Week Eight: St Benet’s Kentish Town

This week, we have a special guest contribution from Tom Crowley, working as a PA in Kentish Town. Here’s what he has to say:

I’ve been reading this blog with interest over the past few months, learning about the exploits of this year’s crop of Hornsey PAs; so I was thrilled when they asked me to write a guest post this week while they were away in Walsingham. Having spent the last year working in Kayleigh’s current job at Hornsey Parish Church, and now working as a PA at St Benet’s Kentish Town, it’s been fascinating to see the differences and the similarities between the two churches in quite different settings and at different stages of development.

St Benet's Kentish Town
St Benet’s Kentish Town

My time at St Benet’s had a somewhat unorthodox start; Fr Peter was away recovering from an operation for my first few weeks meaning that weekday services were suspended and things were quieter than usual. This had the flipside, however, of allowing me the opportunity to join the weekday worship in Hornsey and so I was able to join with both familiar faces and new arrivals for the office and daily Mass, which was lovely. I was also able to experience the 7.30am Morning Prayer (fortunately not part of my schedule last year) which was less lovely.

Of course, having been in place little over a month, it would be premature to start making any grand comparisons between the two positions. That said, already it is clear that many elements are the same; for example Mass and the offices are said daily. There is also a parish primary school, where Fr Peter leads worship every week and where we come to help out with various RE lessons. Last week saw my first visit, where we went along to the year six RE class to talk to the pupils about how Christians use colour and beauty in worship – an excellent chance for Fr Peter to get out all his vestments at once. Some lucky children even got to try on a few, although much to my distress I wasn’t allowed to do any dressing up. Instead, I was confined to assuring the children that the chalice and monstrance they were passing around was indeed worth an awful lot of money – though not quite the £10m that one excitable ten year old suggested.

tom peter bars

As in many churches, there is also ongoing catechesis which at Hornsey took the form of the new Pilgrim Course. St Benet’s has joined with our neighbouring parish of St Luke’s for an Alpha Course, which is really quite different and I approached with more than a little trepidation. Attending weekly with a small group of parishioners on a Wednesday evening has, however, changed my view entirely of the course and I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen. Although very much an introductory course, which admittedly the name would suggest, it has been an excellent opportunity to revisit and discuss the fundamentals of my faith with people from a variety of backgrounds. In fact, one such discussion has given me the basis for my first sermon (I won’t give you any spoilers!).

But there are, naturally, differences. One such is the journey in; the ten minute walk to work in Hornsey – which so often seemed like an unreasonably long journey first thing on a morning – pales in comparison to my two buses which can sometimes take up to an hour… On the plus side, when I arrive it’s my job to ring the bells before Mass and so on, which I confess to finding particularly exciting.

Hard at work

Even more shocking to the system than my newfound familiarly with London buses, is the amount of physical work I do around the church. Arguably the biggest difference I have experienced so far between placements, is the much greater amount of time I spend painting, climbing ladders and generally wearing tracksuits. My crowning triumph so far is certainly getting to the very top of some rather unsteady step ladders to replace a broken light bulb. That the issue later transpired to be the wrong switch being pressed, rather than a blown bulb, in no way diminishes my success.

Having spent a year working as a PA, I was a little worried that a second year before – hopefully – the beginning of my time at seminary could be repetitive and perhaps not especially useful. But already I can see that this will not be the case. Every indication is that this year will be one where I can build on the foundations of a wonderful year spent at Hornsey to deepen my understanding of the life and work of a priest, to grow in faith and discipleship and to further discern God’s will for my life.

I was sincerely grateful to have been able to spend a year doing exactly that, and feel truly blessed that I have the opportunity to continue to do so over the coming year. I hope that all three of the Hornsey PAs have as transformational a time as I did, and would ask you all to pray for them, and me, as we all continue on our paths of discernment.

Advertisements

Week Seven! Holy Trinity Stroud Green, and St. Pauls Harringay

When we began this blog, I was not aware how helpful and nice it would be to have a platform to talk about my time as a Pastoral Assistant. Even after only a couple of weeks, it has sparked some highly interesting talks and rather than being a burden is really a joy to write and (rather optimistically) I hope it is well received.

Since starting here just shy of two months ago we have had the most wonderful of receptions and been made to feel extremely welcome and that our contribution is valued. No week has this been more so than the one just past and here are some of the highlights.

