Depending on your specific pathway, you’ll undertake placements and projects designed to enrich your experience of the Church’s mission, and to develop your skills in pastoral care and communication. The placements will also help you discern the opportunities and complexities of the Church’s public role, and to reflect theologically on the role of the Church in society.
We do a number of placements as part of our formation – which include moving to a new church of a different tradition from your own. For one of mine, I did a placement at Croydon University Hospital, which was my first experience of chaplaincy in a healthcare setting. Taking a religious role as part of a secular organisation was really interesting. It confirmed that what I’m doing on a daily basis in my own secular job is really integrated with my faith – and that how I am at work is informed by my training.
One thing I have reflected on recently is the potential for clashes – not so much with people from other Church of England traditions, but within my own. It does happen! Undertaking formation means that you can’t take a back seat when it comes to making decisions. You have to step up. It doesn’t make life easy, but it does provide insight, which in turn helps to give you the insight and strength to act in different ways.
Sara Jane Allen
Reflections on a New Church Placement
For your placements, you’re expected to work in a church where the worship style, culture and outreach are different to your own. My local church in Guernsey is in a rural, agricultural community, so I joined the pastoral ministry team in a busy, urban church. In my professional life, I’m an interpreter and ESOL teacher, so naturally I love language, communication and people, and being able to participate in what was called ‘cruise ship ministry’ was an immense privilege. We have many hundreds of people from all over the world coming through our church doors, and they come for many different reasons. I met young people from the USA who were seeking the atmosphere our ancient church building created by generations of worshippers, as well as people from all over Europe, Asia and Africa, of many different faiths. But some people on cruises are there because they are lonely or bereaved, and are just looking for someone to talk to. We gave them a safe space to talk, and were there to listen. Being part of this ‘living witness’ was a profound experience for me.
I don’t yet know where this will take me, since the more I learn, the wider the horizons become and I don’t want to close any doors yet. Partly because of my placement experience, I am considering pastoral ministry or chaplaincy later, but for now, I am going to trust and see where I am led.
Reflections on a Prison Placement
In our second year of Reader training we are required to carry out a placement of 30 hours in a pastoral setting. I did mine in Her Majesty’s Prison Thameside, in Plumstead, South East London, with eight full-day or half-day sessions in the prison’s Faith Centre (Chaplaincy) in Spring 2016, supervised by the Anglican Chaplain.
It was a fascinating experience. I shadowed three of the chaplains as they walked around the prison, talking to prisoners and staff in the accommodation wings, the Healthcare Unit and the Care and Segregation Unit. I attended meetings: a new prisoner induction and a Good Behaviour Review. I attended services in the Faith Centre, culminating in a joyous service on Easter Sunday where four prisoners were confirmed by the Bishop of Woolwich. I also had the deep privilege of preaching and leading intercessions one Sunday.
I was so impressed by the love, care and humour demonstrated by the chaplains as they helped prisoners and staff with emotional, spiritual and practical needs. It was a joy to talk to the prisoners and share worship with them, and I was moved by the welcome given me by the prisoners who really appreciated seeing a new face from ‘outside’.
The experience was challenging but I was in good hands, with excellent support from the Chaplains. The experience was also extremely rewarding. My reflections during and after the placement helped me understand how God works in prison through the work of the Chaplains, through the genuine enthusiasm for faith of the prisoners, and through the simple act of ‘being there’ with them. I was motivated to maintain my links with the prison and am now visiting a prisoner regularly.
New Church Placement
One of your placements requires you to move to a new church for eight weeks, with a different tradition, so that you gain a broader experience of Church of England practices and contexts.
My usual church is Evangelical, and Southwark Diocese also requires Ordinands to move to a church of a different tradition whilst they are training. I moved to a church with a high Anglo-Catholic tradition, and my family came too. (My eldest son found the move particularly hard, but confessed he couldn’t stand the endless singing at our old church!) Changing traditions really makes you think about WHY you worship rather than focusing on the WAY that you worship. One of the things it has shown me is how much it is the people who make the church.
My eight-week placement was in an affluent area – very different from where I have always lived and worked. They were welcoming, but it was totally unlike anything I was used to. I found that the clergy were more like managers, and were very good at allocating tasks to people in church. I learned how institutionalised the church can be, and how much it can become about pleasing the people in a particular parish, rather than listening to what God wants. For example, if some people are very keen on running concerts in the church, are very vocal about it and have the money and skills, they can drive what happens. It seemed that there were people interested in music and the church choir, and they were the only people really getting involved, so only their voices were really heard, and pastoral support was less important.
I suggested we try to get more people across the community involved, as this experience strengthened my conviction that, as a church, we should all work collaboratively to engage people. Wherever we work, we need to understand the context and avoid hanging on to fixed ideas. We need to keep thinking about why we do what we do. If we’ve been doing the same thing for years and years, is it still the right thing now? And, most importantly, what does God want us to do? It’s easy, and natural for us to want to be successful. Harder, but vital, is to prayerfully ask God what is needed here, and have the courage to follow, however the Spirit leads.
You asked me what the stained glass represented. I hazarded a guess looking through the dirt. “The Good Samaritan,” I offered, hesitantly. You seemed uncertain of the story so I outlined it to you.You were incredulous. “Why would anyone not help someone they saw in trouble like that?”
I suggested that perhaps the equivalent today might be to help a wounded terrorist. You nodded.
After a silence, you commented that you thought the ‘Good Samaritan’ was a woman? “The ‘Woman at the Well’” I offered? You agreed. Another outsider, I was thinking but this time meeting Jesus face to face.
You were, alone, distant, missing the church community that you grew up with, the support of family and friends. Your need for reassurance, security came to the fore, the fear written across your face. Fear of the scan result, of what it might mean. In the silence, the tears welled up thinking of the devastation already wreaked by illness in your family and the prospect of history repeating itself.
With your agreement, I prayed. You stayed for the service, wept some more and left.
I will never know the outcome of your story.