thirteenth century. And the question that they had been posed was what happens if the priest drops dead having said the words over the bread and before he reaches the words for the wine. Is the bread Christ? and so priests started elevating and genuflecting to show the answer yes, but is it still necessary to do this? In my present parishes in three I don’t in one I do. Perhaps that is an indication of my ambivalence. I have been turning this over in my mind for six years already, that is part of the wonder of constantly meditating on parts of the Eucharist, there is so much time to do it. There are no deadlines to meet.

And then someone like Richard Giles comes along and writes a book like ‘At heaven’s gate – reflections on leading worship’ and suddenly you have to go back and think everything through again. It is so exciting; I cannot think a better word. Exciting.

For the Eucharist is the very centre of all our prayer. And just as I rejoiced that the original uses of the building that became my school chapel made so many connections with the Gospel so I rejoice in all the connections that there are between the Eucharist and daily living.

Richard Giles suggests seven building blocks of good worship – [1] good leadership; [2] building community; [3] creating assembly – by which he means making sure that your community knows what it is doing – that it is indeed the Body of Christ, called to exercise a priesthood within its community; [4] including children; [5] turning to the sun, that is being expectant that you will meet God; [6] making space for your worship; and [7] going counter cultural – that it challenging the world. But all these points are actually what is or should be happening in our homes as we build our own human family. I have been totally fascinated by the process of getting to know our sons-in-law and helping them to become part of our family, helping them to understand our family story and even to laugh at family jokes. And our daughters have gone through the same process as they have been assimilated into their new in-laws. And in our family preparations for Christmas, we have no problems about expectation, but we do have serious conversations about how we time things. The youngest at our table will be eighteen months old, the oldest is just six months short of her century. And perhaps these family celebrations are counter cultural too because, they are just a time of being. And it is not just great celebrations such as Christmas that lead us into the Eucharist. Every meal tells us something. Why do we choose to share our meals with some but not others? Why do some meals seem totally blessed? What is the difference between cosy candlelit dinners for two and noisy, rambunctious, joyous parties and what does this tell us about the Eucharist? We, as Christians, see ourselves as people of the Book, as members of a human family we are members at least of an oral tradition and to be members of the human family we must know that oral tradition to be part of it. The connections between our family meals and the Eucharist are legion.

Finally, for our attendance at the Eucharist, our Bible reading, for our conversation with the world, we need a rule of life. It is exactly the same as the rule that any athlete needs and has and as an athletes rule one really does need a personal trainer or guru or soul friend or whatever. And exactly like an athlete belongs to a gym, it is well worth being associated with a religious community but that depends entirely on your particular needs. I was first an Oblate of the Community of the Resurrection, until I committed the sin of matrimony and now I am an Oblate of Alton Abbey – a Benedictine foundation – Benedictine spirituality is very Anglican or rather Anglicanism was formed by Benedictine spirituality. It suits me and Alton Abbey for me is a thin place, a place where I find God easily.

And what is this rule, well it does depend where you are in your life – what sort of athlete you want to be. One of our daughters, who is, among other things, a tri-athlete, an exponent of an Iron Man, swimming five miles, cycling 100 miles and then running a marathon, monitors everything from her eating and sleeping through to exactly how much she does anything every day. At a saner level, my rule of life is about saying the office, going to mass, interceding, confession, fasting, alms-giving. It is also in a slight state of flux at the moment as I try to retire from full time ministry. A rule may take time to devise, but once it is in place it needs to be firmly fixed, like the yoke on an oxen, that if it is tight and well-fitting allows the oxen to do its best.