Sunday the 11th, the eve of my Birthday, saw our first Compline of the term.

Curry post Compline
Post Compline Curry 

Stephen and I have been encouraged to take the lead with a few services, and Compline was one that I organised. Preying on the generosity of a few friends we had a sung Compline which started with the Cornysh Ave Maria Mater Dei (one of the best settings of all time). I am hugely grateful to those who sang and helped in the leading, but the most pleasing part was to have so many people in the congregation! I had thought with it being a Sunday evening that very few people would come so I was very pleased when the twenty service booklets I provided were insufficient. They could have been there for the prosecco afterwards, but even so it was a beautiful evening, with nice music and good company. To have several people who had never previously entered the church come and say how much they enjoyed it and ask ‘When is the next one?’ was thrilling.

Birthday Meal
Birthday Meal

Monday 12th October -The Feast of St Wilfred- The birth date of Luciano Pavarotti, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Hugh Jackman and little old me. Cue more food, more hospitality and a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Tuesday 13th October, last Tuesday I re-established saying the rosary as part of the weekly schedule at Holy Trinity, Hannah the Lay Reader at St. Paul’s had found out and so asked if we could have the Rosary at St. Pauls as well. So I ended up leading it twice and it was very nice and cheering that so many people turned up for it.

Wednesday 14th October, I have begun the process of seeing the DDO (the person one goes to talk to if you want to become a priest) and so dutifully went off to see Fr Jonathan Trigg. Discerning a vocation is not an easy process and finding the right language to talk about it is not straight forward, Fr Trigg has been excellent in this regard and this was a splendid day.

Rosary
Rosary

Thursday 15th October. Once a month we receive a theology lecture from Fr Dowler:  these are a chance for all the North London Pastoral Assistants to come together and grow in our theological knowledge. Following the lecture we take it in turns to do a little presentation, and this time it was mine. I fear I may have got a bit heated in the discussion, but was pleased with how it went. This was then followed by lunch after which we had a good long chat. However, there was then an unfortunate turn of events. Some of you may have realised it should be Kayleigh writing, but she was unfortunately taken ill on Thursday. Over the time we have been here we have grown very close as a house and get along well, so it is particularly hard that at time of writing Kayleigh is still not home and I ask that you, like we are doing, keep her in your prayers.

Friday 16th October, excluding a terrible train journey, Friday was a normal day with the daily round of Morning Prayer, Mass, and Evening prayer providing the rock on which all our work is based. Oh and the normal weekly fun of photocopying.

Saturday 17th October Day Off!

Taize
Taize

Sunday 18th October Busy long day- St. Luke’s Day. Holy Trinity also has St. Luke as a patron and there was a lovely day to celebrate, with yes you guessed it, more food, nice fellowship, and in the evening Stephen organised a beautiful Taizé which I shall leave him to write about, I also hope he mentions his singing of the Gospel acclamation which was superb.

This was a big busy week, I ended up doing thirty services, moving furniture, eating too much, seeing lots of friends and having some challenging experiences. Living and working here in North London is proving to be a blessing and I am very grateful and happy to be here and to all who made this past week so rich, challenging and forming.

Moving St. Paul
Moving St. Paul

Week Six: Holy Innocents, Hornsey

“What kind of a Christian are you?”

Trying to look the part
Trying to look the part

This was a question I was asked a couple of weeks ago, and something I had to think about quite carefully. I grew up as a chorister in a traditional Anglo Catholic Parish and Holy Innocents is very much in the same mould. The Eucharist (or ‘Holy Communion’- when Christians share bread and wine together in memory of Jesus) is extremely important to me, and I recall being very excited about my first Communion aged 10. Here in Hornsey, I have the opportunity to receive Communion on a daily basis. Not all parishioners are so fortunate, however, and last week I had the special experience of doing my first ‘home visit’, where I took Holy Communion to a lady who also celebrated her 90th birthday later that week. It was clear to me how important receiving Holy Communion was to her and I also learnt a lot about Holy Innocents in the process as she recounted years of fascinating stories about the Parish.

University Challenge

As I mentioned above, my Christian journey started at a young age, and my Confirmation aged 12 was a very special moment for me. I also thoroughly enjoyed taking Religious Studies at school right until A Level Philosophy and Ethics, which included some very challenging but fascinating theological dilemmas.

