This originally appeared in the Westminster Record in April 2015.
It seems like aeons ago that I was ordained to the Diaconate in Chiswick by Bishop John Sherrington. In reality it was just over a year ago, in January 2014. Life really has changed since then. This time last year I was a newly ordained deacon living and working in Homerton, East London. As I type I’m the Assistant Priest to the four parishes of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire.
When I told a parishioner in Homerton that I’d been appointed to Hemel Hempstead, they commented how lucky I was, and that Hampstead was a lovely part of London and would I remember Hackney? They hadn’t heard of Hemel, and nor really had I.
After the excitement of being ordained to the priesthood by the Cardinal in the Cathedral last June, the summer evaporated, and I was soon packing boxes and en route to Hertfordshire. During the year in Homerton as a seminarian, deacon, and a newly-ordained priest, I learnt so much about the love people have for the priesthood, and the love of a community for a priest and his family. My family are not Catholics, but I remember so vividly the day I first celebrated Mass, and the amazing party that followed. Many parishioners thanked my Mum for giving me to the Church and this moved both of us greatly. I suppose from that moment I became aware that my life as a priest wasn't so much about me, or what I wanted to do or achieve, but rather about serving the people of God, whatever the challenges may be.
So now my arrival in Hemel seems like a distant memory. Seven months in, what are the joys and challenges of life and ministry here? Often friends who are not priests ask me what a typical week looks like. I’m yet to find a typical week, or even a typical day for that matter! It’s true to say that Hemel is a place of contrasts, four diverse parish communities discovering how to live and work together. We also have three primary schools, a large secondary school, a hospital, countless nursing and residential homes. I undertake home visits, catechesis, Masses, Baptisms, Weddings, Funerals; the list is potentially endless.
There is no typical day, no typical week, but so many things which bring joy and show the Church alive and flourishing here. The vitality of the children and young people in our schools brings so much fun to ministry here. I love their capacity to ask wonderful questions, and be engaged about the Faith, be it positively or otherwise. The daily and weekly routine could, I suppose, sometimes be seen as rather punishing. But once again, I’m amazed at the support, love and generosity of the people here in supporting us.
So often people comment that becoming a priest is a sacrifice, thinking of all the things we’ve given up. For me, at least, in these early days, the opposite is true. I’m amazed every day that the Lord has called me to share in his Priesthood, I’m renewed and strengthened by Him, and the communities I’m called to serve in His name, and I’m challenged to embrace, God willing, what the next forty years or so may hold.