Taking off the L plates

This is Rev Sue’s article from the October issue of our parish magazine. Here it is for you again:

Eight years ago, we moved into the area and began to look around for a church where I would worship every Sunday. We went to a few different churches, but none was quite right. Then we found St Margaret’s, where I immediately felt at home. The style of worship and the music appealed to me, and there was a welcome and friendliness straight away. As I got to know the church better, I continued to believe that my decision was the right one. People were open minded and respected each other, and I found it a caring and inclusive community. It ticked all my boxes, and it was the church where I felt called to worship.

A short while later I experienced another call – to the ordained ministry. For my training and for my curacy, I continued to believe that St Margaret’s was the right place for me. It became a joy to also take services at St George’s, which reminds me of the village church I attended as a teenager. And lastly, on September 12th, I was licenced by Bishop Mark as an associate priest to the parish. Now I know that St Margaret’s has had, in the past, incumbents (the vicar) and curates (trainees) but this is the first time there has been an associate priest, so I thought I would explain what that means.

Firstly, I am what is known as an SSM (a self-supporting minister). In other words, I am not paid. I have a contract, specified hours of work, and the same training and qualifications as paid clergy, but there is one crucial difference – I have a lot more choice. I can specify my hours (in my case half time) and I can have much more input in the decision about where I work. I am not restricted to churches where there is a vacancy – I can offer myself as an extra priest in a parish where there is already a paid vicar.

The most obvious role from the congregation’s point of view is taking services – only a priest can preside at the Eucharist and take weddings and baptisms. Bishop Mark at my licensing said these word “Receive this ministry which is both mine and yours” which includes “worship and witness, mission and pastoral care”. So, I share with him and with Deborah and the bishops the responsibility for looking after the people of the parish – not just the church goers, but everyone who lives within it. It is often said that the priest “brings God to the people, and the people to God”. As I write that it feels like a huge responsibility, but I believe that it is what God has called me to do. It is about the Eucharist and preaching, Lent groups and magazine articles, schools work and community involvement, and very importantly about prayer. And it is about being a representative of the whole church of God in this place, which is why we are identifiable by wearing clergy collars.

You promised at the licensing service to support me, and I know that you will. Without that support I can do very little. I look forward to my ministry with you and among you strengthening and developing in new ways, and I thank you for inviting me to be your Associate Priest.

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