In choir robes
In choir robes

However, my biggest challenge to my Faith came when I arrived at University. When you turn up at university as a fresher, your mind is very much focused on making friends signing up to as many societies as you can, as well as enjoying many nights out! So, Church unfortunately slipped down my list of priorities, until I became friends with a person on my course called Peter, who invited me to come to some Christian Union events with him in Durham. These events posed some difficult questions, and made me realise that it simply isn’t good enough to be a ‘casual’ Christian who claims to believe yet doesn’t go Church.

Perhaps the biggest turning point for me was being named Godfather to a beautiful girl called Alia, who I love spending time with. However, I was slightly ashamed at her Christening when my Parish Priest asked me if I’d been going to Church in Durham and I had to reply honestly and say no.

with Alia
with Alia

When the new term started, Peter invited me to come to a ‘taster’ evening at his Evangelical student Church. The style of worship was completely different to what I was used to, but I was determined to ‘shake up’ my faith and got stuck in at this new Church, signing up to the Student Bible Study group, which was looking at Romans. It was a thoroughly rewarding experience taking a really close look at this Biblical book, and has since made me place a much greater importance on Bible Study.

Ultimately, things didn’t quite work out for me at that Church but it did give my faith a new lease of life, and I have enjoyed getting stuck into Bible Study groups since then. I particularly enjoyed being able to lead a session on the Psalms at Holy Innocents last week, and it was really exciting to see people talking so passionately about their favourite Psalms, and why they are so special to them.

Adventure Abroad

My final Sunday in Toulouse
My final Sunday in Toulouse

Many university linguists will say that the Year Abroad is their toughest Christian year, and it was certainly testing for me. Although I flirted with the idea of attending Lutheran Churches in Hannover, I never really got going during my six months there. However, when I moved to Toulouse, the Anglican chaplaincy was to prove invaluable for me. The congregation were extremely welcoming and in a very short time I had the opportunity to do read, lead intercessions and even sing during the services. I was often unhappy in Toulouse but whenever I went to Church I felt rejuvenated, and that reminded me how important it is to trust God, no matter what difficulties you may encounter. In fact, it was towards the end of my time there that I began to tell certain friends and family that I was considering ordination, having had it at the back of my mind for a very long time. I received an incredible amount of support, which was extremely encouraging for me.

Ossie's Student Group
Ossie’s Student Group

When I returned to Durham, I was fortunate to find a wonderful Parish Church called St Oswald’s where I was able to serve God by singing in the choir, participating in the student group, reading, leading prayers and even getting to preach for the first time! It is no exaggeration to say that the ‘Ossie’s’ community felt very much like a second family to me.

Continuing the journey: the Present

A Happy Holy Innocents Sunday
A Happy Holy Innocents Sunday

So, my exciting Christian journey has now brought me to another Church community here in North London, and I am able to test my vocation by serving God throughout the week. So far, I feel like I am in the right environment, largely thanks to the kindness of the Parishioners and Clergy, who have taught me so much in a short space of time. I am also able to use my musical skills and also gain new skills as part of the Worship life here. The training has so far been invaluable, and I have been able to witness the Church’s pastoral life outside of Sunday services, even on sad occasions such as a funeral for two still born babies. I believe I still have a long way to go on my journey, and the next biggest challenge is developing a more disciplined personal prayer life, which Father Tim is helping me with.

Serving the Lord in matching jumpers
Serving the Lord in matching jumpers

So what kind of Christian am I then? I have experienced several different Churches with several different traditions over the past few years, but I believe my heart lies rooted in the Eucharistic tradition. However, I find particular labels based on different traditions can often be unhelpful. Kayleigh, William and I all have different backgrounds and different opinions, but we share one thing in common: a desire to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. So, perhaps the question should be rephrased to “Why are you a Christian?”. The answer is simple: I am passionate about Christ and want to dedicate my life to serving Him.

Week Five: Holy Trinity Stroud Green and St Paul’s Harringay

“For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required” Pope Benedict

Barman duties.
Barman duties.

My past week: well, I am still losing at tennis; I have had some rather long days; have been rather busy; attended a splendid lecture by Eamon Duffy; did some singing, and again had too much to eat… see photos below.

I thought rather than describe my week, I would attempt to answer a question I was posed back in August.  ‘Are you sure you want to be a priest, and if so why?’

The Three of us attending a talk at the London Spirituality Centre.
The Three of us attending a talk at the London Spirituality Centre.

