Will Lyon Tupman reflects on life as a pastoral assistant
I can almost hardly believe I’m already approaching the end of my placement as a pastoral assistant at St Michael’s, Croydon. How time flies when you’re having fun! I have had a truly wonderful placement here, which has been instrumental in my pastoral, sacramental and academic formation—both in the church and in the wider community.
The sacramental life at St Michael’s is firmly rooted in the catholic tradition of the Church of England, characterized by our daily routine of Morning Prayer, Mass and Evening Prayer. I am involved in all of these services—often either as a reader, server, or leader, as well as helping to keep the church open for our many guests who visit us throughout the day between services. I have found our prayer and worship very helpful; perhaps collectively the heartbeat of the church’s sacramental life has provided me with a spiritual anchor and consistency, which I practise both at work and on holiday. I feel this perfectly complements all the various other activities I am involved in throughout my week. Moreover, we have also made two visits to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (on the National and Adoremus Pilgrimages). These have both helped to further foster my spirituality and devotion, and I have particularly enjoyed meeting more people from the wider catholic tradition from across the country.
Croydon is one of the most diverse regions in the country; it is home to people from many different countries and cultures. However, it is also one of the most deprived regions—and, as visibly committed Christians in the community, at St Michael’s we believe a vital aspect of our ministry is in accompanying and aiding others in relieving their poverty as best as we can. As part of my placement, I have volunteered at a winter night shelter for those who are homeless, and I also volunteer every week at Croydon’s Refugee Day Centre, meeting and helping refugees from all over the world. Furthermore, I work as a chaplain at Croydon College, a diverse school of several thousand students where I have established a chess club for people of all levels of experience at the game. Many of our students are also refugees and my chess club, as well as providing a fun and educational activity for those who attend, also helps to give a much-needed confidence boost to those who are not yet as proficient in English as some of their friends. Moreover, I am a chaplain at Croydon University Hospital, visiting both patients and staff around the hospital. I have felt this to be a crucial aspect of my placement; many of the people I meet on a regular basis have experienced all kinds of loss, and yet they often still display an inspirational degree of hope. To be able to do my part in playing a role in their journeys helps me just as much as it helps them.
Alongside these pastoral and sacramental aspects, there has been a distinctly academic character to my placement. St Michael’s has been one of the most academically-focused churches I have served in to date. This particularly appealed to me, having studied theology at university. Our studies have been largely focused on various elements central to the Christian faith; the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, and the saints and sacraments. Engaging with a variety of ancient and modern texts (from St Athanasius and Melito of Sardis, to the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) has provided me with a great sense of the consistency in the development of the Church’s understanding of doctrine. I have particularly valued the variety in ways and mediums we have explored these Christian texts and doctrines, be it by seminars with the priests at St Michael’s and the Archdeacon of Hastings, or viewing and examining beautiful Christian artworks and artefacts at the National Gallery in London each term with one of the curators there. I have both furthered and expanded my theological repertoire during my time at St Michael’s, in the spirit of St Anselm’s motto of ‘faith seeking understanding.’ As well as for myself, I relish any opportunity to apply my theological learning and understanding to help other Christians on their journeys. Offering presentations to parishioners in study groups (such as our weekly Catechesis series in Church, which are open to all) gives us the perfect chance to help others around us to explore more about our faith.
My placement at St Michael’s, Croydon has been absolutely invaluable to me. I feel incredibly lucky to enjoy the experiences I have gained, and to have journeyed with the priests, my fellow pastoral assistant, and everyone else here. The placement has been vital for my vocational discernment, and particularly for the successful result I attained from my Bishops’ Advisory Panel when I was formally recommended to train for ordained ministry. My year at St. Michael’s has equipped me brilliantly as I continue my journey towards further training and formation for ordination. I am immensely grateful to everyone who has helped make this placement possible for me—to those who pray for me, to those who mentor me, and to those who have funded the placement to make it financially possible.
Will Lyon Tupman was the pastoral assistant at St Michael’s, Croydon. In September he begins training at Westcott House. Cambridge.