My ministry

Annie Heppenstall

What was it about OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation that attracted you? I’ve been a ‘friend of’ for a long time, and have always felt a great resonance between my own life journey and the values, spirituality and training of OneSpirit. A series of curious synchronicities led to me apply for the faculty post, which felt like a strong pull into deeper relationship with something very important.

How has your background prepared you for this role?

Engagement with world faiths was at the heart of my Theology & Religious Studies degree. In my life with my husband Ray Gaston (who is a Christian priest) we are continuously immersed in interfaith and multicultural relationships, among diverse faiths and cultures. I write books supporting ‘alternative’ forms of spiritual journeying and ritual/ celebrancy, and lead workshops, meditations and retreats on this. My teaching and training experience in spiritual accompaniment weaves in too, and my training as an initiated Druid, a deep and delightful path, holds it all together and helps me to be ‘me’ …

How do you relate to the OneSpirit idea of a personal vow?

I have what I call an aspiration, which draws together the many threads of my life-web. I was struck by how well this relates to the OneSpirit idea of vows. I don’t mind sharing its essence: It’s an intention to align with the power and wisdom of eternal love, for the good of the earth and all beings.

What do you understand by — and when did you consciously embrace — ministry?

Ministry to me, is an opening and sense of availability to Spirit, to life itself, to love, which can flow through us to work miracles in the world. It’s a subtle dance of ‘getting out of the way’, and of celebrating our uniqueness. I have lots of ministries, but I felt my vocation was especially confirmed when I was nominated and elected to take on the title of Area Minister for the West Midlands, within TSSF, an Anglican Religious Order inspired by St Francis of Assisi.

Other than your work for One Spirit, how does your ministry manifest in the world now?

I write books about alternative spirituality; I have responsibility for the spiritual care of local Franciscans (TSSF); I give time in a multifaith spiritual care role with NHS Mental Health, currently as 'chaplain' to a therapeutic garden project; I mentor as a Druid; I give time to the church community where we live, wrestling with issues of poverty, asylum seeking, inclusivity.… and what it really means to love our neighbours.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

The natural world, and the vast treasury of world faith wisdom traditions, with particular leanings towards Zen, Sufism, Christian mysticism, and a lifelong fascination with ancient divinatory systems. Close to home, Ray is my inspiration in ministry; I think he’s brilliant.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what challenges you most on your path?

As always, ‘do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6:8).

 

Annie Heppenstall is a co-tutor on the OneSpirit training for ministers and spiritual counsellors. More about Annie's books:

http://interfaithministers.space/writing-that-is-joyful-inclusive-god-centred/

Sonya Leite

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? I had always wanted to explore various religious and spiritual paths experientially, beyond the academic perspective. I saw an advert for (as it was then called) The New Seminary and it was a no-brainer! I signed up immediately.

In which year were you ordained?   2002

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

My vow is spoken first in Spanish (my native tongue) which immediately opens my heart. “Yo prometo vivir con mi Corazon abierto, confiando en my guia Divina.” Then followed in English, my vow anchors me in the present moment. “I vow to live with an open heart, trusting in my Divine Guidance.”

My relationship to my vow changes each year as different words pop out and challenge me to look deeper into their meaning for me — words like Trust, Open, Divine, Vow etc. I have such fun and respect for my vow as it keeps showing me different aspects of the ONE and encourages me to be curious and play.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

I gained wonderful friends who have become my true spiritual family, and many part-time jobs with the Seminary. I wanted to support its growth. I wanted to give back and serve. I couldn’t leave! I was so inspired by the people and the curriculum. I mentored, worked in office administration with Kate Hill, designed the first Mentors Manual and mentors training with Angela Alexandra, and in 2007 I committed to being a supervisor.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

I now serve myself! Haha. My Ministry has many outlets, as a friend, Nia teacher, actor, spiritual counselor/supervisor, and worship service leader for the Unitarians, running occasional workshops and Heart and Soul prayer groups. My purpose is to express my passions for life and the Divine through creativity, health, fitness, healing and fun.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

Amma, the Unitarian Church, Sound Healing, retreats, the arts, Compassionate Communication practise groups. Being in the company of my Soul friends.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Today it’s physical pain and being with what is. Generally it’s back to my vow and trusting my guidance and acting on it.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

A continuation of what I am already doing, leading me into the great unknown!

Faith Agaba

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? I was working in pastoral care at a boarding school and was involved in developing the spiritual and moral welfare of the young people. But I wasn’t entirely satisfied with what we provided. I thought we could create something more authentic and accessible to everyone’s needs. Before I could make any big changes I knew I needed to calibrate the expression and practice of my own faith. I remember doing some research and being drawn to OneSpirit. I attended an introductory day a year or so later and was inspired.

In which year were you ordained? Class of 2014, Represent!

