The Rev. Canon Judy Allen is a deacon at Holy Family, Heart Lake in Brampton and is involved in the church’s liturgical, pastoral, outreach and discipleship ministries.
One of the things I have been currently working on that I find exciting is virtual meetings and services using Zoom and livestream technologies. We did our Black History Month services and events virtually, and I gave a homily for Black History Month that was livestreamed.
The best part of my ministry is that I am blessed to have the support of my family, my church family, mentors and friends who, through their prayers and love, have helped to sustain me on this journey. I could not have done this without their support. The best part of my ministry is knowing that I have made a difference, that I have been able to help so many along this journey. But I have received from them more than I have given. Their show of courage in the face of many challenges and adversities and their faith and trust in God and their resilience have helped me to be a better person and has strengthened my ministry.
The hardest part of my ministry is that pastoral care needs can, at times, be greater than the time available to meet those needs. I sometimes feel I cannot always meet the expectations of those requiring pastoral care. Sometimes it is difficult to detach from the painful situations that others are experiencing. I think I am a fixer by nature and personality but realize that I am not able to fix everything. I have learnt to pray more in these situations and ask for God’s divine intervention.
I was born and raised in Old Harbour Bay in Jamaica. After graduating from high school, I worked as a teacher’s assistant for a year. Then I went to University College Hospital of The West Indies to pursue my dream of becoming a nurse. After graduation, I migrated to Canada in 1970. I worked as a registered nurse in hospitals in Toronto and Sudbury. I eventually worked at St Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and retired in 2012 after 40 years. I was fortunate to work in one of the best hospitals in Canada, with some of the most professional and caring co-workers. I was also privileged to work in a profession that was a part of my pastoral care ministry. I am married to Greg and have two daughters, a son and seven grandchildren.
From an early age, I was introduced to the church. My family were Christians for whom church was a vital part of their being. My grandmother played a big role in my religious formation. I attended St. Philip’s Anglican Church, where I was baptized (back then the Church was called The Church of England). I was taken to church every Sunday morning and also evening prayer, unless I was sick. On Sunday afternoons, I would attend Sunday School at the Baptist church, as there was no Sunday School at St. Philip’s.
I still remember that when I was five years old, I stood on a chair to sing in the church so I could be seen. One of the songs I was always asked to sing was, “Only Believe, All Things are Possible.” I also took part in the cantatas and the Vacation Bible School activities.
A few years later, I left home to board with an aunt in another town, to attend a new school. I attended St. Jago de la Vega, St. James’ Cathedral and sang in the junior choir. I also attended the Kennedy Road Tabernacle for evening services with my aunt, who was a member of that church. There was something that drew me into that fellowship – the warmth of the people, the vibrant singing and dancing in church. I started to attend that church and was baptized (full immersion) at the age of 11. I was involved in Youth for Christ and other church activities. While attending that church, I experienced speaking in a language that I did not know or understood. It was an amazing religious experience.
A few years later, I was confirmed by Bishop John Cyril Emerson Swaby at St. Cyprian’s Anglican Church in 1965.
I moved to Brampton in 1981 and looked for a church. I visited Holy Family, which was a bungalow and a portable building at the time, and I decided to stay. It was close to home and the girls were in Sunday School and seemed to enjoy going. Holy Family provided for their formative years of church life. I became a member, sang in the choir, and did major fundraising events for the new organ. While at Holy Family, I had the privilege of being with the Rev. Canon David Brinton, our priest and one of my mentors along the journey, and, later, Archbishop Greg Kerr-Wilson, who, shortly after his arrival, sensed the call for the diaconate ministry for me. They taught, mentored and supported me along my journey, for which I will always be grateful.
I sensed a call but resisted as long as I could. There were confirmations from church members, my patients, co-workers, family and friends. I had every reason why it was not possible. I prayed and asked for God’s direction. Holy Family had seen my tears so many Sundays because I could not contain my emotions. Times spent at the Loyola Retreat House in Guelph helped me in the discernment process, as well as numerous retreats and workshops held at the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine. There I found my spiritual director, Barbara, as well.
I remember the Rev. Carol Langley saying to me one Sunday, “Judy, call the bishop because God always wins – stop fighting.” I went home that Sunday after church, had a good cry, prayed, and called Bishop Ann Tottenham on Monday morning. Her reply to me was, “What took you so long?” There was also a mixed feeling amongst the family about this decision. Some of them thought I was taking on too much, others said they would support me if that was what I felt called to do. This servant ministry evolved from my professional work as a nurse, in caring and showing compassion for others. It has been 40 years at Holy Family, during which I have worn several hats, but serving as their deacon for the past 19 years has been an absolute honour and a privilege. God has been faithful and gracious, and I have come this far by His amazing grace.
Five years from now, I hope to be spending more time with family, reading books that I haven’t had time for, and traveling.
My favourite passage from Scripture is Isaiah 41:10 – “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” As Christians, we will face frightening situations in our lives – we are not immune to trouble. Whatever the challenges or obstacles, God encourages us to not fear, so that we will trust in His presence, knowing that He is listening and working on our behalf. I find comfort in His promise that he will strengthen, help and uphold me with His righteous right hand – a perfect best friend taking my hand no matter how difficult things get. He will not let me fall, He will not abandon me. God has kept his promise and I have been a recipient of his goodness. I depend on him because he has never failed me.