NOT CALLED TO PRIESTHOOD: Deacon Sarah Gillard-Faulkner

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Born and raised in Newport, South East Wales, I have been brought up in the tradition of the Church in Wales, with both my mother and father being key figures in several church communities. It was not until I was 18 and left home to study at university that I found my spiritual identity. Through friends, I associated myself much more to the catholic tradition, and with the appointment of an influential priest, in Newport when I returned from study did I really engage in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.
I embarked upon a successful career as a secondary school teacher until one day a conversation lead me down the path of considering more deeply my vocation. Here was to begin a journey that has been, and in many respects continues to be, an adventure. A woman in the catholic tradition offering herself for the ordained life. I had from the beginning of this road a clear sense that, what ever some vocations advisors had said, I was not called to the priesthood. And so for many years it has been a journey to discover what the distinctive diaconate meant in the church of the 21st century.
Ordained in 2009 by the then Bishop of Monmouth I served my title in the valley’s parishes of Abertillery, with Cwmtillery, Six Bells, Lllanhilleth and Aberbeeg and well as throughout it working with a team to develop a youth community within the diocese through the mediums of Music, Drama and liturgy. The end of my curacy saw a difficult time for the diocesan team who, at that point, were unsure what to do with me and so I was left wondering what the next stage of ministry would hold.

It was at this point in 2012 that the then Managing chaplain of HMP Cardiff took me under his wing and more formally, having spent some time there during my theological training, employed me to work as a chaplain 2 hours a week in that establishment. Within a few months I was working part time at 3 establishments in the South Wales region. It is an intrinsic call of the church to be present in these communities. And a call to which few respond. This went hand in hand with becoming the new Bishop of Monmouth’s liturgical chaplain and continuing with the youth work as a non stipendiary minister in a parish in the city of Newport.
Young people have always been a part of my life, as I started teaching at the age of 17, and it was back to young people I’d be drawn into a more settled parish setting, when in 2014 I was appointed to be the Sub Prior of the Holywell Community in Abergavenny, a community which the ACS has supported since its conception at that point. So for 2 and a half years, whilst still ministering to the various prison communities I was involved in, I walked alongside 6 young people in living in the spirit of the rule of St Benedict.
In some strange way for me prison ministry has been ever so slightly addictive in its nature. Through it the Diaconate really takes its shape. Building the bridge between the church and the outcasts of society seems to fulfil what those early Deacons in first- century Jerusalem were doing. And so in July 2017 I began the next stage of the adventure and this time a huge change of life and place for me. In April last year I was appointed as the full time Church of England chaplain at HMP Onley. The church that we peeked at over the river Severn occasionally was now going to be my new family! And now 6 months on I’m fairly much part of the furniture in this new prison community and still discovering how the Church of England works as an entity!
And in that transition period Fr Darren asked me to join the ACS council as one of its members. A huge honour for me to be considered. The first ordained female to take a seat in this forum. And for me, as I hope for the society, a brave and well placed move. I bring with me a whole host of experience from a church, as connected as it is in being an Anglican province, which is very different in its culture. The Church in Wales is a smaller more family-styled province which has, in my own experience, by several of its Bishops over the time I was there, been welcoming to those of us of such a tradition amongst them. So I bring with me that experience of finding space within a church that has no formal strategy for a place for AngloCatholics but seeks in love to make that space for all to engage.
I bring with me the rather unusual context of being ordained as a Deacon and living in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. It at times feels like the church  struggles with those who exercise a similar ministry to myself. In truth some in the Anglo-Catholic tradition seem not to be so sure about my existence because, a woman in a collar is just wrong! And those in the more liberal tradition seem to see me as some kind of traitor to womankind! Those situations withstanding I bring the reality that we have a church that is predominantly attended faithfully by women. So I hope to be able to help the Society answer questions about how do we speak into the real set up of the congregations we have in front of us.
I hope that my experience of working with younger people can be something with the ACS can use to its advantage in encouraging younger people to consider their own vocation in the context of their own discipleship. I look forward to being given the opportunity to speak into the discussions on vocation and the catholic tradition and hopefully widen the horizon of the church in their concepts of the needs of the church today.
To bring a new perspective to the work of the ACS I hope and pray will further encourage the church in its needs to engage the church with the reality of the world in which we live, so that the gospel message may continue to be engaged in the world of today.


This article has been taken from the Additional Curates’ Society publication

5 thoughts on “NOT CALLED TO PRIESTHOOD: Deacon Sarah Gillard-Faulkner

  1. I am a Reader in the Church of England and have been involved in prison ministry at HMP Onley for many years, going back to when it was a YOI and now a Category C men’s prison. Sarah has served in the Chaplaincy Team for the past year. We have a Pentecostal Managing Chaplain and a multifaith team including three Imams, a Roman Catholic, a C of E woman priest and representatives of a number of other faiths, also volunteers like me and a Quaker. For me, one of the really good things about such a ministry is working alongside a variety of other people. We learn from one another and together we offer the prisoners the spiritual support that is so vital in what can otherwise be a soulless experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your story is very interesting, I did grow up in the Anglican Church and was for a short time a Sunday School teacher. I don’t go to church now but I like to think the Christian Church still guides me. For a number of years I was a school teacher, I am now retired and live with my husband of fifty years. Finding a place in this complex, changing world can sometimes be difficult. You seem to have found your vocation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Vera, for your comment. I haven’t met Sarah myself, but she is very clear about her direction, and that’s helpful for others. Keep warm in this weather! Gill


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