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

I vow to share, wholeheartedly, the bounty I am receiving. I’m always close to my vow. To me it speaks of self-awareness and sincerity. I love the continuity of it, it’s about sharing life, sharing energy, sharing passion and being aware of what you can contribute and how. It is a humbling and emboldening commitment to positivity and connection.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

Funnily enough it was moving to my current home base of Liverpool. I was merrily living abroad during training, and then felt I should be in the UK for the final stages. I could have gone anywhere in England; a dear Liverpool friend helped me find a place to live at short notice, then the city just swept me up. There’s such an honest vibe, people are thoughtful and genuine, realistic about struggles, and communicate with empathy and humour. I feel right at home. I’m fortunate to walk by the Mersey (pictured) most days; it helps me find my peace.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

Right now I work full-time supporting refugees and asylum seekers. If you’d asked me at the time of ordination I would never have guessed this would be my main occupation soon after. I love that! That’s exactly how I want my ministry to be. Full of obvious surprise. Does that make sense to you?

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

All the people I love and respect and the stories they tell or have told – in person, in song, in writing.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

I can never seem to get the pacing right. I’ll suddenly find that I’m doing too much, and other times I’ll chastise myself for to taking things too slow and easy. Getting more of a balance is a constant challenge. I’m not very good at planning necessary breaks.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

I am my ministry; its rhythm will always be my rhythm.

Jack Lynch

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? Rather an accidental conversation with Bernd Leygraf at a Forgiveness Project Workshop in 2009. He mentioned the course and I said “what's that?”. He said, “google it”. So I did. I went on the website and had a look round and within 20 minutes filled in the application form. I can't say I was 'drawn', but I was fascinated that such an organisation existed. The rest is history.

In which year were you ordained?   2011

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

It is in three parts, the first taken from the Integral work of Ken Wilber: (1)"May my consciousness and my behaviour be of service and a refuge to all beings in all worlds, liberating all into the Such-ness of this and every moment, (2) as I walk on this path of compassion, forgiveness, of mercy and of grace. (3) And I vow to stand fully in my vulnerable heart-self." It's part of my meditation.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

I no longer feel the need to belong to an organisation to define who I am. I came to realise that what I really needed was to do some deep personal work. I eventually sought professional therapy for Post Traumatic Stress.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

I'm not trying to do so much 'out there' and am staying 'closer to home', both physically and metaphorically. My 'ministry' has become a kind of pastoral care for those I know within my community of friends and family. My wife, Edie Campbell (ordained 2014), and I are often the first port of call for friends, family, acquaintances; we’re often on the phone with, or visiting or being visited by, any one of these several times a week. This has happened on its own by us just making ourselves available.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

Quiet. Finding times of quiet. I have created for myself a form of deep meditation that focuses on surrendering and embracing All That Is. It is very healing and nurturing. I’d be glad to share this with anyone who wants to know more.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Paying attention to my reactions to what’s going on in the political climate at present. In my meditation, I work with embracing All That Is (the 'suchness' as stated in my vow), focusing on working deeply within myself rather than trying to change what is 'out there'. Practicing being 'at peace'.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

I don't really think about that. Somehow 'developing' is no longer what is interesting to me. Acceptance and healing, being present ‘with' — whether that’s just with myself or with an ‘other' — walking alongside, giving space for others to 'be', is enough. I have no idea where it may lead. But that doesn't interest me. I'll know as I proceed.

Kim Smith

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? I was at a conference at Findhorn in 2004 and saw Miranda Holden speaking. There was something deeply peaceful about her, and I wanted to find out more. That led me to an Open Day, where I met a fellow Quaker. She assured me that all was well, and I then realised that I was being called to be on the programme.

In which year were you ordained?   2006

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

The Quaker founder, George Fox, is well known for this: ‘Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone”. I adopted that as my vow, although it seems rather sparse now, as the place of nature becomes more central in my life.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

My commitment to Truth; to being authentic. This led to my marriage. It also led on to my training in Constellation work. This enables me to live my spirituality in a practical way.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

I prepare and deliver ceremonies about four times a year. Love it. Last year I completed some doctoral research. This found ways of preparing new student nurses to care for dying people and their families. My work as a university lecturer gives me an opportunity to embody spiritual principles and to challenge purely biomedical approaches. I also grant ethical approval for research projects in the University and internationally. However, I find myself yearning to spend more time in the garden, on our allotment or at the transition community farm. The pull of nature is strong, so my life’s purpose has started to move towards stillness.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

My morning lesson from Wahiduddin (http://wahiduddin.net) is my base for meditation. My Quaker, Steiner, OneSpirit and Constellation communities continue to inspire me. Human Beings are truly awesome.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

My work involves dealing with conflict and bureaucracy. I struggle with ‘speaking truth to power’, but continue to try to practice this skill! I also struggle with being focused. I tend to dilute myself with too many ventures.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

Being part of a movement that is developing a more spiritual approach to Higher Education. Hopefully, getting closer to ‘OneSpirit’.

Jan Storey

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? Listening to ‘Here I am Lord” being sung at a friend’s Ordination by the new ministers.

In which year were you ordained?    2003

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

If it is your will Beloved, I will return here while there is suffering, to play my part in healing the human family. (This guides my direction and my actions).

