Thought for the Week – My Journey to St James’s

Dee Hetherington shares her journey which led her to becoming a Church Warden at St James’s.

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Church Window Mask

I often feel there is a sense of humour in God’s plan because if you had told my younger self I would be one of the Church Wardens of St James Piccadilly I would have laughed. My Christian journey has been amazing, what an awesome God we have.

I was told in primary school that Jesus was my friend and was always with me. I believed this and have always talked to my friend who showed me in so many ways that Jesus was with me not necessarily making things better but I was not alone. Our house backed onto common land on the large Council estate in Guildford where I grew up. I spent my days with other children from the estate roaming the countryside and enjoying nature. My father was from Southern Ireland and a Roman Catholic. I was aware there was a difference/prejudice regarding being Irish but I did not understand why. Although my mother and father were married in a C of E church and my sister and I were baptised there, we were sent to R/C church. I came to dread Sundays, the service was in Latin which I did not understand. I was told that the nuns; who wore full habit were brides of Christ. I used to imagine Christ was operating them from within their habit like the daleks in Dr Who.

After a few years we did not have to go to the church and in my teenage years I became angry at the church and refused to enter its doors again. All this time Jesus was my friend I did not know who Christ was.  My first protest was at school against the unfairness of the streaming system which meant I could not take GCSE or O levels as I was “not good enough”. I believed this and still struggle now at times with this. I trained as a state enrolled nurse and into my twenties I took my first O level in sociology at evening class. This gave me the understanding and the words to explain what was different the prejudice I felt being a woman, Irish, working class and from a council estate. I was particularly interested in the registrar general’s classification in social class. My passion for speaking out at unfairness and social injustice grew and has got me into trouble (not with the law) several times.

I went on with my education via evening class and the open university for my degree. I am particularly grate full to my A level English literature teacher who opened the world of books to me especially Middle March by George Elliot. Here was a woman writing in a man’s world which was oil on my soul. I share a quote “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.  If your heart is right with my heart give me your hand,”

I still love animals, being part of nature having my hands in the earth on my allotment and seeing things grow. As a Christian I do not see serving as an option and enjoy getting alongside others such as Feast. I enjoy  drinking ground coffee and afternoon tea out of china cups. I am a great great aunt which makes me feel old. I am involved in my local resident’s group being their eco and health rep.

In my thirties I headed to Oxford having been accepted to train at the College of Occupational Therapy in Headington. I cannot explain it but the pull to go to church was overwhelming and speaking to my friend Jesus this seemed to be the good thing to do. I sat outside the Anglican church St Aldates in Oxford checking if what I thought were “normal people were going in.” Crammed shoulder to shoulder in the pews I soon realised what the dirty marks below the windows on the walls were . Students came and sat on the window sills as the church was packed their shoes leaving the marks on the walls. I am forever grateful to the Rector David McInnis who spoke in English, words from the bible, no one else needed to be present; the words were for me only. For the first time I was hearing Jesus was the Christ who loves me, asks me to forgive and who died for me. This still brings me to my knees.

After Oxford I often had to compromise with joining a church on being single, female and often found myself  challenging their beliefs on LGBTQ+. This as I saw it was not the love of Jesus, places like Iona helped me to keep my faith. It took me a while but I  had heard of this inclusive church called St James with Lucy Winkett as the rector “can it get better than that?”  so, I came along one Sunday. The Eucharist brought me to my knees and still does  particularly the part that says even if I think I am not worthy or feel I don’t belong  “I am welcome”  at Christs table. Slowly I became involved in the St James community, meeting so may amazing people journeying together sometimes getting it right sometimes not so. St James’s enables me to serve, so many rotas were joined, welcomer, coffee etc. Last year I joined the PCC and now the privilege of being Church Warden and moving forward with our 3-year strategy. I pray as Church Warden I will be open to hear not only the loud voices but  of those we can’t quite hear yet.