Helen Harwood interviews first year pioneer ordinand Susie Templeton, who is beginning her journey as a pioneer minister in an eclectic city-centre parish in Portsmouth.
HH: Hi Susie, I know you have very varied experiences can you tell us some of the things that brought you to the point where you joined Church Mission Society?
ST: In my former life, I was a video media producer for a small charity and studied an MA in Documentary Film. By the end of my course I had realised it wasn’t really giving me life anymore, and after much praying and letting go ended up as a pastoral worker with Royal Navy Chaplaincy. Maybe it was hanging around with so many vicars, but in the middle of all that I felt a call to ordination. After ignoring it for a while, feeling it didn’t quite “fit”, I discovered Pioneering and things seemed to make much more sense! Having had a sense of mission from my late teens, CMS seemed the obvious place to do my training.
You have been in a new missional context since last September, training to be ordained in the Church of England and I know much of the last six months has been spent getting to know the area and building relationships in the community. Can you tell us how that has gone, please? Any surprises?
I’ve been really surprised at how easy it’s been to make contacts in the local community. Portsmouth has a lot going on, and that’s made it easy to find like-minded people. All of whom have been really excited to work with us! We’ve got significant partnerships developing with a local music charity called the Urban Vocal Group, who run free-to-access choirs for teenagers, to develop skills and self-confidence through music. We have some ideas in the pipeline with the local Foodcycle Hub, and I’ve started volunteering my vegetable chopping skills! We have also started up a drop in session for teenage girls, off the back of an anti-bullying film project run by the city council. It’s great to be working out a place as one stakeholder in the local community, with the ability to facilitate the amazing work other people are already doing around us.
You’ve told me the church you are working for is approaching a radical redevelopment, can you tell us about your involvement in discerning the vision and contributing ideas for this, please?
Yes, we are looking at re-ordering and renovating the inside of the church, which had been closed for several years before the arrival of our Priest in Charge last year. I’ve been involved in the Mission Development Group who are trying to discern the vision for the redevelopment. They have been very receptive to my ideas, which is exciting and encouraging but the danger in a situation like this is that we pin everything on the new building, waiting until that is complete to actually do anything. There’s been a conscious effort to design a redevelopment that supports and grows work with which we are currently engaging.
Your parish sounds like it is right in the middle of things, in an inner city council estate but also oriented towards the city centre and university so you are looking for innovative ways to engage half of the parish who are under 30. Can you say more?
We have an eclectic mix! The university is in our parish and with new student accommodation being built across the road from us, students are an obvious starting point when looking at engaging with young adults. However, there is much more to that demographic, including graduates who have stayed, young people working in the commercial sector in town, young parents, military personnel… I’m trying to develop ways to connect through shared values, rather than shared faith, so that we can build safe relationships which will become community. We are planning to start a community brunch aimed at young adults in all their variations and individuality, on Sundays at 11am – space just to hang out together, enjoy food and start to share life!
I am especially interested to hear you are working with young creatives, social entrepreneurs, vulnerable young women, students and graduates. That sounds like a lot of very different needs to meet, are there any crossover points in how you meet those needs?
Part of the challenge in a parish like this is to be a bridge between different parts of the community. Figuring out how to do that with authenticity needs time, and we are still feeling our way but I’ve had a strong impression from the start that we are called to young creatives and entrepreneurs, both of which are growing demographics in the city as a whole. St Luke is the patron saint of artists, as well as doctors! What that looks like in the future will evolve with us, but the redevelopment will enable us to be a hub for connecting, facilitating and encouraging creativity in various ways, including hopefully a co-working/hot-desking element. A word which has resonated has been that St Luke’s will be a place for people to “find their voice” – and I think there is loads of potential for these different needs to be met in a growing and inclusive community.
What do you think the future holds for you personally and how can we pray for you, Susie?
The last few months have provided a lot of change in my life, so I’m still finding my level with all the newness! I’m in my first year of three at CMS, and beyond ordination I’m hoping that I will be able to stay at St Luke’s for my curacy… Please pray for me as I navigate this time of training, from theological debate to developing learning in my context, to deadlines! I’m excited by the opportunity to do something radically different and see where it takes us, but I will need the grace of God to discern his will above my ideas in the process, and to prioritise love for his people over the success of any project. Thank you!