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Meet an AWA

Elizabeth Hargest

Commissioned 19 September 2021 to the Benefice of North Walsham, serving the parishes of St Nicholas, All Saints Edingthorpe, St Mary’s Worstead, and St Botolph’s Westwick.

It’s never too late!

Coming from a family of ordained clergy, including bishops, leading worship was probably in my DNA, but the last call to serve in this way came while our Benefice was in vacancy and I was helping draw up the Parish profile.  It was then that I read on the Diocesan website about the role of an AWA, and I realised, despite being in my late 70s, perhaps this was a way I could help most during this challenging time for our Benefice.

The congregations and non-stipendary clergy were hugely supportive, and I was supervised, mentored and encouraged by Canon Susanna Gunner, whom I knew well both as a friend and in the parish. She guided me through leading the Sunday morning services of morning prayer, including planning the service order, liaising with churchwardens and organists, and guiding me towards resources, and managing my own spirituality. I was initiated into the challenge of live-streaming the daily office of morning prayer from St Nicholas Church Lady Chapel. I quickly found that my role was to lead these services so I could be heard clearly, to keep my reflection/address short and simple, with personal humility, and to talk to people about God and Worship, with confidence that I had been so commissioned. 

Our new Priest-in-charge, Revd David Warner was licensed in February 2022, and he now mentors me with encouragement and support. He is responsive to any queries I may have, and includes me as part of the ministry team. He encourages pastoral care of all we meet, lay involvement in services, and I continue to administer the Reserved Sacrament to people in their own homes. I facilitate a weekly hour of prayer and quiet time each Friday in the Memorial Chapel of St Nicholas – anyone can drop in and out for a period that suits them.

I participated in the online training offered by the Diocese of Norwich, using the Chelmsford Diocese Course in Christian Studies. I also access online reflections from St Augustine’s College of Theology and seasonal resources recommended by the Diocesan website e.g. ‘Dust and Glory during Lent.’ These help me to keep grounded, and spiritually aware, as does regular attendance at daily morning prayer and Sunday evensong for discipline and prayerful support. It is also good to know that there is a designated Authorised Worship Assistant Co ordinator within the Diocese.

The ongoing challenges include pacing myself, keeping boundaries round my ministry role and friendships within the church family, responding to stories of grief, fear, anger, loss …. The required online Safeguarding Training is hugely helpful, and there is always someone I can access, both within the Parish and the Diocese. 

Matthew Arrowsmith-Brown

South Walsham and Upton with Fishley

I have been an Authorised Worship Assistant since 2014, which I think was soon after the concept of having AWAs was introduced in the Diocese.  At the time we had an active lay ministry team in the benefice and our incumbent was keen to embrace the idea.  Six of us were appointed at around the same time.

Before that, I had already been leading morning prayer from time to time and given the occasional talk when there was no licensed minister available. I was glad to have the authority to do this that being an AWA provided.

Since then, the training available for AWAs has grown significantly and I have learned much and developed both my ministry and my own spiritual life in ways that would not happen if I were not an AWA.

I continue to take services and give talks on an occasional basis. I enjoy this and feel that my ability and confidence in doing both has improved and I hope this improvement will continue.

I have long felt that in the Church of England we in the congregations have historically allowed and expected the clergy to do everything, whilst we sat back and accepted what we were given.  This is no longer possible because of the shortage of money and clergy of which we are all too well aware.  Even if it were possible though, I do not think it healthy.  I welcome the chance to take a more active part in the worship of the benefice.  It is good for me, and I hope it is good for others.