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Introducing Lisa the Curate...part 1

Dear Church family

This week’s letter comes to you from the confines of my house as I have been isolating for the last week. Thankfully I have tested negative for Covid-19 and feel fine. I have enjoyed some unexpected space to reflect on my journey up to this point. Many of you may know that I was licensed as a lay worker on Sunday 27th June at Chelmsford Cathedral - some of you I know tuned in via YouTube to watch. This was another step along the road for me towards ordination as a Deacon this September and the licensing marks the beginning of my new role as Assistant Curate here in Hutton Parish. Fr Andy has asked me to share with you some of my story over the next 2 weeks, to help you get to know me a little better.

I started attending worship at St Peter’s when my eldest daughter, who is now 18, was 1 year old. I wasn’t brought up in a Christian household at all, there was a slight fear around cults on the estate where I lived, and any church and religion fitted into that category for my mum. As I struggled with bringing up a new baby, not knowing what I was doing but somehow feeling that I needed more guidance than just when to feed and change her, I wanted reassurance that there was more to life than just that, for her and for me. So, I began attending the 9.30 service.

As a qualified schoolteacher, I was quickly invited into the Sunday school team, but I didn’t know the stories or concepts that I was meant to be teaching each week, so started reading the Bible before each session. I wanted to understand more, to know the answers and to work out exactly what was happening. My degree in Physiology had led me to know there was always a reason for everything, even if you couldn’t see it yourself. My beating heart wasn’t just something that happened, and if I knew where to go, I could find people with the answers to all my questions about the body. I thought the same must be true of Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible, I was just not educated enough to know the answers yet.

To help me with my questions, I joined the Confirmation Classes and was eventually Confirmed. This helped me understand some parts of the Bible but also raised a lot more questions! I also began praying to God during this period, usually in my head, but because I had only ever heard prayers said aloud in church by people who had much better grasp of ‘church’ language than me, I didn’t realise this was what I was doing! I began signing up for any courses about Christianity that I could. Most of these courses were aimed at those working with children and young people. The reason I went into teaching was to share my passion for sport and improve young people’s lives. So, it wasn’t a surprise when I started doing something similar in church.

As my questions increased through all I was doing, I eventually signed up for the Course in Christian Studies. The discussions and study with other Christians exploring their faith really helped me understand my own faith on a deeper level. At the end of the course, we were encouraged to think about what we were going to do next. I hadn’t thought about anything coming after the course and pondered for a while on the journey ahead.

A new training course eventually presented itself, accredited by the bishops, to train youth workers, volunteer and paid, in parishes across the Diocese. This appealed greatly to me, as I was now running a regular youth club in the parish and, after a bit more work and study, I became one of the first to be authorised in this role in Chelmsford Diocese. I also became the “Youth Champion” for Brentwood Deanery, helping to promote and encourage good youth work across the Brentwood area.

In 2012, I started inviting a few mums from the school gates into my home on a Friday afternoon. Many of these young mums were asking questions about what their children were learning at school, what Christianity was about, and what the words in church services meant. Along with Alice Smith, who I knew from the various youth courses I had been on, and who had just moved into the parish with her Ordinand husband Andy, we started meeting every week. We sat around my kitchen table, with this varied group of questioning mothers, drinking coffee, surrounded by small children, discussing the Bible and what it was to be a Christian.

I loved being part of this exciting new group, quickly named “Friday Mums”, taking time each week to talk and reflect and share in life’s ups and downs. We lived our lives in a closely connected way, sharing childcare, occasional holidays and day trips and the odd curry! In 2014, the Smiths moved away from Hutton, to begin Andy’s curacy in Basildon, but this group continued to meet and grow. I started to feel the need to ‘do more’ for God but wasn’t sure what that might be. Over the course of a couple of years I unsuccessfully applied for a job with The Diocese as the Bradwell Area Youth Advisor, started working for the Brentwood Schools Christian worker trust with young people in schools, and then went back to work full time as a supply teacher. None of these roles quite scratched the itch I had, and I became more unsettled as I wondered what it was God was calling me to.

Friday Mums’ group had started to work with the wider Parish to run Messy Church and Prayer Space events at St Peter’s and with All Saints’ School, and I was often the person at the front leading the singing (badly!!) or talking to the groups of children, and often their parents. As a teacher, I was used to leading assemblies for groups of teenagers, so talking to children felt quite normal. However, speaking to larger groups of adults was something different and much more terrifying!

I was still looking for the role I felt God wanted me to do and found a Youth and Family Outreach Worker role at a different church, which looked like a good fit for me on paper. I spoke to Father Tony about it, as it would have meant leaving St Peters, and he said he thought I was looking in the wrong places. He suggested I was narrowing my search by only looking at youthwork roles and that I might consider looking “wider”. It was then he asked if I had ever considered becoming a priest! I laughed and I hadn’t as I wasn’t “that sort of person”. He asked me to go away and pray about it - so that’s what I did…

With every blessing until next week,

Lisa Whymark

Assistant Curate

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