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

I had a realization of who I was and why I was here.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

It enables me to look for the Divine in other beings.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

I am inspired by the courage and sweetness of others.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Unkindness.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

Working my way towards a grateful and grace-full end of life, thus presenting others with an honest example of spiritual living and dying (as best I can).

Jan Storey is a former faculty member, and currently a trustee of OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation.

Bernd Leygraf

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit Interfaith minister? I was about to get married within what was considered not a spiritually recognised union by the Church. I did not find this acceptable and searched for a more inclusive form of spirituality. While being immensely grateful for the spirituality that the Church had nursed in me for 50 or so years. Religions too have spirituality, and have had for a few thousand years!

In which year were you ordained?    2010

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

This feels too personal for me to write about in a questionnaire form. What I can say is that I did not vow anything, my statement was a prayer to “you” – my community and my maker.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

I gained a deeper appreciation of the streams of Life which are historically consigned to the scrapheap in academia, in religious and spiritual expressions…

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

In my constant desire to challenge our own separation between ‘them’ and ‘us’, religion and spirituality, inner and outer, dogma and creative expressions. On a more practical level I aim to set up an Interfaith community with its own Rule, aligned to Westminster Abbey, to recognize the One at the heart of the nation. The rest is faculty work – and it is hard work !

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

I have carried the Jesus prayer in my in- and out-breath for many years, and it now prays itself. The relationships I am part of at OneSpirit — most notably faculty friends — and at Naos, my own organization. Ramana Maharshi remains a great teacher, also Amma, Babaji, my Muslim friends, Fr Augustine Hoey OSB, Fr Roger Schutz and my partner Jaap.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

To tolerate others who are closer to the beginning of their spiritual and theological enquiry; and my own loneliness in seeking peers.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

I want to devote less time to cleaning up in other peoples houses, and more attending to my own. To stand in awe of the Great Silence that lives in all of us.

Christopher Marcus

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? I experienced a baby blessing held by an interfaith minister, Annie Blampied, and was inspired to find out more.

In which year were you ordained?    2007

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of having my vow printed here. It is very personal and in flux, and I’m concerned it might become ‘fixed’ if it’s out there — and I don’t want that to happen. What I can say is that my vow has changed over the years, and it is also my calling and what I want to live up to.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

After the training I felt a complete lack of interest in my previous profession of 35 years as a theatre director. However, I notice this is just beginning to shift now — 10 years later! One of the things I then went on to do instead was to become a mentor on the OneSpirit training, and later joined the teaching faculty, to accompany other people as they train to be ministers.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

Everything I do is my ministry, including coping with my shadow.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

My family, friendships and Anthroposophy.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Standing up for myself when there is conflict in my relationships, and learning to give voice to the protagonist in me. This is wrestling with my shadow, which prefers to bypass conflict by withdrawing into the belief that, ‘it’s all my problem’.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

I don’t know. Each new day is the future…

Christopher Marcus is a member of OneSpirit's teaching faculty.

Chris Corps

What was it that first called you to train as a OneSpirit interfaith minister? Probably many things that lay hidden and unrecognised in life's experiences, which surfaced on a storytelling course when hearing about an interfaith minister. Ears pricked up! Years later a daughter gave me a nudge! No looking back.

In which year were you ordained?   Good. An easy answer! 2012

What is your minister’s vow, and your relationship to it?

The words are the form. They change. The inner push to love, to live from a place of gratitude, to 'be of use', finds expression in different ways. Sometimes wordless.

What was the most important thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

I try to listen, to watch, and to be, with greater attention.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

I wonder if this is a question for others? Outwardly, it's family, sacred poetry and storytelling, hospice volunteering, animals, trustee work, occasional ceremonies, hopefully not separate but weaving together. Inwardly, though, perhaps that's where ministry is, or begins to take effect.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

Could be anything - a hibernating ladybird, an ancient oak, a gift from a grandchild, holding a hand, reading, music, stillness, waves crashing on an Australian beach.....

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Remembering that there is always a bigger picture, which dispels neat answers.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

I'm happy to let it be whatever it becomes.

Chris is vice-chair of trustees at OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation.

Lindsay Jarrett

What was it that first called you to join the OneSpirit training? In a bored moment I Googled, ‘I want to do something spiritual’. I wasn’t looking to be a minister, I didn’t know what I wanted, but the OneSpirit training popped up. I was excited as I read through the prospectus, loving the code of ethics and feeling that this was very much for me. It was with some disappointment that after an introductory day, I felt it was all far too fluffy, so I said no. But something much bigger than me had other ideas, as I found myself, a week before training began, being grabbed by the proverbial collar and frogmarched through the OneSpirit doors – well that’s how it felt. And it wasn’t fluffy…….

In which year were you ordained?    2006

What is your minister’s vow, as taken then, or since updated?

My original vow lost its resonance for me, and then I found myself unable to put into words what it was I could offer a world in such turmoil. In the end I realised I can do no more than offer an open and loving heart – so that is my vow, to be as open and loving as I can be.

