From Pew to Altar – An Ordinandly Month in Southgate!

Posted on September 1, 2012


Diana Young came to Christ Church in July on placement from Ripon College, Cuddesdon where she is studying for a degree in Theology for Ministry. Diana spoke to Phillip Dawson about her time in Southgate and the memories she will take away.

Diana Young with Fr Peter Jackson

You came to spend a month at Christ Church as part of your course. What’s your course like? Who decides if you are holy enough to be ordained?!

I’m half way through the Theology for Ministry course at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, which is just outside Oxford. I live at home with Simon at weekends but during the week in term time I live like a student! My classmates come from a variety of backgrounds – there’s even a magician! The course aims to equip people for ministry in the Church of England, with a mixture of academic and practical training. It’s very much a vocational course, with a lot of emphasis on ‘formation’ – turning you into the right kind of person. Getting to the College is a long process which can take anywhere from six months to two years. It’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster. First you see your vicar, next you are interviewed by a Diocesan official. He tells you to read lots of books and visit different churches and, after a time, you will be seen by a ‘local assessor’. After that you visit the Bishop who will decide whether to send you to a selection conference. This is a two/three day event – and a bit like Big Brother. Everything is being watched – including how you interact with other people at the dinner table! During the conference you are asked to give a talk and lead a discussion on a given topic. You also have to hand in a written response to a ‘pastoral exercise’ and there are a number of in depth interviews. After all that, it feels a bit like you have been shaken upside down to see what falls out! I was accepted for ordination training in April 2011. In July I left my job and I started on the course at Cuddesdon in September.

Do you have to know what you believe before you start, or does the course help you work out what you believe?

Of course you have to have a strong faith, and a sense that God is calling you into ordained ministry. Otherwise you wouldn’t get through the selection process. But I don’t think you need to have all the answers. Part of theological training is learning to be prepared to discard old answers and learn new ones. You can’t do it without challenging your own preconceptions. You need to be open. I don’t think you can grow if you’re not open.

Enjoying lunch with the choir at the 150th Anniversary Party.

Has your month at Christ Church been helpful to you?

Very much. At my past placement I was introduced as a student and I sat in the congregation each Sunday observing what was going on. On coming to Christ Church I was introduced to the congregation as a trainee member of the clergy, which provided a different perspective on things – quite literally – I was now sitting at the front of the church! My month here has enabled me to experience many aspects of ministry; the Sunday as well as weekday services, lunch fellowships, prayer groups, coffee mornings as well as shadowing Cathy during two services at local retirement homes. I also attended a PCC meeting. With the 150th Anniversary Service and Hazel’s ordination, it has been an interesting month! I have really enjoyed the worship and music at Christ Church which is quite different to my home church in Finchley, yet accessible and appealing. My time here has, along with other experiences during my first year of training, helped reinforce my feelings about where I am most comfortable in the Church of England; and given me some pointers as to the type of church in which I might like to serve as a curate.

You gave an excellent sermon during the Eucharist in your second week. Have you had a lot of practice speaking in public?

Before leaving full time employment to train for ordination I worked as an administrator at Middlesex University in Archway – I’ve never had a job that involved public speaking. Having said that, I have had some experience preaching, at my church in Finchley. I read English at university and I think that has also helped – the experience of putting an argument into a logical sequence and being able to express it clearly is very useful when preparing a sermon. Preaching is something wonderful and challenging that one can spend a lifetime learning about and yet never master! As long as I have prepared well I haven’t found it too daunting so far. I preached twice in Southgate and when it came to the midweek service I tried to rely less on my script than before. Actually, the preaching was probably less daunting because the script provides some security; far more nerve-wrecking was deaconing and leading Evensong, because you’re very much on show. Always on my mind was the pressure to get everything right; it’s important to do things appropriately and not to be a distraction to the congregation. I soon learned that I wasn’t on my own at all – there was always someone to give me a helpful guiding whisper when needed.

You sang the versicles at Evensong beautifully. Do you have a musical background?

I learnt to play the piano as a child and made it to Grade Six, and I’ve often sung in a choirs as I’ve always loved singing. I’ve also had some singing lessons. It was a very special experience to lead Evensong.

In your sermon you mentioned the warm welcome you received in Southgate. I hope we are welcoming to everyone, but I know I found it easier to say hello because Fr Peter had introduced you – and your cassock was a bit of a give away in the coffee queue. People must treat you differently when you have your work clothes on – do you feel different?

Yes I think so. It’s a bit like a uniform, which is good in a way, because it means you always know you’ll be appropriately dressed. The ‘uniform’ has made me feel more comfortable approaching and talking people I don’t know. Wearing the clothes makes it clear who you are and why you’re there – which automatically breaks down some of the social barriers that can sometimes exist.

So what’s next in your training?

I’ve just come back from holiday in Wales and am already back into essay writing! The new term starts soon. I’ve got another year at College and, all being well, I hope to be ordained as a curate next June. It’s exhausting but exciting!

Thank you Diana – and good luck for your second year from all of us at Christ Church!