My name is Gwen and I’m currently working as a chaplain in a junior school in Bath. How I got here has been a work of God, and it’s a joy to share some of that journey with you.
I grew up in a secure loving family with siblings and parents who were Christian and who taught us many of the values that I still try to uphold today. For my parents, church life had it’s frustrations and on reflection, as I grow older I can sense some of the same tensions rising in me as I think of the church and it’s mission today.
After leaving home aged 18, I spent over 30 years in London, where I lived, studied, worshipped, worked and had opportunities to live out my faith. I taught in the 1990’s in inner city Lambeth, a school on a rough housing estate with committed colleagues who were set on ‘making a difference’ in children’s lives. The children were my biggest ‘teachers’, often coming to school with huge issues going on at home and showing resilience that I’d not witnessed in children so young. After being frustrated by the constant changes in education and pressures of ‘OFSTED’ visits, I applied to work with a Christian school’s charity, visiting primary schools in Lambeth. Amongst the busyness of the job, I spent many hours ‘listening’ as staff offloaded the pressures of the job, trying in some small way to show support.
In a multi-faith, inner city borough, children were open to hear the message of hope that the Bible brings. I remember distinctly following a series of lessons on prayer, a child got her class to sit down and asked ‘Can we really pray?’. She made them quiet by saying “Shush you lot, God might be listening!”. Building relationships with staff and children over many years of visiting the same schools regularly, taught me many things, including the value of schools having someone who had time to be there to listen and support through tough times. As a team we often said that the best way of offering schools support would be to be based in a school, but that was a joke – the reality was that funding was not possible!
I felt I had given God my best years in the inner city and it was a huge wrench when I decided to move to Wiltshire in 2012. In my mind I had shut the door on any further work in schools, feeling that the opportunities God had given in the past couldn’t happen again in a new area. I was to be proved wrong when I saw a post for a schools chaplain in Twerton, Bath. Coming under the ‘arches’ into Twerton for the interview I somehow felt at home and marvelled in the way that God works things out.
For the past eight years I have had the joy of serving the school community through the generous financial support of the church, school and The Willats’ Trust. My vision is to help open the eyes of those at school to see the God who is amongst us; sharing the everyday events of life. It hasn’t been an easy ride; in the first week of the job the school was devastated when the body of an ex-pupil was found in the River Avon and since then there have been numerous sad occasions, where families have been bereaved. Recently one of the children asked to pray for his dad, who was very poorly. It was humbling to listen as he asked God and Jesus to ‘please do your best’ for my dad. Sadly his dad died soon after this, but we continue to have chats about faith as well as memories about his dad.
Being appointed as one of the Willats’ guides is a real encouragement to me. I receive great support from the church and school, but to have an outside source of support is invaluable. The Willats’ Trust give so much more than only financial support. I have experienced a real sense of care, commitment and prayer for our guides, which I really appreciate.