What was the main thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

Becoming OneSpirit’s Administrator. If this is what the ‘something bigger’ had in mind for me when it steered me through the doors of OneSpirit, then I bow to ‘Its’ wisdom. I give thanks every day for the huge privilege of being steward of this role and doing this work.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

I’ve recently become a wife, which I discover is a ministry in itself! Also as Administrator of course, and I take ceremonies when I’m asked.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

My main sources of inspiration are from nature, my colleagues and meditation.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Feeling ‘not good enough’ trips me up and I’m challenged daily by the atrocities around the world – I feel helpless and can doubt in the Divine Plan – so I constantly return to my vow, and work on changing what I can in my own world by being open and loving, that’s all I can do.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

In my continuing role as Administrator, I hope!

Jackie Amos Wilkinson

What was it that first called you to join the OneSpirit training? I didn’t intentionally join the training to become a minister – I was attracted by the ethics of the New Seminary. When I read them, I knew I wanted to live from those principles and be part of this community.

In which year were you ordained?    2004

What is your minister’s vow, as taken then, or since updated?

To be Peace, to serve Love, to champion Wholeness: this is my Truth and my vow.

What was the main thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

The training led to my ordination, which turned my life inside out - literally. I started living the truth of ‘God in me’ as well as ‘me in God’. The training brought me home to my heart and the Self within - it gave me a deeper connection to, and reverence for, all things.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

My life is my ministry, so everything I do, whether teaching or playing with the grandchildren, is ministry. The vision I wrote for my ministry when I was creating my minister’s manual was, “to be of service by inspiring and encouraging others to live their highest truth within the context of Love, Peace and Joy”. I enjoy and sense that I am fulfilling my purpose by being part of a process (the training) that gives people back to themselves; helps them find the God within.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

Nature is a particular source of inspiration, as is Life itself. Current favorite teachers are Eckhart Tolle, Ouspensky, Matthew Fox, and Jason Shulman. I love finding new (to me) sources of wisdom either by travelling to experience different forms of spirituality or by reading books that are recommended to me. The Four Fold Way by Angeles Arrien, and the Aquarian Conspiracy by Marilyn Fergusion, are the latest two such books. Travel wise - immersing myself in Moogi’s non-dual approach in India, and enjoying the delightful mix of Shamanism and Buddhism in Mongolia, are recent experiences and sources of inspiration.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

My edge is to be willing to give voice to the authentic Self that is ever in the process of becoming more aware of its Self. The challenge is to truly welcome all aspects of myself and of life.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

Unusually, I find I don’t have an answer for this. I notice I am happy to be with what is and to stay in the present for now.

Rob MacLachlan

What was it that first called you to join the OneSpirit training? Two things. Reading the brochure (there was no website then) made this grown man cry from start to finish with joy and recognition. Also, the opportunity to explore the great faith traditions with fellow seekers in an experiential way.

In which year were you ordained?    2006

What is your minister’s vow, as taken then, or since updated?

I vow to live with passion; to love all the faces of God; to listen when Spirit calls; and to laugh more. The last I’d still like to do oftener.

What was the main thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

I’d set out to change career — to become a minister and psychotherapist — but soon discovered it was journalism and organisational leadership that inspired me and called me back. I was so much more effective and at ease, now that I could connect with my essential Self, and ‘drop the knife’ of judgment — of myself and others. And I’d developed more of a capacity for sensing into and expressing what was required in any given situation.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

I’ve worked for OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation almost continuously since I was ordained, in various roles including mentor, manager, trustee, chair of trustees, and now as website/ newsletter editor. Sometimes I wonder if this long association is some sort of co-dependent behaviour! Yet when I reflect deeply, I always find that any unease my small self/personality might feel dissolves when I connect with my deepest inspiration and desire to serve the unfolding of Spirit. My background and passion is in developing professional communities, and building new models of organisations that express and embody the full potential of human beings. So I’ve been very fortunate that when on these occasions I’ve felt the inner call, I’ve also received an outer invitation to contribute to the Foundation.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

I’m in a retreat group within the Ridhwan School. Using the teachings of Almaas, with regular meditation, body sensing and witnessed inquiry, we consciously explore and peel away the obscuring layers of our personalities to access the essential, limitless qualities of True Nature more freely.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

Learning to trust and express my healthy masculine energy, especially where it is deeply mistrusted by the feminine.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

I’ll tell you when I know.

Danielle Wilson

What was it that first called you to join the OneSpirit training?

I had been looking for a new direction in my life and had gone down a few dead ends. But I was not clear in myself what it was I was looking for. Then, when I read the description on the website, everything about it resonated immediately at such a deep level and I just KNEW that this was IT!!! (Even though I had no idea what it would really mean, it just resonated so soundly that I trusted that.)

In which year were you ordained?    2006

What is your minister’s vow, as taken then, or since updated?

Version that I use now (it has been shortened since 2006): I vow to walk the sacred path with honesty, integrity, compassion and love. I vow to hold the light for others embarking on the sacred path.

What was the main thing that changed in your life as a result of the training?

Enhanced spiritual self-awareness. Better grasp of a metaphysical God. Recognition from my friends and family of this important step in my life.

How does your ministry or your life’s purpose manifest in the world now?

