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The Revd Rachel Foster is Assistant Curate in the Poringland Benefice as a Self-Supporting Minister.

I received ‘the call’ whilst a serving police officer and, to be honest, it was the last thing on earth I wanted to be doing! However, it did not go away, and it was impossible to ignore. I was approaching retirement from the police and had been recently widowed so my life was disrupted enough already. At least that is the way I viewed it. I was in the police from early 1980s – 2013 with a gap whilst I brought up my two children.

I joined the police chaplaincy team after retiring as a frontline officer and this was before I had even considered, let alone been accepted for, formation to the priesthood.

I completed my ordination IME1 training with the Eastern Region Ministry Course and stayed at my current parish as assistant but with a Pioneer leaning that had been discerned during the early stages of exploration.

I always knew I was not called to parish ministry and my previous experience in chaplaincy with the police was a springboard to work with the Each Anglian Children’s Hospice at Framingham Earl as a volunteer chaplain when they relocated to our benefice area from Quidenham approximately three years ago.

I had previously worked as a group leader with Musical Keys in the 90s and had led groups in Norwich and at Quidenham hospice, so this was a pleasant revisit with my work with special needs children as EACH offer a lot of respite care as well as end of life care to children and their families.

I currently work proactively one day a week at the hospice and at other times when required, both with staff and with families.

It is pretty amazing as I see how the hand of God has led me through the paths of Musical Keys and police chaplaincy to be where I am now in my later years of life – a time when it is traditionally expected to be winding down a bit!

My experience as a member of Norfolk police – re-joining after producing a family – caused me to be very diversity-aware, for which I am hugely grateful, and I find myself drawn to the areas of diversity sadly lacking currently in the church. I am one of the Diocesan advocates for the Living in Love and Faith initiative.

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. 

Annie is a priest serving in St George Tombland, St George Colegate and St Giles. She is also chaplain at The Matthew Project in Norwich. Annie was a research fellow in the School of Medicine at UEA for 20 years and retired last year.

“I am a priest, serving God and serving my brothers and sisters in the centre of Norwich and sometimes… I have to pinch myself at the magnitude of this privilege. Although I’m quite old, I’m a baby priest and sometimes I feel like a newborn and sometimes I feel like I’ve been doing this all my life.

The fact that I am self-supporting is of no consequence to me, as that doesn’t define me as a priest; the difficulties of the role are due to the role, and weeping with those who weep. The joys similarly are from the role – laughing with those who laugh, listening to those who need to be heard and supporting those who are feeling weak…all service and all a blessing.

The ordinal says: You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged.

I understand that prayer now and I do pray daily for God to enlarge my heart and sometimes… I feel it will burst. Thank you God.”