The Revd Paul Gurnham, who finished training at Westcott House in June 2020, writes about moving into curacy in Soho and what has helped carry him into ministry.
I’m serving my title at St Anne’s, Soho, in the West End of London. While many people know Soho for its nightlife, it is also a residential area with a parish primary school, radio station and village green. Compared to neighbouring parishes our congregation has a good number of local residents and the parish has a coherent ‘village’ feel to it. The Rector has built up good community relationships over several years making St Anne’s a place of trust and, due to its sizable community hall and facilities, a community hub for Soho people.
I’ve got to know parishioners gradually amid the frustrations of facemasks and social distancing. The November lockdown has meant I’m telephoning parishioners more than before. I’m probably having fuller conversations than were possible than between lockdowns when we were open for services but had to encourage people to leave church promptly after worship. Making deliveries to peoples’ homes has got me out more with a purpose and helped me get to know the residential blocks of the parish.
St Anne’s is the venue of several twelve step programme groups (AA etc) and as support groups these continue through lockdown. School assemblies take place in church too, and of course we are open for private prayer. We also have plenty of ‘drop-ins’ for a pastoral ear or help in connecting with homelessness services. In many ways then, parish ministry feels much like it might have done without Covid.
Even without Covid I would have expected ministry to be unpredictable and fast changing and about developing good relationships. I’d never been diligent in keeping a journal before yet now amid unpredictable times journal keeping is invaluable. I had kept them for placements, so I could have more effective supervisions and material for theological reflection. However, I’d never appreciated how valuable they are in helping me discern the work of the Holy Spirit revealing purpose and bringing order out of chaos. As I reflect on any present difficulties it helps me to look back a few weeks and see how I got to this point, and indeed to see the Spirit taking challenging situations, carrying me through and indeed building me up in my vocation. Without alertness to God’s constant work here that might not be seen instantly or obviously, it would be easy to be disheartened or only to see what did not go so well this week.
Prayer life has become more important than ever. I can see now why the Office is an obligation of the clergy. Without regular frequent psalm-based prayer I think my whole ministry would stagger and lose coherence and purpose. I would also commend the Sodality of Mary Mother of Priests to any Anglo-Catholic ordinand. With a spirituality centred on the compassionate hearts of Jesus and Mary I have found its manual, prayers and fellowship (for now by Zoom!) rooting and equipping me for the challenges of ordained ministry.
Journalling, diligent reflection and prayer, then, are three things which have carried me from Westcott into curacy where they have been thoroughly put to work. Of these three, prayer is the greatest of course. Prayer is very rightly the basis of the common life at Westcott House, and especially the Office. It is fundamental not because of the skills an ordinand will no doubt develop in leading worship. Rather, this prayer is the very means by which you will be carried by Christ in ministry as you pray the words Christ prayed and the words that point to Christ.
The Revd Paul Gurnham
Assistant Curate, St Anne’s Soho