My original intention for my ministry was to work with the dying – to be a soul mid-wife. That never really seemed to arrive in an easy fashion. I stumbled upon the Spiritual Laws of Prosperity and immediately, I could see that already I had been promoting these laws (unwittingly!) in my work for OneSpirit as Finance Officer. Now I see my ministry as supporting those who struggle with their prosperity/abundance issues, to trust in the inherent abundance the Universe has to provide, and to trust in the Divine to bring that abundance their way.

What main sources of inspiration or guidance do you draw on for your continuing spiritual journey?

Metaphysical readings, particularly from Church of Religious Science (the work of Ernest Holmes), Unity Church (work of Charles Fillimore), and Fr. Richard Rohr.

Where is your ‘edge’ currently — what most challenges you on your path?

As I approach an age where retirement might become a reality and/or necessity, how to deal with the issues that arise as a result of not working/not contributing/etc.

How do you envision your ministry developing in future?

Not really sure. I expand my knowledge of prosperity every year, and continue to find ways that serve well in my area of work — helping students to get their fees paid. I can only imagine this will continue to strengthen more and more in the years to come.

Dorota Owen

Dorota - red carpet (1)Teaching and ministry are indivisible for Dorota, whether as classroom cover teacher or global ambassador  

I’m basically just a teacher, but I have an unusual job — and methods. I work freelance as a classroom teacher in different roles for the local authority here in Moray, and in Highland. Often I’ll do a whole day in a primary school, or I may be covering absent teachers in secondary schools. I also work with kids who’ve been ‘excluded’. They are beyond the school system, and it’s my job to create a holding environment around them. It really helps that the location for this healing work is the Moray Arts Centre building, within the ecovillage at Findhorn.

I always enter the classroom with no knowledge of what I’m going to teach. It’s an emergent process, noticing what’s going on for the students, and co-creating a learning experience with them. For example, the other day I asked a boy what he was listening to on his mobile phone as he entered the room. His answer opened up the subject of people creating their own music, which somehow led to talking about Japan, which led to a moving discussion about Hiroshima.

It’s about paying attention, and being the presence of Love. That’s the core of everything I do. It uses all of my 35 years experience as a teacher, and all of my skills as an interfaith minister. I’m not really made for delivering lesson plans. Writing a lesson plan the night before would be like writing the plan for a counselling session in advance. You just wouldn’t do that — it would be the opposite of paying attention. Even when I do the occasional wedding or baby blessing, I love to co-create part of the ceremony, to allow it to emerge in the moment.

In a sense, all my activities involve teaching, with different flavours. Whenever I’m personally interested in something, I’ll create a conference around it. That’s how the series of Northern Lights Teachers Conferences at Findhorn began. An early one was called ‘ Art and Creativity at the Heart of the Curriculum.’ I also hosted the International Holistic Centres Gathering last year in Greece at the Kalikalos centre, where I’ve been leading a holiday retreat for families for a number of years. In the last 3 years I’ve become an ambassador for the Global Ecovillage Network, and my next trip will be speaking — teaching — at conferences in Beijing and Shanghai.

A number one priority for me is to look after myself. I make a point of turning up to these events absolutely present. You can only do that if you have a good self-care programme — eating well, sleeping well, exercising, spending quality time with friends, family or alone. One of my aphorisms is the 3R’s :‘Radiance Requires Retreat’. Human beings need this, just like a cellphone needs recharging. Another is: ‘Time is the secret ingredient’. Allowing enough time to build solid foundations enables any project to become more resilient.

Dorota - Findhorn (1)Spiritually, I feel really plugged into the mains here at Findhorn. I’ve been a member of the Findhorn Community for 12 years. It’s such an international, cosmopolitan community, with an amazingly diverse range of skills and expertise. And I love the pristine natural environment of sea, river and forest. Whenever I’m travelling, I think of Findhorn as my mother ship. Dorota Owen was ordained in 2007, and is based at Findhorn, Moray, in NE Scotland. Interviewed by Rob MacLachlan, March 2016.

Helen Williams

Helen found that volunteering as a OneSpirit mentor deepened her spirituality and became her ministry Helen-Williams

As part of the mentor team, my spiritual life was multiplied by four. At first our focus was mainly on organising, with each mentor taking responsibility for an aspect of the physical holding: Felice preparing the altars, Bernadette the angel table, Noel the sound system and me everything to do with time-keeping. But soon a deep companionship and sense of mutual support developed. We had a huge spiritual affinity and an ever-deepening appreciation of our different styles and ways of responding. I felt four times larger.

Working as a mentor to the students was deeply rewarding. I was the mentor to 9 students — more than usual, and I took it on because I was working part-time, and had retired by year two. We had two meetings a month as a whole study group, one by Skype and one in person. But the heart of it was a monthly spiritual counselling session with each student by Skype. I found if I had a session planned with a student in the evening, I’d often carry them with me through the day. My spiritual practice has been in Mahayana Buddhism for the last 37 years. The students became part of my contemplation, and my own expansion in Spirit.