Now I must admit I didn’t give a very good answer, it may have had something to do with having had a drink and failing to get under a fence resulting in an electric shock… So what follows is my attempt to give an answer that is better than: ‘because I can’t imagine doing anything else’ followed by mumbling something about leading prayers etc…

Fundamentally I want to be a priest to have a life devoted to telling people about the Gospel- about the love of Christ; to educate and bring people to Christ; to be the Ikon of Christ; preside at the Mass; to have ‘the stark realisation it is the first person singular I am using [in the Eucharistic prayer]’ as Basil Hume so beautifully explains in Searching for God. To lead a community in prayer; grow in knowledge of the Logos; to be a man of prayer, sharing my excitement for the Gospel by engaging with the wider community.

So where does this come from? Well my first memory is going to Church, I was not at all interested in what the people in funny robes where doing but in the music.

Fr Patrick winning at bowling.
Fr Patrick winning at bowling.

This began a fascination with music and with prayer. Church music and prayer to me are one and the same, and I happily went along enthralled in my music without really thinking about the prayer. First worshipping as a Cathedral Chorister and later as a Choral Scholar, until I went to the Edington Festival. By this time I was considering ordination, or to be more accurate thinking ‘what am I going to do post university?’

Edington Festival
Edington Festival

For those that are not aware of it, the Edington Festival of Music Within The Liturgy (to give it is full title), is just that, a festival of music performed in its correct setting within the liturgy. Not just a series of beautiful concerts, but a week of wonderful prayer.

Tom Wright at the start of Finding God in the Psalms says ‘I wish I could sing this book so I could make my point clearer’. I know precisely what he means, I wish I could put my love for Christ across as beautifully as a Lassus Mass, or as full of pathos as Caldara’s Crucifixus, or Lobo’s requiem mass. Pope Benedict wrote “For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required.”

Music brought me to my faith, and I want to share that joy with others. Christ did not die for himself, he died ‘making such music as lives still,’ as R.S Thomas points out when considering the challenges of fitting music, worship, praise and prayer; each of these entities are for a glory greater than their own singularity. The Edington festival- where music is prayer, and prayer is music, where what is aesthetically pleasing has a profound importance- had a marked effect on me.

Harvest Festival at Holy Trinity
Harvest Festival at Holy Trinity

It was in this context that I started to explore a calling more seriously. During the course of the week there was a superb series of sermons, but one in particular struck me- it was on Fr Lowder, and it centred on his work in Wapping during the cholera outbreak. The message of priestly devotion and love for the care of his Parish left a lasting impression.

This was a priestly example that hooked me: not someone who was good with figures, or bureaucracy, but a priest who through kindness, love and devotion to his people became a loved and respected priest. As a small boy I grew very fond of the Canon Pastor at Peterborough, Canon Christie, he came to all our chorister parties (ate all the food), was a supportive and encouraging man and the first person I ever spoke to about becoming a priest, his kind and gentle advice, has stayed with me. The small simple acts of love and kindness that we do can be and are life changing.

Week Four: Hornsey Parish Church

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…” (W.B. Yeats, The Second Coming)

Dramatic though the above quotation may be, fear not! My week hasn’t been all that bad at all- quite the opposite- and I’m certainly feeling nowhere near as bleak as Yeats must have been when he wrote of the horrific post-war vision which ‘troubles [his] sight.’ I have, however, been thinking about this poem a lot over the past few days and I thought it provided a pertinent basis for this week’s entry.

With Fr Bruce at the Barn Dance
With Fr Bruce at the Barn Dance

My week got off to a less than salubrious start, it must be admitted, as I arrived at church for Morning Prayer only to learn that my voice was nowhere to be found. A cold was brewing. I then decided to follow up my whisper with a bang and took a tumble down a step, much to the annoyance of my ankle which let me know, in no uncertain terms, just how little it thought of that. Between the sniffles and the ankle swelling, I spent a lot longer at home than is usual for me, and though at first my stubborn self didn’t think this a good thing at all, I’ve since realised that forced rest was far more of a blessing than a curse.