But having said all that: when Jane Frances de Chantal was newly widowed, aged thirty-one, she met for the first time Francis de Sales. He used to visit her father’s house and then hers where she lived with her widowed father-in-law and four children. On one of these visits one of the servants stopped him and complained about madam. It is impossible to do our work said the servant, every time we start doing anything, madam has the bell rung and we all have to go off to pray. Francis said to Jane that there was no need to say all these offices rather she should pray all the time, pray constantly. Of course there should be times when we go to our holy place and shut out the world and give all of our attention to God, but what we are aiming for is to live our lives and say our prayers knowing that he is constantly by our side, seeing and understanding everything we do and constantly guiding us and helping us and empowering us, if only we listen to him.

Here I am: ready to do your will. Speak to me.

Newspapers and Bibles

I think that it was Rowan Williams who said that the new Archbishop of Canterbury needed to face the world with a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other. Making the connection our prayer and the newspaper – the world – is often very much easier than making the connection between the Bible and our prayer or perhaps more vitally between the Bible and the world.

At Theological College we were told that once ordained one should always have three books on the go, a substantial tome of Theology, an important work of literature, preferably by someone who has won the Nobel Prize for something, or failing all else Dostoevsky and finally some serious Biblical commentary. The problem with Biblical commentaries is that they are all written by people who make their money by writing books for people who also write books. What they write must be new or controversial. Books that say ‘I totally agree with all that has been said so far’, don’t get published, let alone do they sell. It is a sort of vicious circle which often seems out of touch with the world and it is totally cyclical. In the nineteen sixties it was rather avant-garde to suggest that maybe the person who wrote the Gospel according to St Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles, then it suddenly became a fact that everyone who wasn’t half dead knew; now, I hear from our new parish deacon, fresh out of college that the pendulum has swung and people are suggesting that maybe there were two different authors for the two differing books. And it all pivots on an irregular aorist on, would you believe it, no less than two different occasions. [I made that bit up.] When I took my exams it was surmised the Paul in fact had written four letters to the Corinthians which were then conflated into the two we know. And then I could have given you chapter and verse and cross-referenced it all with Acts. I have just bought a new commentary which says that in the intervening years theorists suggested that there were in fact as many as sixteen letters to the Corinthians conflated into two. My new commentary tells me that there are just two letters and the historical order is as you will find them in any Bible.

Nonetheless, commentaries are important, but they do not necessarily drive us to pray. I find two things helpful. First, and this works especially well with the gospels, picture yourself there. This morning’s gospel is a wonderful example. [Matthew ch 4 vv 18-22] Picture the scene. We do not have to have been to Lake Galilee to do that. The picture we get might be an amalgam of several ghastly pious films, but picture the scene, cast yourself into the scene. Try to imagine it through the eyes of Jesus, or Peter and Andrew, James and John, or one of the other fishermen who were most probably there – and we have left the commentaries way behind us now, so if your want to have a detachment of Roman soldiers in the back ground, anything goes, we are in our imaginations. Then when we are firmly in the picture we can run it again and again, looking and listening from different viewpoints. I said that this works especially well with the Gospels, with imagination this can be done with any part of the Bible. Walter Brugermann has constructed an extraordinary weekend, with perhaps thirty people, imagining the church in Corinth that caused Paul to write I Corinthians ch 11 vv 17-34, or take your parish away for the weekend so you can learn to dance Psalm 107, or use Psalm 22 to re-enact the veneration of the Cross.

So that is one way into the Bible, physically climbing into it, which may include acting it out and then asking each other what it meant to them, try doing that with the four young men bringing their paralytic friend to Jesus and lowering him through the roof. You will almost certainly find that the voices that are loudest have nothing to do with how to bring others to faith but they are the householders complaining bitterly that their houses have been destroyed and the paralytics saying – don’t forget our faith, don’t just assume that because we do not go to church that we are atheists.

And that exercise leads me on to the second way of getting into the Bible, and that is listening to what the world says about it. So when we talk blithely about mission we need to remember that if we increase our congregation by even one, the congregation will change and that can be quite hard for the old congregation – the householders and their precious house. And when we go out into the highways and byways to bring in those who are outside we need to be sensitive to their faith, they may not express it in words that we recognise, they may believe things that we think anathema, their ethics might be abominable, but that doesn’t allow us to strap them to a stretcher and bring them to Jesus. And so much of the pain in the Church in Africa comes because our well meaning Victorian ancestors did just that.