We learned by osmosis from the faculty how to work with groups. It was Christopher and Bernd’s first time working together. They are two very different characters, Christopher with his artistic genius and flair for ceremony, Bernd with his more analytical approach and talent for guiding people in their personal process. Witnessing our tutors’ early interactions, their debriefs in our holding group and their growing rapport — how they moved through the initial uncertainty, into recognising and supporting each other’s strengths — seemed a very special experience.

I found it frustrating at times to be in a supporting role. I think it was particularly hard for me because teaching has been my profession — and my subject was religious studies and philosophy! I found it frustrating at times to have to hold back. Of course, the holding team’s check-in and check-out were key parts of each training weekend, and the tutors listened very deeply to our experience as mentors, and our discernment about where the students were. But the mentor role is primarily about supporting those in control, the tutors. Yielding control challenged me, because it required me to set aside what I’d always considered my strengths. And it also deepened my capacity to support others and express myself more intuitively.

I gained a whole new perspective on how fresh and creative this training is. The same themes were recognisable, as in my own experience of the training, but they were explored and expressed in different ways due to the different personalities and the chemistry between the tutors. You also see that each student year group brings its own maturity, and a different diversity of life experience. Each has its own dynamic and rich character. Somehow, the teachers and the teaching can never get stale because of the beauty and freshness of what the students themselves bring to the training.

For me, the deepening involved in being a mentor was just irresistible. And after being such a big part of my life for two years, it’s another challenge to let it go. I’ve set myself the goal of walking the beautiful Wales coastal path, and connecting with every Welsh minister on the way. But I have a kind of envy in me about how delicious it will be for the new group of mentors to come into the holding team and have the chance to work creatively with the new group of students. Helen Williams was ordained in 2013, and is based in south Wales. Interview and write-up by Rob MacLachlan, September 2015.

Helen was a mentor with the OneSpirit class that started in Nov 2013 and was ordained in July 2015. Her mentor colleagues were Felice Rhiannon, Bernadette Nuttall, Noel Lockyer-Stevens (in year 1) and Jonathan Chuter (year 2).

Imke Klie

In Hamburg, Imke has built her business leading wedding ceremonies — while having a baby! Imke-Klie

I was very pregnant just at the height of the wedding season. I stopped work 3 weeks before the birth of my daughter Lisbeth last September. My co-worker Friederike had to take over as celebrant for the last wedding I was booked to do before the birth. She had attended all meetings with the couple just in case. She gave the speech I’d prepared and led the entire ceremony. The wedding went perfectly! This year I’m working half-time, so I still have enough time for my little one.

A government agency funded me to train to set up my own business. It was 2006, a year after the end of my Interfaith Seminary training. While I had another part-time job I set up my company, Imke Klie Zeremonien. It grew fast and I left my regular job to go full-time in 2008. I have an office in Hamburg where I meet clients. I charge 900-1,500 euros (£630-£1,050 ) for a wedding, including VAT. Mostly I work in the Hamburg area, but I’ve also done ceremonies in Cologne and Munich, and in Spain, Sweden and England.

I describe myself as a ‘celebrant for non-denominational ceremonies’. In Germany, 'minister' is a term used only in politics, and to have called myself a pastor or priest would have made people think I was with a church. Using a neutral word like celebrant means that I can concentrate on explaining what I am, rather than what I’m not. Also, I wear plain clothes.

I love to listen to what people yearn for, what gives strength to their lives. To be honest, I don't know much about religion. The training helped me tremendously to find the authority in myself to bless others, but generally I don’t use explicitly spiritual terms. Rather, I’ll say, for example, “May you always see each other through the eyes of love and understanding”, or “May you never forget what truly is important to you.”

My job is to help couples find an authentic expression for their love. I meet each couple three times, for up to three hours each time, before the ceremony. And I ask them a lot of very personal, individual questions. Sometimes, in the process of diving into their thoughts and feelings, and writing their vows, they say things to each other they’ve never said before. In the ceremony I speak about what moves them, and aim to reflect the qualities of their unique relationship.

The universe heard my call and sent me lovely co-workers. By 2009, I realised so many couples were asking me to be their celebrant that I needed help. Since then, I’ve had three co-workers, two of whom have since left to do other things. In 2012, our best year, we did 100 ceremonies. Most are weddings, about 5 per cent are funerals and 10 per cent baby blessings.

Every ceremony done by co-workers is still my responsibility. They learn from watching how I approach meetings with couples and conduct ceremonies. When they do the work themselves, they use my resources such as the office, my entire repertoire (readings and rituals) and questionnaires, and get supervision from me - and I have a financial return from the ceremonies they do.

Imke’s website: imkeklie.de/eng/welcome.html

Imke Klie was ordained in 2005 and is based in Hamburg, Germany.

Interview and write-up by Rob MacLachlan, August 2015.

Anita McKenzie

alias Sistahintheraw, is inspired by raw food's health benefits - and by her African-Caribbean roots A raw food diet has made me feel healthier than ever before. I first tried it in 2007 when I’d been unwell for some time. Very quickly my symptoms disappeared. I felt grounded, energised and clear-headed. The transformation was miraculous —and many people remarked on it. So it was natural to want to help others enjoy the same benefits. That’s how I became a raw food teacher and coach.