Thoughtful looking parishioners at Meeting Point
Thoughtful looking parishioners at Meeting Point

Mentally, I like to think I thrive on activity. To quote Sherlock Holmes, “my mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work.” The past few weeks have been busy, and I’ve had plenty to occupy my thoughts. Everything is new, and incredibly exciting, and I had every intention of getting stuck into as many activities as possible. Yes, there was me, ‘turning and turning in the widening [and largely self-created] gyre.’ It may well have been the most exhilarating example of one, but I had still set myself to run on a kind of self-created hamster wheel, building momentum but never taking the time to consider why.

Decorating for the Barn Dance- my first attempts at flower arranging
Decorating for the Barn Dance- my first attempts at flower arranging

Silent prayer and contemplation can be quite a challenge at times; in the past it has been very much my preference to pray while doing something else- taking a walk in a park, for instance. I am, I suppose, disquieted by the quiet. Frustrating though I found being instructed to rest to be at first, I don’t think I would have made the link between myself and Yeats’s falcon without it- I have definitely not been taking enough time to hear God in all my zeal. I won’t say that I had some great sofa-based revelation as I took this time to try and listen- it’s something I still found very tricky- but it’s a start. Head still heavy and foggy with cold, I nevertheless felt a little lighter for the attempt.

Some very happy Barn Dancers
Some very happy Barn Dancers

Light was to be found in other places, too. I’ve been made to feel so welcome here and the kindness of parishioners never fails to make me smile, even through ankle related tears. I’ve been complimented several times on how cheerful I am, but it’s hard not to be amidst all the open warmth. Community spirit was in great abundance this week: first at Meeting Point, where parishioners get together, some providing food and all providing fellowship; then there was the Barn Dance, where a combined effort of preparation turned into a wonderful night for lots of happy people, many of whom had not been to the church before; finally, the week was rounded off with a meal at the YMCA, prepared by trustees for the residents who received it with great enthusiasm (especially the crumble dessert!)

Preparing food at the YMCA
Preparing food at the YMCA

Happy though that latter occasion was, it was also occasion for some stark conversations about the issues faced by some young people today: homelessness, unemployment and zero hour contracts among them. The Barn Dance, too, was a joyful experience enjoyed in the knowledge of how very lucky we are, with some of the funds raised going to help Syrian refugees for whom such a night must seem a very distant concept at present. In his sermon on Sunday, Fr Dennis spoke of both Moses and Jesus respectively and how, despite all the wisdom and godliness of their leadership and teachings, things still ‘fell apart.’ Fr Dennis related this pattern to the second law of thermodynamics which dictates, in brief, that disorder will always follow order. Yeats is therefore quite correct: “the centre cannot hold,” or not under its own power, in any case. It can, however, be supported by the good we are all capable of, as we in turn have an eternal ballast in God, whenever we choose to turn to Him.

Action shot
Action shot

As I go ahead in this placement and attempt to find the right balance of increased mindfulness and continued drive to serve God in an active way, I’ll be sure to carry with me Yeats’s warning on how a human being should not be, and pray for the self-awareness to realise if I ever stumble towards such an epitaph:

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

Week Three: Holy Innocents, Hornsey

Who am I?

Sunday Psalm Singing
Sunday Psalm Singing

Hello! The past two weeks you have been entertained by my two housemates and fellow Pastoral Assistants, Kayleigh and William. So now it’s my turn- yippee! My name is Stephen, and at a mere 22 years and 11 months (my birthday arrives next week), I am very much the ‘baby’ of the household. Fresh out of university, I graduated from Durham this summer, having studied French and German.

My job: What do I do?

'Acolyting'
‘Acolyting’

Along with Kayleigh and William, I am based in North London undertaking a year’s Church internship. Like William, I spend a lot of time during the week at Holy Trinity and St Paul’s Harringay, but I am based primarily at Holy Innocents Hornsey, where I am supervised by the vicar, Fr Tim Pike (who, coincidentally, attended the same Durham college as me). I have a background as a choral singer, so for the main Parish Mass on Sunday I sing both the Psalm and the Gloria as well as doubling up as a server. In addition to the Midweek Masses and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, I also accompany Fr Tim on some home visits, as well as producing the weekly Parish News Sheet.

My take on the past week…

In rehearsal
In rehearsal

As I’ve only been here three weeks, it’s hard to describe a ‘typical’ six day working week, but perhaps that’s one of the true marvels of this job: it is extremely varied and every day is different. This week was also unusual as William went away for a graduation ceremony, which gave me the chance to step into his shoes and do several things for the first time, including conducting a choir for a whole Evensong.

