Helena del Pino, for many years a member of the Cathedral congregation, is to be ordained Deacon on Sunday 26th June. The Cathedral has played a significant part in the journey that has led to this momentous event. Here she explains how it happened.
"Roberto and I first came to a service at the Cathedral because we had friends visiting from the United States. They didn’t have much time so we thought they could experience an English Choral Eucharist and see a beautiful historic building at the same time. We just kept coming after that, even though at the time we were Roman Catholic."
It was the spaciousness that made such an impact. "Not just the physical spaciousness of the building but also the spaciousness in the service," she explains. "It allowed space for you to reflect on your own relationship with God."
This is something that Helena had been doing ever since her faith was rekindled some 20 years ago. It happened during a yoga class.
"It was my very first yoga class, just two days after I had received my Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. During the class I had a hugely powerful experience of the presence of God in Jesus Christ. I felt I had been guided to a place where it felt safe enough to let go. My response was - as I now realise having done my theological training - the classic one of fascination and wonder and terror. I knew it was a life changing experience. It was a pivotal moment that changed everything."
Her sense of calling developed from that point. She had joined a feminist worship group in London. It was set up by Roman Catholic women but people of all denominations came, including ordained Anglican women.
"I felt a call to a dedicated religious life," she says, "and as a Roman Catholic woman that meant joining a religious order. When I lost my work due to the MS, I decided to go on a retreat to Iona with the clear intention of talking to the Mother of a religious order I was in touch with as soon as I returned. But when I was in Iona I met Roberto [who now works as a Welcomer at the Cathedral] and felt called into that relationship and into marriage."
So, a few years later in Peterborough, the opportunity for ministry presented itself again. Very shortly after joining the congregation Stephen Cottrell, then Canon Pastor at the Cathedral, advertised for a PA and Helena took up the role.
"Stephen knew I was involved in yoga and labyrinth walking and was keen that I should offer this in the church, so I found an immediate lay ministry. Although I had always been motivated by my faith in my work (by now I was a qualified yoga and meditation teacher) and my goal was to use these ancient techniques as a means of peace-making, it had not occurred to me that this could be brought into the church."
"There were three of us at that time - myself, Jenny Opperman and Susan Rolfe * - who were all working on the edge of Cathedral life as lay chaplains. Each of us had a ministry of prayer and mine was offering yoga and labyrinth walking as routes into prayer.
Helena's ministry developed over time. She was licensed by the Bishop to the new role of Lay Chaplain at The King's School, a voluntary position which she held for three years until the start of her ordination training.
"There was an openness at the Cathedral that allowed me to explore my ministry. They took a risk with me and they trusted me. It was a huge support and encouragement."
Canon Cottrell insisted that Helena should investigate her sense of vocation and eventually she did this through the Diocesan channels. Interestingly, the final prompt came during a Roman Catholic service she attended on the theme of vocations. "The preacher was talking about Ordination and I felt he was speaking directly to me, even though I could not be ordained into the Roman Catholic Church."
Helena’s training, part time over the last three years on the Oxford Ministry Course, has taken her to some interesting places. As a former lawyer she found her community placement with the multi-faith Chaplaincy at Bradford Courts Complex, the only court chaplaincy of its kind in the country, compelling. "It was a way to encounter the suffering that poverty can bring," she says, "and also had so many parallels with Peterborough in the religious and ethnic mix of the population."
Her final placement, at St Mark’s Church in Peterborough, has been a happy one. It has expanded her experience of parish church life and the distinctions between this and the Cathedral congregation have struck her. "There is an intimacy in parish church life and volunteers are needed to do many things. A Cathedral congregation is less burdened by these practical matters so people are free to take up other ministries. In that sense the Cathedral gives you space."
Thinking about her ordination at 11.00am on Sunday 26th June, Helena says, "I am very aware that I will be serving my curacy at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Bretton. The prayers at ordination are for the Holy Spirit to be upon us. I have tried to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and not to my own desire to do things, so my prayer is that in receiving the gift of ordination I may be strengthened to be ever more attentive and trusting of that Spirit."
* Both Jenny Opperman and Susan Rolfe are now ordained. Jenny has just been licensed by the Bishop as Lay Vocations Officer in the Diocese of Peterborough and is an Assistant Priest at the Cathedral. Susan is Assistant Curate of St Mark’s Church in Wellingborough.