Stephen Coleman is a seminarian in England who recently spent two weeks in New York, learning more about the Parish of Trinity Wall Street and, particularly, Trinity’s Faith In Action ministry.
How did you get connected with Trinity Wall Street?
It's basically a placement for my seminary, Westcott House in Cambridge, as part of training for ordination in the Church of England. There was this possibility of going abroad, and when I talked to my great friend and mentor George Bush, Rector of St. Mary-le-Bow, he thought that Trinity would be an ideal place for me to come, because my home parish is St. Mary-le-Bow in London, Trinity’s sister parish.
How did you decide to become a priest?
I went to university at Oxford at age eighteen for theology, and then I did a master’s degree in Reformation church history. After that I was thinking about getting ordained and spent a year working at a church as a pastoral assistant. And I decided at that stage that I didn’t feel called to the priesthood, and I therefore went off and trained to become a lawyer and I went to law school and worked at a major City of London law firm and then latterly at the London office of the New York law firm, Sullivan and Cromwell. Basically the sort of sense of vocation returned about four years ago. So I went off and explored vocation in the Church of England. We’ll be back in London, God willing, in June when I'm ordained.
What have you learned during your time here at Trinity?
It has been great to be able to witness a whole range of Trinity’s work while I have been here, and I am very grateful to so many people for their generosity with their time in talking to me about their work and ministry. I have particularly been based within Faith in Action, looking at social outreach and social justice which Trinity is of course engaged in in a major way in New York, across the United States, and globally in Africa. Having lived in London for some years before going to seminary, such challenges and concerns are a big part of my vocation. With the urban challenges in New York and London being around issues of social and economic inequality, it's been great looking at how Trinity responds and seeing what aspects of the challenges are both similar and different in London. It's been particularly inspiring to learn about the transformational effect Trinity continues to have in Africa, and also more locally in New York through programs such as All Our Children. It was a great privilege to see the work of Hour Children, and also to visit St. Ann’s in the Bronx and St. Margaret’s in the Bronx. These are memories which I will cherish for many years.
What is motivating people to go to seminary these days?
Seminary life and vocation seem to have taken a resurgence. We have over eighty seminarians at Westcott, which is more than I think we've ever had in our history. Now what's motivating people is harder to be general about. What we see today in my situation, compared with fifty years ago, is the range of people studying at seminary. It's more or less fifty percent male and female, you’ve got a large proportion of people who are just out of university, so in their early-to-late twenties, and you’ve got a majority who are unmarried, but then you’ve got a large minority who are married with families. You’ve got people who have already got degrees in theology, some people have already got doctorates in theology, and some people have had completely different careers. Last year, a guy who’d run a pub in England came to seminary. I think there's a lot about service to the gospel, there's a lot of talk about social inequality and the church’s role in combatting that. And particularly for those of us that have come to it as a second career —and of course there are some people who are much older than me—there's a sense of fulfillment in vocation and giving something back.
You’re scheduled to be ordained June 28. Then what happens?
In the Church of England you get ordained deacon, and then the next day you start in the parish, which is what they call the curacy, and you're there for three years as basically number two to the vicar or the rector. You don’t apply for these jobs. You have an interview with the bishop and you express general preferences. The bishop’s asked me to go a church in North London called St. Paul’s Winchmore Hill, which is a big suburban fairly middle class parish with a large school. So quite different from what I've done before. All the placements I've done before have tended to be urban priority areas, so areas of greater deprivation.
Any parting thoughts as you head home?
The relationship between Trinity and St. Mary-le-Bow is an historic one that goes back to Trinity’s founding. From my perspective, it's a real privilege and honor for me to have that sense of enduring friendship between the two churches. It's been fantastic to be in New York and especially at Trinity, and I have learnt a great deal from the perspective of being a seminarian. So I just wanted to express our gratitude to you all for that. We very much hope that this is the beginning of a personal friendship with you all, and that we stay in touch and visit again soon.