Your stories: Lyn Marsh

The Revd Lyn Marsh is a Self-Supporting Minister in the Diocese of Norwich and is Postgraduate Research Officer for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities based at the UEA.

I am an SSM…

…but it’s taken me a while to get here and what is it anyway?

I felt nudged by God to explore a calling to lay ministry and I was privileged to be accepted, trained and licensed as a Reader in 1999.  However, in my final year there was a niggle in me that God was calling me to more, except I didn’t believe it was the right time.  I had just given birth to my daughter and my son was 6.  For the next 12 years I focussed on bringing up a family and working part-time at the University of East Anglia (UEA).  One Sunday I found myself behind the altar leading a communion by extension service and I was overwhelmed.  God met me there and I felt he was calling me to explore more fully a calling to the priesthood – but even then it took me a while to put my feet on the road to ordination.  I didn’t feel called to leave my locality nor my working life.  Through conversations and examination, others in the church also came to the same conclusion and I therefore entered training with the Eastern Region Ministry Course (ERMC) in 2014.

At the ERMC I was surrounded by those in a similar position to me, we were undertaking theological training whilst continuing in employment.  But in my final year of training it hit me that I was different to the majority of them, I was not going to be ordained into a stipendiary or paid role in the Church of England, I was not leaving my employment and was to be ordained into my locality and hold a non-stipendiary position.  I was still sure it was what God had called me to but I wasn’t prepared for what this meant in practice: to juggle my working life at UEA and parish life.  My training hadn’t prepared me.

After my ordination, curacy training was geared towards those who were stipendiary, who had time during the day and who were allowed by their incumbent to participate in training, whereas I had to take a day’s annual leave or ask for permission to make the time up – difficult at certain times of the year due to the workload of my team.  My fellow curates were very patient and listened a lot to me and provided support.  My training incumbent too was good but I needed more.  I needed someone who knew what it was really like, who had experienced life as a frontline SSM.  In my diaconal year, two hope-filled events happened: I read John Lees book Self-Supporting Ministry and, following my diaconal report and discussion with Bishop Alan, I was pointed in Carol Pritchard’s direction.

John Lees book should be mandatory reading for those in theological training, let alone those in curacy training.  If you are thinking about self-supporting ministry, it will open your eyes to what it’s really like and that there are others who have this privileged ministry too.  A ministry to work and draw alongside employees in organisations outside of the church.  When I feel I am not being understood by the church, I return to that book, to encourage me.  But my biggest encourager has been Carol.  She gives me her full attention when we meet, she allows me to lead the conversation and she is a wise, understanding and prayerful companion.  We laugh, we cry, we pray, we walk together the joys and challenges of self-supporting ministry.  I am so pleased the Bishop has appointed her as his adviser for that position is really needed.  Why?  She’s been there, she’s outside the parish, she knows what being a priest means in both work and parish contexts and is an advocate for SSMs in the Diocese and beyond.

My final word however, must be to my UEA work colleagues.  My colleagues knew me before I was ordained, they accompanied me through the lengthy process of selection and training and they attended my ordination.  They have supported me, talked to me about my journey and I think as a consequence have become more open to discuss faith and their lives in the workplace with me, their priest.  Being SSM is hard but a joy.  You are in the world, close at hand to the chaos, joys and challenges facing people but I thank God for being patient with me and calling me to be in the middle of it, on the frontline.