Helen Harwood interviews second year MA student Natalie Burfitt about picking up the scent of the Spirit
HH: Natalie, you’re coming to the end of your second year with us. I know you work as chaplain to a diocesan ministry experience scheme, aimed at giving people aged 18-30 a year to explore their vocation to ministry. Can you tell us more?
NB: They spend time in a parish placement, get a bit of theological education with the local scheme and live together in a house by the cathedral, participating in its worship and community life. I have two sessions a week with them, helping them explore Christian spirituality and helping them reflect on their experiences.
It’s part of a national scheme but is pioneering for my diocese as it’s in its first year. I’m finding I work in this space much more in the flow of the spirit than in parish ministry where everything is planned! CMS really supports this work as quite often I’ll use things with the participants on the scheme that I’ve gained from my MA course.
HH: How did you find yourself in that line of work; and can you tell us more about working or living in the flow of the spirit?
NB: After finishing a traditional parish curacy, I’ve spent quite a lot of time discerning ‘where next’ and how my vocation to ministry fits with my vocations to my family. This chaplaincy work enables lots of things, as it’s local (so we don’t have to move house) and part-time. I really like working with a small group and going deep, which is something I get to be part of as chaplain to four people!
Because life is less diarised and pre-planned, I find I’m able to be open to serendipity of the Spirit. Being able to say ‘yes’ when a friend suggests meeting for coffee or using an article that I’ve spotted on the internet the day before as a discussion point with the group to whom I’m chaplain or heading out for a walk . . . and in those moments, God being present through a conversation or chance encounter. These things can also happen when diaries are full and days are scheduled, of course. Maybe it’s because I’m more relaxed, I feel more aware of God’s playfulness.
HH: I’d love to know more about your studies with CMS, and what have been some of the benefits of studying with us here at CMS?
NB: I’m a second year on the MA programme, which is the lifeblood that keeps me going! I’ve found the CMS community to be a really supportive, nourishing environment and I love my classmates. One of the gifts of lockdown has been regular zooms we’ve had together, chatting and praying. The technology isn’t always ideal but in lots of ways it’s brought us closer. The key feature is being with people who ‘get it’, where you don’t have to get behind prejudices about ‘how things should be’ before you can have a conversation about how you dream of things being.
Studying with CMS has been a profoundly significant factor in helping me to figure out my vocation (an ongoing process!) It’s given me the tools to articulate what I instinctively knew – that I’m called to be ‘out there’ in the community. I’m exploring what this might mean for where I live. I’ve got ideas bubbling but, like lots of pioneers, navigating the existing church is tricky. I’m ordained in the Church of England and this really complicates things.
HH: Can you tell us more about how you dream of things being?
NB: I’d love to be part of a community of people locally that explore faith and discipleship together in ways that develop and evolve with whoever is present at the time. It might mean doing something in the local park or taking on an allotment together . . . whatever the group has a vision for. It wouldn’t have to be something that gained committed membership – people need to come and go, to travel for a time then maybe stop or do something else. Small but effective is key to my dream!
HH: As a fellow dog owner, I am fascinated by your pup. Tell me more!
NB: Along with the rest of the nation, we got a puppy during lockdown. She is a cocker spaniel called Beanie and she’s growing in to being a significant part of how I express mission and ministry. She’s a bit of a therapy dog for the ministry experience scheme participants. I’m also really appreciating how much walking her at my local park has reconnected me with people that I already know (including a couple of people who have had significant bereavements where I’ve been involved in funeral ministry) and in introducing me to new neighbours that I wouldn’t have otherwise met.
HH: Thank you Natalie, how can we pray for you?
NB: Thank you! That I’ll keep travelling and trusting in the flow of the Spirit – and that She’ll connect me with others who are also picking up her scent!