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).