It’s a way of honouring the life force in plants at a spiritual level. Cooking often damages plants, reducing the spectrum of nutrients we can absorb. Adopting a raw food lifestyle involves being more respectful of their different qualities. And being conscious about nutrition and what sustains our bodies is also a way of connecting with the Earth, nature and our humanness.

We have to ‘unlearn’ many of our assumptions about food first. All of us grow up with rituals about preparing food, and drawn to certain tastes, smells and textures. For example, most people from a Caribbean background prepare plantain by steaming, baking or frying it. One of the first recipes I demonstrate in my food workshops is chopped raw plantain, with orange juice, kiwi fruit, spring onions, olive oil and seasoning, sprinkled with watercress or other sprouts. People love it!

Raw food draws on indigenous traditions, and the knowledge of our ancestors. My parents were from Jamaica, and once, when we were on holiday there, my daughter developed a serious skin condition. I vividly remember how my grandmother used her knowledge of herbs to concoct a remedy that healed the infection within hours. I believe a raw food diet maximises health and can prevent a lot of disease occurring.

Sometimes people seek me out because I’m a black minister. Many of my ceremonies include libations —the ritual pouring of a drink, usually water or alcohol, onto the earth as an offering to God. Recently I led the funeral of a Rastafarian man, half of whose children wanted a service that respected their father’s beliefs, half of whom were Seventh Day Adventists. Eventually we worked out an approach everybody could accept. It was so important that I had an empathy for and understanding of African-Caribbean spiritual traditions.

Being an interfaith minister enables me to work in an open-hearted way. The training helped me to “drop the knife” of harsh judgments about myself and others. It’s just as important to be compassionate and supportive with people on a raw food course —who often come due to a health challenge—as it is with families dealing with grief. Both are a chance to work more deeply with people, at times when they are open to exploring the deeper aspects of being alive.

Anita’s website and blogs: sistahintheraw.wordpress.com

Her Sistahintheraw page on facebook has more than 35,000 likes. She is also on Twitter.

Anita McKenzie was ordained in 2006 and is based in Brixton, south London.

Interview and write-up by Rob MacLachlan, June 2015.

Tim Ralphs

[column width="1/1" last="true" title="" title_type="single" animation="none" implicit="true"] Tim finds that his two roles as a professional storyteller and minister strengthen each other

As human beings, we need stories to help us understand ourselves. They help us to make sense of our own experience, and to appreciate why others behave as they do. Yet often in modern life, we don’t make time to deeply listen to stories — or to contemplate their significance. I run workshops exploring archetypes and characters in myth, and it’s very satisfying to be able to hold the space for the stories, the ritual, and for meditation in the same workshop.

For a long time, storytelling and ministry seemed separate to me. I found my storytelling had an egotistical element, while ministry happened in a far more sincere and reflective space, not about performance at all. But I found my minister training enabled me, as a storyteller, to speak from a much more grounded place, and to explore more complex themes. It also helped me appreciate more deeply just what a rich repertoire of stories and myths I have to support me as a minister.

They came together beautifully in preparing the story of David and Jonathan. I first worked on this story for the bible studies department of Sheffield University, as part of a day exploring sexual diversity. I’m a straight man, so I talked to LGBT colleagues from my OneSpirit training. They pointed me towards the story of David and Jonathan from Samuel I & II, and they gave me precious insights into how some of their modern-day experiences echoed those of the historical figures. My version of the story of David and Jonathan is interspersed with these shorter (anonymised) modern-day stories of minister colleagues.

This is the essence of storytelling — exploring our shared human experience. I’m now touring with this ancient story, which is more compellingly relevant to the modern world. Hearing about people’s actual lived reality, the audience shares in important universal experiences like anger, loss and grief, and is able to connect with the characters of David and Jonathan. Without my training as a minister, I doubt I’d have been brave enough to explore these tender places, or grounded enough to express a sense of the sacred. I now know that storytelling can be a sacred ritual.

I also help people step back, and touch into what really excites them. For example, the process of academic life in general excludes the whole human being. I’ve worked with PhD students and lecturers who increasingly are expected by their universities to present their research to a wider public. I coach them to include not just their research results and insights, but why it’s important, why they care about it, what led them into the field in the first place. Some say this has totally changed their approach to lecturing. They’re able to bring a stronger sense of themselves into their work, and have greater confidence and enthusiasm.

Taking ownership of one’s life by story-ing it, could work in other fields. I’m fascinated by the possibilities in the realm of illness and health, and social care. We know people find it empowering if they can take ownership of an illness or setback by incorporating it into their personal history. Supporting people to look deeply and tell their own stories could help to bring the humanity back into health care.

Tim Ralphs was ordained in 2013, and lives in Nottinghamshire. Interview and write-up by Rob MacLachlan, September 2015.

