There are over 900 Lay Pastoral Assistants in the Diocese of Salisbury. They support the pastoral work of local churches in a variety of different ways.
Here one LPA reflects on her calling to this role.
My name is Jill and I was recently commissioned as a Lay Pastoral Assistant attached to St Peter’s Church, Dorchester.
I have always considered pastoral work as extremely important within the Church and I realise that for various reasons this it is not always possible for clergy to do this themselves. My job before I retired was as a Community Development Worker working to provide services for older people. Doing this work I realised just how many housebound elderly welcomed a visit and someone to show an interest in them. Connecting this with Church I was aware that LPAs not only visited the housebound, both elderly and the sick, but also took home Communion to them. I am a verger at St Peter’s and as such was encouraged by the Vicar to take home Communion to a neighbour who had been a regular worshipper at St Peter’s until poor health prevented her from coming. I found this experience to be very moving and a great privilege so I made enquiries about training.
The training took place over eight sessions. The nearest course was in the Red Post Benefice and there were eight of us on the course. As well as candidates from Red Post there were two of us from St Peter’s and two from Blandford. The sessions lasted two hours and the time sped by. The course was led by Debbie Albery and the Revd Caroline Chichester. We had a course book to work from and the discussions flowed freely with both great seriousness and great humour. We learned how our life experiences equipped us to empathise with people and I found myself thinking about how I behaved towards others and the importance of listening and observation. We also learnt about boundaries. As a LPA it is very easy to get too involved in the lives of people we visit and this is not always appropriate or desirable. All discussions were in confidence and I think we all learnt something about ourselves. The culmination was our Commissioning Service which was held in Bloxworth Church. We were warmly welcomed by the local congregation and members of our own congregations came along to support us. It was a simple but very moving service. I really felt that I was embarking on a ministry which would be of value to God, the Church and to the people I would be asked to visit.
Being a LPA is not just about working with older people. LPAs also do visits to the sick as requested by their Vicar, hospital and residential home visits, and may be involved in Baptismal arrangements and work with young people in the Church.
The beauty of being an LPA is that you can specialise in one particular field, or not. It is your decision and it is up to you how much time you dedicate to the role, and this can vary.
Once you are commissioned there is a wide range of continuing courses and workshops that are offered to LPAs to help to develop our particular calling, to widen our knowledge; many will not only help in LPA work but also in everyday life. I have enrolled on a course about understanding dementia – something that is increasingly going to touch each of us in one way or another.
My interest is with older people. I was an only child adopted by older parents and spent a great deal of my childhood with grandparents and aunts who I always thought of as old but now realise that they were younger than I am now! I feel comfortable with older people; many of them are lonely and listening to stories of their lives make them feel valued. I would also like to investigate working with the terminally ill and the bereaved. I enjoy people and it is rewarding to give people time and a listening ear and to be a support to them as they work through the painful and difficult times in their lives.
I see the role of LPA to be supportive to clergy. I decided to become a LPA because I like people and I want to enrich their lives if I can. Because people cannot get to Church they must not be forgotten and a visit can remind them of God’s love for them, show them kindness and make them smile. Smiling is so important. It will keep them in touch with their faith which will enable them to endure whatever difficulties their life throws at them. To be able to take them Holy Communion is a huge privilege and when I see my pyx and wine phial on the altar for blessing at the Sunday Eucharist I feel great happiness and emotion that I am now a part of the LPA team.
Jill Bryant, March 2016
For more information on becoming a Lay Pastral Assistant,
click here – God is Calling LPA – for our information leaflet