A Seminarian's experience of a two parish summer placement
9th October 2017
Matthew King, one of our Seminarians currently in Formation for the Sacred Priesthood at the Venerable English College in Rome, writes of his experience of spending his summer placement across two parishes...
A fundamental part of Formation for the Priesthood is the time a Seminarian will spend in parish placement. The process entails the seminarian being sent to a certain parish within his diocese for a set time, ranging from a few weeks over the summer, to a year. Now, being in a parish won’t be completely alien to a seminarian, as he will have certainly spent a great deal of time in one prior to formation. On placement, however, he is afforded the opportunity to see parish life from a very different perspective: the eyes of the priest whom he shadows, and it can be quite an eye-opener to realise the variety of demands, challenges and joys of being a pastor. I find the experience gives much food for thought, a renewed sense of purpose and need, and encouragement to continue firmly in responding to Christ’s call.
I was very fortunate to be on placement this summer with Fr Chris Whelan in the parishes of Aldershot and Basingstoke, within Portsmouth Diocese. Right off the bat, I must say what an enriching experience it has been, how grateful I am to Fr Chris and the parishioners of both parishes. I was received so warmly, and it was a joy to meet so many of them. I truly thank them.
It’s unusual to be in two distant parishes while on a single placement, but this was a placement with a twist. About half way through my time with Fr Chris, he moved to a new parish and invited me to accompany him. I was therefore able to experience first-hand what is involved in a parish move. I’m told it is one of the hardest things a Parish Priest, and indeed a parish, goes through. Yet it is necessary and, like so much in life, though it may be daunting and difficult, it can also bring with it so many blessings through only trusting in the Lord.
The experience left a deep impression on me, and with some reflection, I found its major themes regarded the practical, emotional and spiritual. The practical, because it involves the priest physically moving to a new house. As you might expect it is much like any house move; packing up belongings, unpacking, and becoming accustomed to the new surroundings. The emotional aspect is especially powerful. Saying farewell is hard for everyone, and building new relationships takes time and patience. The spiritual is central. Effectively, the parish gains a new spiritual father and the priest gains a new flock to love, care for and protect.
Yet, as chaotic as this can get, it is all built upon love, the love of Christ. I remember Fr Chris saying to his parishioners at his last Mass in Aldershot, “If ever I unknowingly said something or did something to hurt or offend you, know that I love you.” Then, at his first Masses in Basingstoke he said spoke powerfully on how, before anything, we, parishioners and servant priest, must begin with love, to love each other. To love as Christ loves.
Each parish is unique, and this is also true for every priest. On the surface, it can be a little traumatic for a parish to lose their familiar pastor and it will take time to get to know a new one, yet in the bigger picture we are all active members of the same, great family, The Catholic Church, and Christ is always with us. It is all built upon His love. We need only trust in Him.