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Mel Gard

[column width="1/1" last="true" title="" title_type="single" animation="none" implicit="true"] As a doula, Mel accompanies women through childbirth, celebrating the Divine Feminine creating new life

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This calling goes back to the difficult circumstances of my own birth. My mum had an eclamptic fit while delivering me. She was in a coma for three days, and obviously it would have been really distressing for both of us to be separated during that time. My OneSpirit training helped me to see the gift in this — why it is I so deeply want every baby and every mother to have a good start.

I accompany a woman through the entirety of her labour. I was inspired to train as a doula when I was having my own children. I trained with the radical French obstetrician Michel Odent. But of course, that’s not a good time to do it! You have to be available at the drop of a hat, sometimes for 2 days and 2 nights. Birthing and bringing up my own five children took priority for a long time.

It can be a very intimate relationship, physically and emotionally. I might spend hours massaging a woman’s back while she’s sitting on the loo. But the most important thing is to be with her in the deepest sense. For the women it’s talking, for me it’s spiritual counselling. Some of my experiences as a doula have been traumatic, and very challenging. I have to set aside my own feelings and process them later.

In a life-threatening situation, you do what needs to be done. One woman whose first child had been born via caesarian, wanted very much to give her second a vaginal birth. The delivery went well and she took the child to the breast, but then went into a medical emergency. For the next 9 or 10 hours I gave the baby my breast. The mother and I had spent many hours together, so I knew what the couple’s aspirations were, and what the situation asked of me.

At every birth I feel in the presence of the birthing goddess. When a woman gets to the final stage and removes her clothing, and is deeply present in her beautiful full body, there’s such an earthy, grunting, grounded energy. I’m in the presence of the Divine Feminine creating new life, and yet there is a wonderful humanness in it. It’s always such a blessing and an honour to experience this. Doula means servant in Greek, and I’m serving the birthing goddess.

One midwife said she was reminded of why she became a midwife. It’s very rare for a midwife to have the time to sit and hold a woman’s hand for hours on end. There was one couple I accompanied who found just the thought of going into hospital for their baby’s birth traumatising. We negotiated with the medical team in advance to be able to create a very calm and meditative space in the delivery room. The midwife told me later she had felt the presence of love in the room.

In the past I was often told, “You’re too intense!” Now I realise this is what draws me to be with others in the most intense moments of life. I love the profound connection to the cycle of life of taking a funeral one day and being at a birth the next. My desire to work as a doula was rekindled through accompanying a friend with advanced motor neurone disease in her dying process.

A woman in childbirth is at her most vulnerable. Her partner, usually a man, is there to protect her. I’m there partly to support him — to reassure him that when the woman screams or throws up, it’s actually a good sign! — because a man can often feel worried and helpless at this time. But I couldn’t be a doula without my partner Paul’s support. After every birth, when I get back home, often exhausted, I debrief with him, burst into tears and then fall asleep in his arms.

Pictured: Mel celebrates the recent arrival of Quinn, with mother Sarah.

Mel Gard was ordained in 2010, and is based in Cumbria. Her partner, Paul Elliston, is also a OneSpirit minister. Interviewed by Rob MacLachlan, Sept 2015.

Mel’s doula profile (and more info about Doula UK: doula.org.uk/content/melanie-gard-doula-profile)

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Ann Thompson

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After a dramatic career change, Ann led 1,000 funerals in 7 years as a minister

January 2015 was my busiest month ever, with 37 funerals. Eleven of those were in a single week. That’s not a sustainable workload, of course, but it seemed important to try to meet the incredible level of need at that time. My funeral work has grown steadily from one service in 2007, to 268 in 2014. I passed the 1,000 mark sometime last year.

It takes time to earn the trust of funeral directors. They are a small community, and they all talk to each other. They know I’m reliable - that when they call me, I will always contact the family of the deceased person within hours. You have to work with funeral directors, to accept that they’re in charge of the event. You’re working for them as much as the family.

I always visit the family in their own home if at all possible. They feel more at ease there. It can take from 30 minutes to three hours to allow everything that needs to be said, and for the service to take shape. People really appreciate when the service is personal to them. I try to mention the name of their loved one repeatedly. So often I hear people remark how some ministers somehow seem to exclude the deceased person.

It’s a precious experience every time I stand by the coffin. I’ve had many unusual spiritual experiences, most often just before the committal - a sense of other beings around us, come to help the departed person on their way. I see them with my inner eye. It’s like standing at the meeting point between two realities.

Bankruptcy was the best thing that ever happened to me. Thanks in large part to my training as a minister, my life has completely transformed since my business went bust. It was a very low time, but I realise now it was the only way the Universe could get me to wake up and do what I was always meant to do.

Funeral work feeds me, in many senses. My fee is £195 (the same as humanist celebrants), so I’m earning a good income. Since ordination, I’ve also met a wonderful man, we've got together and recently bought the house in the country I dreamed about. I also do a handful of weddings each year — but funerals are what I absolutely love doing.

Ann’s website: www.interfaithservices.co.uk

Ann Thompson (known as Ann Day at the time she trained) was ordained in 2007, and is based in Oxfordshire. Interviewed by Rob MacLachlan, May 2015.

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