Written by Rev. Jonathan Whitby-Smith
After ordination to the diaconate on 10 June I spent the month of July on placement at the parish of Saint Philip Neri, Mansfield and the parish of St Joseph’s, St Teresa’s and St Bernadette’s in Shirebrook, Warsop and Bolsover.
The placement was truly a blessed time full of new experiences. I baptised two girls from St Joseph’s school in Shirebrook who had decided to become Catholics through their experience at school. I’m not sure who was more nervous – them, or me having never baptised before! In the end it was smiles all round, and I’ll never forget that first baptism or the feelings of joy and wonder that came with it. I also spent a good amount of time simply getting used to assisting at Mass, funerals and weddings as a deacon, and particularly preaching. Its a testimony to the five years of formation I’ve had so far that when I went to seminary I couldn’t string two sentences together in front of a crowd, and now I’m quite at home breaking open the Word at Mass.
One of the other great joys of the placement was being able to spend a good amount of time in Saint Philip Neri Primary School. I assisted at Mass, attended assemblies, met the chaplaincy team (children chosen by their peers to help with the faith side of school life), joined the children for their communal worship times, prayed with the staff, and sat in on a Religious Studies class. I was truly amazed by the scriptural knowledge the children had, I only had to start telling a biblical story and the hands would shoot up and one of the children would finish it for me. Masses at both St Philips school and also at St Josephs school, Shirebrook, where a real highlight for me.
There were so many experiences I can’t name them all but one that sticks in the mind is joining the Keralan community for their Syro-Malabar Rite Mass (one of the ancient rites of the Indian church) which they celebrate at St Philip’s once a month. I was made to feel extremely welcome despite my non-existent grasp of Malayalam, and the liturgy was very beautiful. The Keralan community also cooked a fantastic curry night for the rest of the parishioners of St Philip’s which was enjoyed by well over a hundred people!
I’d like to say a big thank you to Fr John Kyne, Fr Raphael Imoni, Deacon Barry Dickinson, and all the parishioners across the four churches for being so welcoming. I look forward to visiting again in the near future. If I realised one thing over the month it was that being a deacon is so much more wonderful than I ever dreamed it could be. For all the preparation we go through I don’t think you ever get just how great ordained ministry is and how joyful it can be until it actually happens. I’m so grateful to God for calling me to this amazing life, and for all the gifts he has given with it. For now I have just one more year to go down at Allen Hall Seminary in London, and then please God ordination to the priesthood next summer. Then the adventure really begins.