I was on the phone with my not-so-little brother yesterday and he asked, “What are you actually doing? People keep asking me what you’re doing over there.” I said “Dude, I don’t even know,” and he replied, “Yeah, that’s what I usually tell them.”
To tell you the truth, the plan was that I would come to St Barnabas and be a youth worker. I’d hoped that there would be some sort of structured role to step into but that was not the case. Youth involvement in this church has been steadily declining for the past 20 years for a bunch of different reasons that I won’t get into here. After some initial failed attempts to put on events, we’ve sort of decided to put a pin in the youth program expansion and focus on the youth who are already active at St Barnabas. This doesn’t take much of my daily time because I only see them a couple of times per week, so I have been finding other things to do around St Barnabas. Here’s what I get up to:
You’ll see shortly why I put quotation marks there.
My first day off! Occasionally on Saturdays I’ll go up into London but not very often because it’s even more crowded than on weekdays. However, the Overground is a lot cheaper on Saturdays so sometimes it’s worth it, depending on where I want to go. Saturdays are also the day that there’s a community market (think farmer’s market + handmade goods + food trucks) just a 10 minute walk from me in East Dulwich. I don’t usually buy anything there (ya girl’s ballin’ on a budget) but I love to walk through! Usually I will either go on a pretty long walk after visiting the market or go home and watch Netflix (this will probably change in the spring but during cozy season, I really like to just cuddle up under a blanket, light a candle, and relax).
Not a day off! I get to church a half hour before the service for choir rehearsal. The service lasts an hour and 15 minutes or so. Every other week I have youth group after the service; youth group is led by three young women plus myself: Frances, Liv, and Freddie. We meet in the church library and ply the youth with sweets. We chat about their lives, sing songs from musicals, and occasionally actually get to talking about the topic of the day. After I leave church I often go to a coffee shop to journal. Sunday evenings are a time to watch Netflix and lounge around in my flat, although I recently attended an evening service at a church near my flat. It’s hard to feel like I’m worshiping on a Sunday at the front of the church in my choir robe. I’ve been wanting a chance to worship somewhere with a more informal feel where I don’t feel like I’m at work. I hope to attend there every few weeks, whenever I’m not too burnt out from the morning.
My other day off! What I do on Mondays varies from week to week. Some Mondays I lie around all day doing nothing at all (sometimes I don’t even leave my flat!). Some Mondays I venture up into London–an hour’s bus ride–to do things that have huge crowds on weekends or just to wander around and see what I see. Most Mondays are somewhere in the middle; I go to the big grocery store (that’s a big undertaking as there’s really no good bus to take and it’s a 25-minute walk), do a bit of laundry and tidying up around my flat, and spend the rest of the day relaxing.
I am looking into joining a group of local young adults from many of the surrounding churches for a Monday night worship once a month and a meet-up at a pub on a different Monday once a month! I look forward to actually going to one of these events sometime soon (I met these folks at the aforementioned church where I attended a Sunday evening service).
The Work Week
Morning prayer starts at 9 so I usually arrive at St Barnabas at 8:55 or so, sometimes earlier if I really want to drink a cup of tea before prayer. To get there at about 8:55, I leave my flat no later than 8:33, which means that most mornings I wake up between 7:15 and 7:30. This day is the most variable of my work days. Sometimes I go to the local (what in the US we would call) public elementary school to do an assembly. Sometimes I go to the local church school (K-2nd grade-ish) to lead afternoon worship. Tuesdays are also my days to get caught up on whatever tasks I’ve been given like creating flyers for events and graphics for the church’s social media accounts.
I get to the church for morning prayer. There’s an hour break between morning prayer and the midweek Communion service, so sometimes I just have a cup of tea and chat with Faiza, the parish administrator, until that service. Sometimes I get right to work and skip the Communion service. One hour on Wednesday morning is set aside for me to meet with Liz. Liz is my boss, the curate at St Barnabas, one of my Moms-away-from-Mom, and a lovely human being. This hour is for her to check in with me and find out how I’m doing in every aspect of my life here: am I healthy socially, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally? We talk a little about work too. Before I leave, she prays with me and for me. I look forward to this blessing every week.
Spoiler alert: on Thursdays I send out a weekly “here’s what’s going on in the parish this week” email. I spend a big chunk of time on Wednesday putting that email together. I choose a verse or two from the upcoming Sunday’s readings and find some art (think bulletin cover) to include at the top. I check (and double check and triple check) that week’s calendar of events to make sure the email is accurate. This is a tough task as I have two churches to check service times and types for, in addition to checking that all the scheduled events are actually taking place.
I get to the church for morning prayer. On Thursday mornings, St Barnabas hosts a “Meet Up” for the residents of a local refugee shelter called Barry House. If there are young folks in that day, I usually go in to play with them and, if they speak English, chat with them. How long I hang out there depends on how much work I still have to do on the email that needs to be sent out that afternoon. Thursdays are also the day that the office staff (Faiza and Riccardo) finish up the bulletin for that week with all of the announcements and notices. I usually head back to the office mid-morning to see if they’ve finished compiling that part of the bulletin so I can include any last-minute additions to the notices in my “here’s what’s going on in the parish this week” email. After I send that email, it’s time to prep for Friday. This involves a nice roundabout walk to the nearest grocery store to pick up pizzas. It’s roundabout because there’s a big neighborhood in between the church and the store with no roads going straight through the neighborhood toward the store!
