Here Fr Rob introduces himself following his instillation as our Vicar on 28th February 2018.
Hello. My name is Rob, but you will sometimes hear me referring to myself as Fr Rob. You are welcome to call me whatever works best for you (so long as it’s nice!). Titles are funny things. The title Father or Mother is common in the Church of England for a Priest who has a certain kind of prayerful focus to their ministry and worship. Having trained at a monastery and now being a member of a dispersed monastic community, using the title Fr seems appropriate, although it most certainly should not get in the way of you encountering God at All Saints’. So use it if it helps, or just call me Rob if not.
I always feel a little odd when people ask me to talk about myself. I mean, I am just an average person being asked to do a complex yet wonderful job. I grew up in a market town called Soham in the fens of East Anglia. I lived there for 28 years. I was a troublesome teenager and it was only through a combination of good fortune and my infrequent jaunts into church that stopped me from getting into serious trouble.
Whilst at college studying Science and Sports Studies, I worked as a Bar manager and Assistant Chef at a local Tex-Mex Restaurant – great fun! Then after college, I worked for 2 years as a Fitness Instructor. I then began working at the local Animal Feed Mill in our town – where my father worked before me, and my grandfather had sold his grain (he was a farm worker). After a few years I became Mill Manager there, and then took on managerial responsibility for Export Sales, Quality Control and Health and Safety.
After the Mill closed, I worked temporarily at a church outreach initiative associated with Great St Mary’s Church in Trinity Street, Cambridge, before starting work at Anglia Ruskin University as a Risk Advisor to the Directorate (H&S and Corporate Risk). I began exploring my call to the priesthood. At this time, our daughter Jasmine was also born and Sarah and I got married (in that order).
I realise now, that I had experienced a call to the priesthood from a very young age, which is interesting given that neither of my parents are religious. After I was accepted for training, our son Thomas was born. Then my family and I moved to Mirfield in West Yorkshire to begin training for the priesthood at the College of the Resurrection (alongside the Community of the Resurrection – sometimes known as the Mirfield Fathers).
Why did I chose Mirfield? Well to put it simply, all the priests (vicars) whom I encountered who had trained at Mirfield seemed to carry a certain prayerfulness, conviction and integrity of faith which transcended different personality types or the personal views they may have on certain other issues (Mirfield attracts lots of different types and persuasions). There was something very special about the prospect of training alongside such an inspirational religious community. In my experience, this was quite unique – the call to community and deep spirituality coming before theological or political views. This seemed to me a perfect model for what the Anglican Church should be; a diverse church of differing opinions, united around its call to holiness, community and its commitment to one another. Did it live up to its potential? Certainly, though it was a gruelling commitment at times.
Anyway, I left College with a BA from Leeds University and was ordained to the Sacred order of the Diaconate in 2010 and then the Priesthood in 2011. I did my curacy at Gornal and Sedgely Team Ministry in the Diocese of Worcester; A very large, urban, busy parish of 30,000 population consisting of four churches on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. I loved it there in the Black Country!
Following my curacy, I moved to the benefice of Geddington with Weekley. 2 small villages on the outskirts of Kettering in the Diocese of Peterborough. This was a very different setting to what I had been used to, but we thrived. Whilst at Geddington, I completed an MA by Research on Charles Gore and a Theology of Priesthood at Durham University.
Even though the villages of Geddington and Weekley were small, our congregations grew well over the 4 years we were there. This was largely a result of everyone’s positivity and commitment; by improving the flow and deepening of the liturgy, expanding the musical repertoire (but in keeping with our traditional style) and making what we did as welcoming as possible. As a result, the demographic of those attending expanded so that it was more evenly spread across all age ranges. It was very emotional leaving Geddington and Weekley when the time came – we had been so supported and loved there. But we became convinced that God was calling us to a new adventure in Orpington!
My wife, children, dog, chickens and I all moved to Orpington in February 2018 and we are all so very pleased to be here. Personally, I am very humbled to have been asked to move All Saints’ forward into the future and impressed by the church’s desire to grow and attract newcomers, especially young people. I will try my best and thank you for your support as we all try and make All Saints’ a church fit for all people!
I am convinced that, as Christians, we have an awful lot to rejoice in. We should do what we do with confidence and integrity. We should not feel the need to water things down too much. I am also passionate about the need for the Church to open itself up to new generations, even when that feels a little inconvenient to those of us who already come.
So, wherever you are on your faith journey, remember that God mysteriously works through all things, he is walking with you even now, and the journey he will take you on is awe-inspiring, if you’ll only let him.
I really look forward to meeting you sometime soon.
Wishing you every blessing,
Fr Rob Parker-McGee SR