'Team and community are fundamental'

April profile: Helen Jones

Helen Jones can draw from a deep well of experience as she settles into her role as Archdiocesan pastoral associate for south Liverpool. Take, for example, the lessons of three years working on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu in the early 1990s. ‘You really see how group dynamics work in a very different
way from the West,’ she says. ‘You have that square-peg-in-round hole syndrome but also the whole community pulling together. That, to me, was a real eye-opener.’

Be it in Kyushu or Our Lady of Mount Carmel church, her base today, groups matter – and she wishes to play an active part. She had been working previously as diocesan mission secretary for the Diocese of Shrewsbury but believes ‘sitting behind a desk was not really what I felt I was called to be doing’. She continues: ‘I very much wanted to be out in a parish with people. Sometimes when you reflect on your life you can see the path is very clear and it was a natural progression for me to be out in the community and living my faith alongside them and supporting them where I could.’

Hence her eagerness to accept the role of pastoral associate working across six south Liverpool parishes: Our Lady of Mount Carmel and St Patrick, St Anne and St Bernard, St Anthony of Padua, St Charles and St Thomas More, St Clare and St Hugh, and St Wilfrid.

It is a role, she says, that involves ‘sharing resources, looking at joint catechesis, supporting faith formation programmes, developing or strengthening school and parish links or ecumenical activity, and of course
supporting Synod 2020.’

In Helen’s mind, a central challenge for her and the Archdiocese’s other pastoral associates, is ‘the acceptance of lay ministers in a pastoral role’, and encouraging communities to embrace them. ‘It is relationships that are key,’ she adds. ‘It’s being able to forge relationships with clergy and with parishioners that enables me or any pastoral associate to become effective.’

Helen, who lives on the Wirral, has prior experience of working in a parish from four years as a volunteer at St Winefride’s in Neston. ‘That was a full-on introduction to the rhythm of parish ministry and to community-building although I was very much in a supportive role,’ she explains.

For the mother of two, her inaugural involvement in the life of a parish actually came as a teenager when she played in the music group at the parish where she grew up, Our Lady Help of Christians in West Byfleet, Surrey. A spiritual curiosity followed her to university where alongside her BA in German at King’s College, London she also studied ethics, philosophy and theology. ‘I was always wanting to find out more,’ she notes.

After three years teaching English in Japan, she eventually arrived in the north-west when moving to Chester in 1998 with a freshly acquired MSc in Advanced IT from Southbank University. ‘I came up with the idea of doing something with IT,’ she says, ‘but I prefer working with people. That’s where I realised I needed to be in a team. Team and community are fundamental to who I am.’

And building relationships is a vital part of that – even, it turns out, with the occasional animal. After all, Father Joe Kendall, her line manager, has a dog who picks his friends very carefully. ‘I’ve been very lucky,’ she laughs. ‘I made sure I made friends with the dog very quickly!’