But listening to the world, again this morning’s reading. I remember a very holy old lady – who was all but housebound – telling me how guilty that Gospel reading, and the average sermon on it, made her feel, because she said ‘at my age and in my state of health I can do nothing. Where is my vocation? How am I following Christ?’ Morning and evening she said her prayers; she had a comfortable chair in her bed-room, a holy place set apart. And if you knew anything about her, you would know that when a particular light was on in her flat, she was in her holy place, praying. And I told her, which was perfectly true, that I walked past her flat at least twice a day and certainly every morning and early evening her light was on and I knew that she was saying her prayers, and that gave me enormous encouragement in my rushing around. Her rushing around days were over and now in her extreme old age her vocation was to pray. That conversation allowed the two of us to see this morning’s gospel in a totally different light.

But central to our connecting the world with the Bible and ourselves through the Bible to God are the Psalms. What is it that makes the Psalms so special? Every other book in the Bible talks about God. Whether it is through History or the Law or Prophecy or Wisdom, God is revealed to us. In the book of Psalms we may have the same revelation but it is humankind talking to and about God. The Psalms developed from humankind’s reaction to God, within the context of liturgy. Many of them developed from an oral tradition, in other words they were used as hymns or entreaties or thanksgivings and polished over the years into the forms that we know them now. And since they started as oral traditions they can be quite mixed so that a hymn of praise may turn into an entreaty and then into thanksgiving. Because the Psalms are humankind’s response to God they run the gamut of human emotion. They explore and expose lust and sloth and anger and wrath and pride and gluttony and envy as well as all our virtues and particularly faith and hope and love. Tragically there are some who like to cut out the nasty bits, but for us mere mortals, even if we are never tempted by most of the seven deadly sins it is actually extremely challenging, and good for us, to be faced with those sins that do tempt us. It also teaches us to be more compassionate towards those who are tempted and succumb to sins that either we have grown out of or just, mercifully do not touch us. And if you doubt this try flying across the Atlantic with a screaming baby in the seat next door to you; Psalm 137 will seem like good advice.

The Psalm-form or perhaps more properly poetry is not confined to the Book of Psalms or even the Old Testament. In fact it is most familiar to us, probably, in the Magnificat, the Nunc Dimittis and the Benedictus. Here it is Our Lady, Simeon and Zechariah responding to the wonder of God, true paeans of praise. Another New Testament favourite is Philippians ch 2 vv 6-11, where Paul quotes what was almost certainly an early Christian hymn or creedal statement.

And for me, the importance of the Bible can be summed up in Psalm 119 v 130: ‘The opening of your word gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.’ Psalm 119 used to be the bedrock of the Monastic office and was recited, all 176 verses if not every day, every week. Jonathan Graham, sometime Superior of the Community of the Resurrection described it thus:

“Psalm 119 is a love song, not a passionate love song, nor the song of love at first sight, nor the bitter sweet of emotion and desire. It is the song of a happy married life. It breathes all the way through the charmed monotony of life vowed to another….. It repeats with endless variety and sweet restraint the simple inexpressible truth that can never grow weary or stale. ‘I love you with my whole heart’”

And verse 130 gives us all the reason we need to read the Psalms and to find the Word among us. ‘The opening of your word gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.’ For me it is the pearl of great price that is worth repeating every time that we open the Bible. We may be given great insight through sermons and homilies and commentaries, but it is familiarising ourselves with the Bible itself that is most important and reading it with the anticipation that we are going to find good things, above all light. One of the wonders of the Bible for me is that way that it illuminates all that is happening all around me. We need to read it with this expectation. ‘The opening of your word gives light: it gives understanding to the simple.’