Martha Whittaker is the parish administrator at Christ Church, Brampton. This interview took place in August.
My role touches on a number of areas, including communications, stewardship, outreach and general administration. As the parish administrator, I have a pastoral role that requires discernment and discretion, all while working within healthy boundaries. I assist a wonderful team of clergy, other staff members and volunteers in the ministry of our parish. Like many other churches, we did the “pandemic-pivot” and worked together to provide both online and in-person worship, ensured that outreach ministries thrived, continued discipleship for children, youth and adults and made sure that we all stayed connected whether online, by post or by visiting. Oh, the skills we learned!
With a year end of June 30, Christ Church is currently preparing for our annual vestry. I know many people would not be too excited about that, but for me it is both an opportunity to reflect on the past year and to plan for the year ahead, so I am working down my lists to check things off. Not many people get to see how the whole of a parish works – how one area informs another. Helping to tell that story, how we are the hands and feet of God within our community refuels me.
The best part of my job and the most challenging part are two sides of the same coin. Planning and hospitality come naturally to me, so I would put those near the top of the list. After all, my name is Martha. The challenge arises during a pandemic. It is all doable but just different, and I find that I have been content with all that. Working behind the scenes to see ministry thrive is a pretty awesome thing, but I need to mindful to not spread myself too thinly and to say no to a couple of things – not always an easy thing to do. I am blessed to work with a great team. We encourage and support one another. We keep God as both the subject and object of all that we do, with good humour and creativity. This, clearly, is not a challenge.
I was born in Peterborough and raised in Brampton. I was baptized and confirmed at Christ Church, so I had be bit of a “leg-up” when I returned after many years, as my parents were still worshipping at Christ Church. Because of this, it comes naturally for me to say “welcome home” when people arrive at Christ Church, whether it be on a regular basis, after several years’ absence or for the first time.
Prior to working at Christ Church, I worked for many years in human resources and strategy in the financial services sector. From an administration and communications aspect, many of my previous skills and experiences were transferable. My background in human resources continues to be helpful in many areas. Mentoring, listening and encouraging all play a role in parish administration.
When I left home, I found that going to church became sporadic but definitely not fully absent. The inevitable messiness of life got in the way and I found myself back in Brampton. I remember distinctly 9/11 (as many people do) and feeling that I was completely alone. The only thing that made sense to me that day was prayer, and I was so grateful that God nudged me to see if Christ Church was open for just that. Looking back, I can see that God nudged me over the years, but I think my unconscious response was to say that my dance card was already full. That day was a turning point; I accepted the dance and have been dancing ever since. Not all the dancing is joyous, but I know I have a partner – three in one, actually!
Five years from now, I want to be near water and an Anglican church! In 2019, I did a pilgrimage in Wales with a friend. We had another planned in 2020 but you know how that turned out. When it is safe to do so again, I hope go on to more pilgrimages and retreats, but in the meantime I walk my dog, George, about 10km a day and do a practice of Lectio Divina everyday – ever hopeful to travel again.
My favourite passage from scripture is, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) There are so many passages, but I find this one so simple and clear. For me, it means that we are not to be passive but rather active partners with God. That path is not always straight, easy or clear, but if I can use justice, mercy and humility as some guideposts along the way, I feel I am going in the right direction. And believe me, there are times when I need to turn around.