Tuesday through Thursday evenings
I stay for 5pm Evening Prayer with John and Liz and start heading home at around 5:30. These evenings are usually very low-key. I make something for dinner or I eat a little snack and drink some tea, read a book for a while, and go to bed around 10:30. However, every two weeks I go to a young adult Bible study at Frances’s flat (the day changes every week depending on when people are free). Once a month, I attend a poetry open mic night at a local coffee shop. It’s a nice balance of rest and busyness.
Fridays are late nights so I go in to church late too. Some Fridays I lie in bed until noon, other Fridays I leave for church a couple of hours early and go to my favorite coffee shop near church to blog, work on a newsletter, or write in my journal. I arrive for the 2pm staff meeting a little bit early so that I can make myself tea. After the meeting, I do whatever prep I need to do for upcoming Sundays or school assemblies. Occasionally I’ll have finished up all of my work for the week so I just kind of hang out! The first wave of kiddos shows up at around 5 for Junior Choir. The ordinand, Katie, and I fight with an iPad to check those kiddos in for choir, and then I head to the kitchen to start on dinner for the little ones. A man named Jeremy very kindly brings fruit and crisps (chips) every week, so all I have to do is make squash (kind of like Kool-Aid but made from actual fruit juice concentrate instead of sugar powder) and bake a couple of pizzas. Sometimes I have a couple of high school-age kids (here they’re called “youth”) there to help out, which is life-saving, and sometimes I do this by myself. Somehow, even though it seems simple, this is a really difficult task!
For example, this week I was running between the kitchen and the parish office, with a frantic mental to-do list:
- check to see if the oven has finished heating up
- go pull printed booklets out of the printer so it can continue (it quits if it’s about to overflow)
- check to see if the oven has finished heating up
- chat with the youth
- put in two pizzas
- find my phone (where did I set it down???)
- set a pizza timer
- pull booklets off the printer
- chat with the youth
- remember that I haven’t made the squash yet
- make the squash
- get out cups
- check the pizza timer
- look for the pizza cutter
- panic because it’s nowhere to be found
- tear apart the kitchen
- finally find the pizza cutter (in the cupboard with the wine glasses, duh) with one minute to spare
- pull booklets off the printer
- get pizzas out of the oven and cut them
- bring them out to the kiddos who are screaming for pizza because rehearsal ended one minute ago and the pizzas weren’t out there when they emerged
- go pull the last of the booklets from the printer
- make copies of the thing that the music director asked me to copy an hour ago but I couldn’t because the booklets were printing
- b r e a t h e
- eat pizza
After the little ones clear out, the 8-18-year olds show up for their choir rehearsal. They’re called “the choristers” and they’re technically part of the big choir but they get extra rehearsal time. They eat more pizza and chill out before their rehearsal. When they head out for rehearsal, I get to breathe. Sometimes I FaceTime my family in this little break because it’s a time that actually works! I get about a half hour of rest before the adults join the choristers for our combined rehearsal. Rehearsal is 1-1.5 hours long. Afterward, the adults have some wine or bubbly and the kids eat a bunch of sugar (and leftover pizza). This is the time that I really get to hang out with the children and youth. This is the time when the youth talk to me. They tell me about the things that are tough for them, the drama going on at school, or a funny thing that happened that day. Mostly, I just listen to them talk about boys. There was some Tom Holland-related drama last week. I love this time with them so dearly. I stay as long as I can and then a lovely woman named Vanessa gives me a ride home sometime between 9:15 and 9:30.
Other things I do at work
In addition to the things that I only do once a week, I also spend time in the office working on St Barnabas’s website. I can hear you now, saying, “Oh good! You get to use your degree!” Unfortunately, no. The website is overseen by a “creative agency” so I email them and tell them what updates to do. This poor website was extremely out-of-date when I got my grubby little hands on it, so I got to do one of my favorite things in the world: create a color-coded spreadsheet with all of the things that needed updating. It currently has 97 rows. Some of them are blank, but still. It took me a couple of months but the major changes to the website are almost done! I’m just waiting on some new photos to be taken and shared with me and for the website guys to take out one paragraph on one of the pages. Soon, I’ll have moved from major renovations to general upkeep and I am VERY EXCITED about this.
The other thing that I do throughout the week is chat (or listen to other people chat). The parish office is almost always bustling. Faiza, the parish administrator is there for most of my workday, and Riccardo, the assistant director of music, is also there for much of the day. Sometimes John, the vicar, comes in from his house next door, which is always fun! Dawn, the buildings manager, often has business around the church and stops by to chat. Liz’s study is all the way on the other side of the building but she usually brings her lunch into the office to hang out with us. Katie is only in on Thursdays and Fridays but her desk is in the office too so we chat quite a bit. These are the people I see most often!
There are many other people who are in and out of the office a little bit less throughout the week but whenever people stop by to attend an event, drop something off or pick something up, prep for Sunday School, or just have a cup of tea, we end up putting down our work and chatting with them. This can be tiring and frustrating when I have work I “need” to get done but I remind myself that the people standing in front of me are far more important than whatever I’m working on. The church newsletter that I “need” to finish can go out an hour later than my self-imposed deadline. The posters that I “need” to design and print won’t even really be seen until Sunday anyway so if I have to finish them tomorrow it’s not that big of a setback. The email that I “need” to send to the website dudes by the end of the workday isn’t that urgent; this website has been out-of-date for months so it’s not the end of the world if it’s out-of-date for 24 more hours. The work of loving my neighbor starts with caring for the neighbor standing in front of me, even when I have a million other things I could be doing.