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Michaelmas ordinations: All God’s chillun got wings

by
08 October 2021

In Winchester diocese, licensed lay ministers and ordinands are training together. Susan Gray hears more

Harvey Mills

The Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, with the Revd Jemima Lewis after her ordination in Winchester Cathedral this Petertide

The Bishop of Southampton, the Rt Revd Debbie Sellin, with the Revd Jemima Lewis after her ordination in ...

WHEN the Revd Jemima Lewis began exploring her calling to be ordained, she was childless and in her early thirties. Three children and almost ten years later, she was ordained deacon this July in Winchester Cathedral. Enthusiastically watching the live stream of the service were the licensed lay ministers (LLMs) alongside whom she trained at Winchester School of Mission (WSM).

Since 2016, Winchester diocese has increased the number of ordinands whom it sponsors for training by 70 per cent. For the Diocesan Director of Ministry, Canon Mark Collinson, this increase has its roots in the decision to allow people with a calling to train locally.

“I arrived in 2015, and would come across people who were saying: ‘I feel as if I’m called, but it’s too late now.’ I came across various stories of people who had missed out on their vocation. It was if the barriers for having their calling discerned were just too high, or they couldn’t work out how to do the training.”

LLMs had always been trained locally; so a partnership between five bodies — Guildford, Winchester, Oxford, Salisbury, and Sarum College — to form South Central TEI enabled Common Award ordination training to be offered as well. “All God’s people are gifted, all God’s people are called, and some of them are called into ministry.”

Diocese of WinchesterThe Director of Ministry in Winchester, Canon Mark Collinson, interviews Peter Rhodes at the diocesan commissioning service for lay ministry at Winchester Cathedral last month. Mr Rhodes, a pharmacist who worships at St Francis’s, Valley Park, took the one-year Common Awards programme to receive the Bishop’s Permission to Preach

Funding for ordinand training goes in a circular motion: dioceses pay into a central pot, which is then pooled and redistributed back to dioceses according to how many trainees they put forward. Dioceses then pay each TEI at which their ordinands are in training.

“The money does not come from outer space, it comes from parishes investing in their future clergy,” Canon Collinson says, highlighting the lower cost of training people in their communities on part-time courses, rather than the maintenance costs of residential institutions. “The Church is being challenged, and we have to work out how we steward what resources we have. The shift is toward self-supporting and lay ministries.”

 

HAVING worked in private sector and charity finance, Tammy King is good at reading accounts, and the high salaries on offer at the heart of the C of E and cathedrals sometimes catch her eye. Originally attending a gospel hall, she was drawn by a change of vicar to her local church in Knights Enham, near Andover. Once she was there, a plea for people to help the church led to her agreeing to train as a Reader.

Hearing God’s direct call assuaged doubts about the practicality of undertaking WSM’s three-year LLM course. “Apart from the ordinands doing a residential once a year, I didn’t consciously think there was any difference between us. There will be better working relationships between lay and ordained ministers because we have trained together.”

LLM Tammy King

Her Brethren background made Ms King a natural to lead Bible study during the course. “I had always assumed vicar training would have intensive Bible study, and they would know more than me. All of us should go into scripture in depth.”

Now licensed, she is attached to the Pastrow Group, covering churches in villages and on housing estates. Ms King has initiated weekly Bible study in the village hall and prayer walks, and wants to start a family service. “You can’t sit and wait for a family to turn up.”

Studying apologetics at WSM has made her more confident in discussing Christianity with believers of other faiths or none. And, while she is keen to explore the possibilities of interfaith work, working in the C of E and with other denominations, she is clear that combined services do not work. ‘Some people like heavy metal, some people like classical music, and they don’t want to attend the same event.”

Exactly the shape her outreach ministry will take is yet to be revealed. “I ask God loads, and hear back ‘This will become really clear.’”

 

LICENSED lay ministry is free-ranging, but the scope of the mission is inevitably shaped by the incumbent with whom LLMs work. For ordinands, boundaries can be more prescribed.