Our New Toy
Our New Toy

Indeed, Tuesday was very much a ‘day of firsts’ for me. I led Morning and Evening prayer for the first time (a daunting experience, particularly when the service comes from several different sections of a long book!) and also made my serving debut  at Holy Trinity and St Paul’s. It was an exciting challenge adapting to the different styles in those churches. Fr Tim and I also acquired the pastoral assistants’ first ‘work’ PC, and I had my first experience of a funeral visit to a widow, which I found very moving and a useful example of Church pastoral care.

Getting to grips with the thrurible
Getting to grips with the thrurible

Although my home parish is Anglo-Catholic, I had never previously served at Mass.  So, on Wednesday Fr Tim kindly agreed to give me a ‘thrurifer tutorial’: basically how to swing the incense around. Despite years of watching on, thinking it looks easy enough, it requires a specific technique, which I am yet to master. My newly acquired skills have not yet been unleashed at Mass, but I should be doing it next Sunday.

Post lecture refuelling
Post lecture refuelling

Whilst Pastoral Assistants spend a lot of time doing practical tasks, we are also asked to reflect theologically about our time here. Once a month, we gather for a theology class led by Fr Edward Dowler. Our first session focussed on Pope Francis’s writings on Evangelisation and the importance of preaching, which sparked an interesting debate about what counts as a good sermon. A cold autumnal day demanded some warm soup, but after that William and I felt sufficiently energised to lock horns in some tense tennis combat, after which I narrowly escaped victorious.

Serving for Fr Eric
Serving for Fr Eric

Friday saw the return of Fr Eric to St Paul’s, and he preached a powerful sermon, saying that no matter how much money we have, we can only find true happiness in Christ. This was a thought- provoking start to a day which culminated in a trip to the Old Vic theatre with Kayleigh. Because Kayleigh works at Hornsey Parish Church I don’t see her as much as I see William, so it was lovely to spend the evening together, albeit in the company of several thousand jubilant rugby fans making their way home from Twickenham.

Celebrating a successful Evensong
Celebrating a successful Evensong

After a relaxing Saturday  spent with my family, I returned to work with a bang on Sunday as the day of the Evensong arrived. I had not met the choir before the afternoon rehearsal so I was apprehensive but the friendly atmosphere and high quality singing ensured that everything went swimmingly and I look forward to working with this great bunch of people during the year. Sadly we had to say goodbye to Anna, the long-serving cantor and treasurer at St Paul’s. I wish her all the best at theological college and for her future ministry. While I’m still not sure what the future has in store for me, I’m very much enjoying serving Christ in Hornsey. If I can serve up a few more tennis aces in the process, I’ll be even happier.

Week Two: Holy Trinity Stroud Green and St Paul’s Harringay

Well this week, it is my turn to write about all my activities.

Pouring Prosecco.
Pouring Prosecco.

So a little about me. My name is William Hamilton-Box and I hail from Kent. In the old calendar my birthday is Feria, but I have since been awarded St. Wilfred. His feast falling imminently means the inevitable ageing process cannot be stopped and I will soon be 25.

So with a brief account of my background completed what follows is my last week in diary form to mark a busy few days.

Monday began with morning prayer at 7.30; a trifle early but we are yet to wake up to a grey morning. Growing up as a Cathedral Chorister meant beginning and ending the day singing with people; this was a wonderful part of my childhood, and praying together at the start and end of the day has really helped in building a sense of true community here. Following morning prayer, we had Mass at Holy Innocents at which Fr Patrick spoke about keeping Sunday as a day of prayer and devotion to the Lord; as Pastoral Assistants we are in the very lucky position that we have time to pray each day.

Tuesday we made our first trip into a C of E school we help at. Mainly we help with assemblies and reading: the school is built up of people from different ethnic backgrounds, many of whom don’t have English as a first language.

Tucking into some more food.
Tucking into some more food.

The biblical idea of welcoming the stranger in your midst being the basis for doing this reading support which is essential for children’s literacy development.

And it’s also been wonderful how we have been welcomed the past two weeks, with food, drink, kind welcoming parishioners. I have grown very fond of some the cooking, my waistline at this rate will ever be increasing. Especially if Cicely makes any more of her delicious almond cake.

The Loyal Toast,
The Loyal Toast,

Wednesday. Today we celebrated the Queen’s long reign. Now as the others will attest I am devoted to the Queen. So I was very pleased by this and celebrating the Queen’s reign with Prosecco in the Vicarage following Mass was delightful and a really good opportunity to get to know the people of the Parish… and have more food.

