Southwark Pastoral Assistant

Reflections by Colin Wimsett


As you may know, I am now in my second year of training to become a ‘Southwark Pastoral Auxiliary’ (‘SPA’) in our parish – yes, I agree it is an awful title!  Translated into normal ‘speak’, this means a ‘pastoral worker’.  St Mary’s has two existing ‘SPAs’, Alison Wintgens and Libby Bradshaw.  It is a part-time role and (sadly for us) unpaid!

Some of you may still be mystified by the role – ‘pastoral’ is not exactly normal ‘speak’ in the secular world and can be a misunderstood term within the church.  One of the several Collins dictionary definitions of the term ‘pastoral’ is: ‘relating to shepherds or their work’.  The ‘Good Shepherd’ is often seen as the role model for a pastor, so this particular definition works for me. Essentially the role is to assist the Vicar, in the caring aspects of his or her responsibilities (as opposed to the liturgical or ‘public service’ aspects). The scope of this is very wide ranging, including all aspects of personal caring from very practical duties helping with physical needs, to assisting with the finer aspects of an individual’s spiritual well-being. God cares about all our needs including the physical, mental and spiritual. In practice, like anyone else, individual SPAs have their own gifts and interests.  We are expected to use our training to identify and develop these.  Subject to the needs of our parish, these may well become areas of responsibility for us once we complete our training.  So far my training has included: ethics, theology, loss and change, prayer, listening skills, spirituality, leadership, conflict, diversity and difference, mental health, other religions.  As is the case for Alison and Libby, I will have a contract with the church covering my hours, areas of responsibilities etc.  I will be finalising this with Simon after Easter, under the supervision of the diocese.

The training has certainly been challenging!  What has surprised me the most is the depth of theological analysis undertaken and the extent to which I have been personally challenged in my thinking and conduct. I have learnt a huge amount about my faith and myself, as well as, about pastoral care!

My formal training is scheduled to be complete by this summer. If I complete this satisfactorily, I will be ‘Commissioned’ by the Bishop of Southwark at the Cathedral on 23rd June 2014.

I would like to thank the PCC and the Ministry Team for their invaluable support with my training. I would also like to thank all the members of the church community who have worked with me over the last 18 months for their endurance – I had to try out my training on someone!  Hopefully your patience and support will mean a better prepared SPA in the end!

Colin Wimsett