Initially intending to become an LLM, the Revd Karen West, a retired civil servant, switched to WSM’s ordination pathway in her second year. She says that the only reaction to her altered direction was: ‘We could have told you so. We knew that was the direction you were going.’”

The Revd Karen West

For Ms West, the change involved facing her second Bishops’ Advisory Panel: 20 years ago, she had come forward for ordination in Guildford, but had not been successful. As part of the transition, she explored with the rector at her home church what it would be like to wear a clerical collar, and the expectations which came with it, whether people crossed the road or instantly struck up a chat.

Having been part of St Leonard’s, Sherfield on Loddon, for ten years, she remained “Karen” to her church family, throughout the phases of training, and then an ordinand. She will serve her title in her home benefice, and says that, far from causing difficulty, her change of status has brought continuity to a collection of churches that has recently lost its two primary leaders through ill health and retirement.

As the first lay person and first woman to hold the post of Archbishop’s Adviser for Bishops’ Ministry at Lambeth Palace, Ms West is no stranger to training and leadership, describing herself as a lifelong learner. But she admits that a return to study after a ten-year break was challenging, in terms of making time for study, and following the correct form for referencing reading. She found the module on Denominational Ministry, encompassing Anglicanism’s history and the breadth of tradition, particularly interesting.

Apart from the additional residential week, in study terms Ms West found no difference between the pathways for LLMs and ordinands: “We accessed the same material, in the same way.” But she does feel that the residential week on death and dying should also ideally be available to LLMs, as lay people are involved in funerals in her benefice.

A hospital placement highlighted the potential boundaries of ministry: “There was a patient I’d seen quite a lot of, whose circumstances reminded me of someone I used to know. I had to tussle with the situation to realise I had to step back. Natural inclination is to get involved, but you cannot get too weighed down.”

Her years in diocesan consulting make her well aware of the risk of clergy burnout, she says, and the reality of “you never cross everything off your to-do list.”

Mrs Lewis says that WSM ordination training has made her aware of what can be achieved in a finite day. She was one of the youngest on the course, but juggling a young family, a writing career, and ordination training could leave her feeling broken and tired. “Then I go back to the simple things, and pray to God.”

She is now serving a two-year curacy in her sending church, St Mary’s, King’s Worthy, and says that the part-time nature of WSM’s course allowed her to remain involved in context. The course’s flexibility also let her start maternity leave halfway through one year, and return halfway through the next. And flexibility enabled trainees on the LLM pathway to augment their training to become ordinands: “The calling to lay leadership is seen as equally valuable.”

 

IN TRAINING, there was very little distinction between lay leaders and ordinands until the final year, when ordinands had to tackle the practicalities of collars and retreats. Now working with LLM colleagues, she finds them experienced and wise. “It was enriching to learn with LLMs, not a detriment: they are just as called, and just as willing to learn.”

Having set up a mother-and-baby chaplaincy, Mrs Lewis felt called to ordination through chaplaincy, but she is now open to the possibilities of an incumbent position — perhaps seeking a stipendiary post when her three-year-old starts school.

She enjoys the different traditions, and, depending on the church context, is happy to robe or not. “I can be robed, or very low, down at the front singing kid’s songs.” It is a privilege to lead, she says, whether at funerals or baptism, in the gathered church, or working with the PCC. “The School of Mission’s USP was that it appreciated all my vocations: as a mother, as a writer, and as a church leader.”

There were no Anglo-Catholics on the WSM course; so the issue of LLM status where the part played by the priest is primarily sacramental did not arise.

But the model of shared training is spreading: Ripon College, Cuddesdon, combines its part-time course for ordinands and LLMs; and WSM’s dean of licensed ministry training and vice-principal, the Revd Dr Marcus Throup, takes up a new position this month as director for St Mellitus College, London, which also trains laity and ordinands on the same programme.

Dr Collinson sums up the reasoning for potential ordinands and LLMs to train together: “In their training, they will get embedded what it is to appreciate these two distinct callings. Some people are called to be lay ministers, and some people are called to be ordained ministers, and they are both licensed to the bishop for that ministry. So it is embedding in the early stages of their formation that which they will be practicing in ministry after licensing.”

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