Thursday saw us attend a talk in Westminster. Once a month we have a formation session for which we are meeting up with the Pastoral Assistants of the Two Cities. This was really good too meet the other interns who came from a vast array of backgrounds, and had such varied ideas about the same thing.  The topic was ‘time management’, led by someone who was, ironically, late.

Friday was a glorious morning – the sky at six was lovely, (one of the bonuses of early starts), we dutifully walked to morning prayer, and then full of enthusiasm went in to school having organised our reading slots for next week to give in all our forms.

Votive Mass of Our Lady on Friday. Fr Tim presiding.
Votive Mass of Our Lady on Friday. Fr Tim presiding.

With this accomplished I went over to St. Pauls Harringay. One of my responsibilities here is to be the sacristan, and I began by spending a good three quarters of an hour polishing the lectern, then sorted out some cupboards in the sacristy. 10 am brought the arrival of Fr Tim, but having set up vestments for the day, Fr then decided that instead we would have a votive Mass of our Lady, and what a blissful mass it was. Simple, with a very good sermon, that was full of encouragement as we start upon this new adventure, and we were all urged to reflect on Our Lady’s welcoming of the changes thrust upon her by God.

Cleaning with Hannah.
Cleaning with Hannah.

Following mass my work tidying up resumed and this time I was aided by Hannah, one of the Lay Readers, it must seem like I am repeating myself, but she, like all the parishioners so far, has been so encouraging and welcoming and a real delight to spend time with.  Oh and I may have wondered off for a bit and played the organ, (attempted to play the organ).

Saturday is our day off, and mine saw me hurtle to Peterborough, to go and spend time with my little nephew.

With my Nephew.
With my Nephew.

Working six days a week means that our day off feels very precious and to have a few hours entertaining a small child and relaxing was a very good break.

Sunday, the beginning of a new week, my week to lead morning and evening prayer, though I may have some improving to do as Brenda (the Holy Innocents Lay Reader) clearly decided I had gone on too long and so jumped in with the reading a little early…

Sundays are a little strange for me in that I alternate each week as to what Church I attend for Mass but I always go to both churches for at least some time. Anyway, this week I went to St. Pauls to help set up for Mass and then as soon as the service started there, walked the little distance to Holy Trinity. All the Churches have slightly different ways of doing things, but I was kept in check by an excellent serving team. Sundays are for me the high point of the week: you get to see all of the congregation, and going to three churches means I get this joy thricefold. I am still meeting new people and getting to know them but already have been made to feel very much part of the family.

Dinner
Dinner

This feeling of being welcomed and being a community is certainly true of our House, as we shared a roast. I did help peel potatoes and wash up but the real credit has to go to Kayleigh and Stephen, who so far have proven to be really good people to live with, and we have had some enlightening conversations.

During the past two weeks Stephen and I have been getting to know each other by playing tennis. The sets tend to go as follows: Stephen leads to start with; I play really well in the middle of the game; I get tired and then he beats me easily. So that by the end of the week that our games are getting closer is hugely pleasing.

Hard at work
Hard at work

It has also been great in that following the games we come back feeling rejuvenated, and on the way home have had conversions varying from sport; our views on assisted dying; why a priest does this and that at the altar; politics; and general chit chat.

Whilst Stephen and I work together we also share the flat with Kayleigh. Part of being a Pastoral assistant is community living: we are not three people who simply share a house, but three people intentionally living together and it has been really nice, we have eaten together, had long talks, watched films and really got on well as a house. Spending time eating and praying together is one of the best ways I think there is to get to know people, and having a life based around this has been wonderful. It also leads one to be very proud of seeing each other do well: on Friday observing Kayleigh interact so effortlessly and kindly with a parishioner; Stephen making jokes, or making some rather profound reflection; Kayleigh’s excitement at getting all the serving right on Sunday and countless other little things.

And I conclude with the Salve Regina which I have found so sustaining and central to my prayer life this past few weeks.

Salve Regina Solemnis
Salve Regina Solemnis

Week One: Hornsey Parish Church

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

IMG_0428
Found: one old cassock, not a bad fit! Lost: two arms.

