From College to Curacy – developing the personal and communal practices of my Way of Life
Second-year Curate Angela Sheard shares about developing her Way of Life during periods of transition, from the initial discernment process to taking up a training post in central London.
During the discernment process for ordination, I had an established rhythm of communal and personal prayer in my church community: I took part in communal worship by attending the Eucharist on Sundays and on Wednesday evenings, when the service was followed by Lectio Divina in small groups. Alongside this, my daily individual practice was saying the Ignatian Examen at the end of each day.
When I started theological college, I put these practices to one side to immerse myself in the spiritual rhythms of college life. During my three years at theological college, I had joined in the weekly pattern of worship at my link church on Sundays and in my college chapel during the week. Alongside this, I tried to develop an individual practice of saying the Daily Office. At my college, we didn’t gather as a whole community for Morning and Evening Prayer, which allowed me to gain valuable experience in trying to establish this spiritual rhythm for myself amid a busy life.
‘I thought that my Spiritual Life was going really well…’
When I started my first year of curacy, my individual and communal spiritual practices shifted significantly again. I became immersed in the intentional community which flows out of my parish and started taking part in communal silent prayer three times a week, Morning Prayer and lunchtime Eucharist most days, Choral Evensong, mid-week evening services and more besides. At first, I thought that my spiritual life was going really well – I was praying more during the week than I had ever done before! But early on in my first year I met a spiritual director who, when I told her about this replied, “What I really want to know about is your personal relationship with God. What is that like at the moment?”
I was a bit stumped by this but responded that my life was so busy (in part due to leading or assisting with communal worship) that it was difficult to find time for my own individual prayer life. Over the course of my first year, I have tried to build in times for my own individual prayer alongside the communal rhythm. On days when I don’t say the Daily Office in my parish, I say it myself and find this to be an important and different spiritual experience to saying it as a group. More recently, some of my Ignatian spiritual practices have returned – I have re-engaged with imaginative contemplation on an individual guided retreat (and, separately, have facilitated some imaginative prayer on parish retreats and away days). I have tried to use times of communal silent prayer to engage on a more individual level with this imaginative practice, returning to scenes that I have imagined in the past and trying to notice which aspect of these scenes captures my attention today. On days in my week when I have more flexibility, I try to build some extra time in so that I can journal about these experiences as well – but this is definitely a work in progress!
‘My relationship with God in a new context…’
My experience of spirituality over my first year of curacy has been of a gradually evolving journey of discerning how best to nurture my relationship with God in a new context – I think this is to be expected as curacy (and indeed, theological college) has been for me a time of enormous change, both in terms of the communal spiritual rhythms around me and also the role(s) I have taken in leading and assisting with this worship. It has taken time to experiment over this past year to find ways to nurture both individual and communal spiritual practices in a way that is complementary, sustainable and which connects with my spiritual background and interests.
This is very much an ongoing journey and will be different for everyone at different stages in college or curacy – indeed, I expect further twists and turns in the road as I settle into presiding at the Eucharist (I was ordained priest a few weeks ago). However, reflecting on my spiritual journey over the last year has been helpful to me as I prepare to continue that eternal search for God in the year ahead.
Angela Sheard is a second-year curate at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London Diocese. She trained for ordination at The Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham. She has an interest and background in Ignatian spirituality, and before ordination worked as a junior doctor.