Letter from Lizzie

23 November 2021

Dear friends from St Mary’s,

It seems sometimes like ages since I was in church with you all, and at other times as though things have just flown by. I see folk around the village from time to time, and hear via the weekly emails how things are going for you all, so I hope you don’t mind, but I thought you might like to hear a little of what life as an Ordinand has been like this past 15 months. I hadn’t thought I would be quite so busy as I have been, that’s for sure!

For my first year at St Hild, everything – lectures, worship, prayergroups, meetings, text books – you name it – was online. Covid restrictions meant that in that whole year, our college managed just one very much curtailed weekend together at the end of the summer term. Actually seeing people in real life was wonderful, if slightly overwhelming, and we ended the year feeling almost as though we had only just arrived, despite having spent numerous evenings and weekends learning together about Old Testament Studies or Doctrine. I have particularly loved the college’s focus on working at the margins of society – in as many ways as possible.

This year has been better in terms of meeting people in real life, and we have had several weekends together – including one recently where we were rudely awakened by a 6am fire alarm, that had the college standing in the snow in our pyjamas, whilst the Mirfield Brethren in their cloaks, gathered us into a rather spooky-looking circle to read the fire list. I have to admit to giggling when the reply to ‘Brother Crispin?’ came back as, ‘in his room’ – sounded as though he might well have been!

That first year saw me on placement at Ripon Cathedral, initially to focus not only on the cathedral’s relationship to rural parishes/needs and to see how a very different way of worshipping felt. I was keen to see how it felt to work with a large team in a church that has a strong civic presence. Again, Covid put paid to that plan and I found myself instead serving as chaplain in the cathedral, which stayed open for private prayer. I was also getting involved in planning and leading activities for schools and families instead. In the very darkest bits of lockdown, I found that my ‘church’ became the staff and teams working in the cathedral – the vergers, musicians, cleaners and volunteers who kept the building going. It was a time filled with profound and heart-rending conversations and also with mad opportunities – why not climb up to the roof or explore the underground areas of this crazy, ancient building. I think my time in Ripon could be summed up by the phrase “from the sublime to the ridiculous.” I have loved it and am so grateful for the experience.

As churches opened up, I was encouraged to play a part in the very formal aspects of cathedral worship. I won’t deny it is somewhat terrifying to be in charge of a smoking thurible (the name for the incense burner on a chain) when it sticks shut fast and refuses to open. I do quite like playing with fire, but I have to say I was very nervous of getting the precise choreography involved ‘wrong’ despite being absolutely convinced God really doesn’t mind.

I made a lot of friends in the year at Ripon as I finally became more
enmeshed in the congregation and the events and groups that began to open up again, allowing me to take part in so much of the work and worship. I will miss the humour and kindness of so many people now the placement has ended.

From Ripon’s vastness I am going somewhere much smaller with a very different demographic but a familiar face as I am off to St John the Evangelist in Bierley, where Paul Wheelhouse is vicar. I met the congregation this weekend, and hopefully there will be plenty to get
involved in and even more to learn and chances to grow.

I often find I am praying for St Mary’s and I do miss you all. Hopefully I will come and say hello one weekend and see for myself all the new things God is doing amongst you.

Love Lizzie x