My name is Kayleigh: I’m a theatre fan, a music lover, a terrible dancer and a Pastoral Assistant in North London. None of my relatives are in any way connected to the church (or, indeed, with this area) and any friends I have who also worship regularly are those I met at services. For years I attempted to squash myself into a family approved mould I was ill-suited to fitting: excellent grades, excellent university, excellent degree, career path mapped out (an excellent one, of course). Upon reaching the final stage in ‘project conformity,’ however, I had opportunity to sit back and take stock: I needed to find my own way. I needed a transformation.

IMG_0445
Fr Tim, former PA Fr Damien, Stephen and William in our living room for the flat blessing.

There were no lightning bolts and garish neon ‘this way’ signs accompanying this revelation- discernment is no easy task. What started as ponderings turned to prayers and then to possibilities. At first my ‘call’ to the church was more of a whisper, but it grew louder. Still, ordained ministry being far less a career than a way of life, it’s not a route that can be taken in any way lightly. But how would I know if I would suit such a life and if it would suit me? Enter the North London Pastoral Assistant Scheme. I applied to work at Hornsey Parish Church, and several months later here I am, writing this blog entry from our rather delightful PA flat.

The Mass after our flat blessing. William, Stephen and I tried our hands at serving for Fr Tim, Fr Patrick and Fr Damien under the watchful eye of Brenda.
The Mass after our flat blessing. William, Stephen and I tried our hands at serving for Fr Tim, Fr Patrick and Fr Damien under the watchful eye of Brenda.

My fellow PAs will be introducing themselves in later entries, but we’re a diverse little bunch. Though we come from dissimilar backgrounds and have very different views on various matters (politics, sports, the necessity for matching socks…) we have yet to argue in anything more than jest. In the areas that count, we’re a unit, each of us very much at one in Christ. We had a flat blessing a few days ago by Fr Damien- a former resident who has since been ordained- but the truth of the matter is that the very fact that we have the flat is one of the greatest blessings of all. Brenda, our landlady who lets us live here rent free, is an absolute marvel without whom this scheme would not exist. Our new abode has everything we could ever wish for, including an Anderson Shelter in the garden for the boys to hide in when I’m set loose in the kitchen!

IMG_0466
The motley Elder crew: myself, Stephen and William.

This week has flown by in a blur of new facts and faces. It’s wonderful getting to know so many parishioners with such rich stories to tell, and Hornsey is an area where many interesting people seem to converge. None of the tasks I did in my first week felt like ‘work’, rewarding as they were, but my brain felt frazzled after a few days. Once I get more settled into a routine and my somewhat inadequate internal facial recognition software starts to kick in I’m sure I’ll be in my element, however. School terms have only just started, but I’ll be giving assemblies soon and I’m looking forward to doing more home visits and getting to know some more people at the YMCA. In fact, I’m excited about pretty much everything except the early and increasingly chilly mornings.

The wonderful Naomi and Pam from Hornsey Parish Church along with Brenda. I'd be lost without them!
The wonderful Naomi and Pam from Hornsey Parish Church along with Brenda. I’d be lost without them!

My September so far has been a month of firsts. Before arriving here I’d never participated in structured morning and evening prayer, but I’m just about getting the hang of what I’m supposed to say and when; I’d never previously served during Mass, and here I am having acted as crucifer at one service and thurifer at another- and without setting fire to a thing, I might add. This time last week I’d also never sampled goat curry and I really think I’ve been missing out (the food here is amazing and plentiful. They’re going to have to drag me out). Yes, I’ve made mistakes, but I’m learning and I couldn’t ask to be surrounded by a more supportive group of people. Fr Bruce, Fr Ben and the rest of the wonderful Hornsey team have made me feel very welcome. Though I don’t think I’ll ever stop being my own harshest critic, under their guidance I’m beginning to see my errors as chances for growth and I’m getting bolder as a result.

Getting into the swing of things.
Getting into the swing of things.

On the Sunday before my official start as PA, Fr Ben delivered a sermon in which he described baptism as being akin to the crossing of a railway track or a division between two realms, the crossing over from one world into another. That was how I felt at the time, too, like I was on the threshold of something wonderful and terrifying, getting ready to make a leap into the unknown. Apprehensive though I was, I’m so very glad I decided not to conform but instead to take a deep breath, trust in God and allow myself to venture along a new track of transformation and discernment along with my fellow PAs.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

(‘The Road Not Taken’, Robert Frost)