In anticipation of her arrival at St James’s in July, Ayla shares a little about herself and why she’s passionate about imagination and creativity in ministry.
I’m delighted to be joining St James’s in July, and I’m really looking forward to meeting the congregation, exploring the parish, and learning about all the wonderful things that happen in and around such a beautiful and dynamic church. My approach to life and ministry is rooted in God’s compassionate and infinite love for every person. I believe this is the foundation for how we choose to respond to the world around us in all its complexity. As bell hooks wrote, ‘To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.’ St James’s loving approach to climate justice, the arts, and support for those in urgent need, with the Eucharist at the loving heart of it all, is truly inspiring.
With a background in art and architectural history and theology, as an academic I taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art, Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, and the University of Essex’s School of Philosophy and Art History before training for the priesthood at Westcott House in Cambridge. During that time, I travelled in India, Nicaragua, and Georgia, as well as volunteering with Cambridge homelessness projects and social justice initiatives. When I was a curate at Hampstead Parish Church, racial justice, youth arts projects, and collaborative online outreach during the pandemic were major aspects of my work in the parish.
Growing up on a small island near Vancouver in British Columbia, I was surrounded by the beauty of tall cedars and deep seas. I’ve lived in the UK for nearly 20 years now, and though I love the Thames as well as the Pacific, I still have a strong Canadian accent! My favourite places in London include Hampstead Heath, a tiny sushi place not far from St James’s, the British Library, and the National Gallery, where I’m currently the Ahmanson Fellow in Art and Religion. My work includes lecturing for an interdisciplinary MA in Christianity and the Arts, curating a UK-wide exhibition on joy, peace, and generosity, and establishing new interfaith and curators’ networks. Additionally, I’m the Assistant Priest at St Martin’s, Gospel Oak, serving alongside a vibrant clergy team and diverse congregation. Christian faith, social action, and creative imagination are all deeply interconnected.
I’ve been reading a lot of theology by women recently, from Evelyn Underhill in the early twentieth century to Kelly Brown Douglas and Christena Cleveland today. In their work on the image of Christ, political action, and God’s grace, there is a profound theme that they all share: when we walk together in solidarity with each person, we become more open to God as we become more connected to one another. It’s a lifelong pilgrimage of hope, and it will be a joy to begin walking together with the community at St James’s.