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VIDEO: Second female vicar of St Peter’s Church reflects on ‘very strange’ first year in the post

The vicar of St Peter’s Church has spoken of her heartbreak over not being able to visit parishioners due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as she reflects on her first year in the post.

Reverend Janet Minkkinen was installed as the new vicar of the church in Burnham during a ceremony watched by about 250 attendees on Wednesday 16 October 2019.

Video made by Jade Kidd

Reflecting on her first year, the 57-year-old said it was a ‘blessing’ and a ‘revelation’.

But she revealed that it has been ‘very strange’ and ‘very different’ as lockdown had opened up opportunities she didn't envisage and taken away what she would usually be doing. 

She said: “What it took away was the normal Sunday worship when you get to meet people.

“I couldn't go around to people's homes, to do pastoral visiting. I suppose the relationship building face-to-face, it took away.

“But it opened up technology, learning Facebook, going onto Facebook to take services from the rectory on my own. I didn't do Facebook, and I didn't do this, so it was like a whole new learning curve for me.”

Photo by Ian Longthorne

Prior to arriving at St Peter’s, Rev Minkkinen was vicar at the neighbouring St Andrew’s Church in Cippenham and was planning to retire to the coast with her husband, but was called by God to take up the post in Burnham.

The Windsor native said that she was just getting started in her first four months, conducting activities such as remembrance services, school Christmas carol concerts, and Christmas and New Years’ Day services, and having discussions about an inclusive church project and ideas for a church memorial for former Prime Minister 1st Baron Lord William Wyndham Grenville who is buried inside with his family, before the UK announced its national lockdown in March.

Rev Minkkinen at former Prime Minister 1st Baron Lord William Wyndham Grenville's memorial bench unveiling. Photo by Ian Longthorne

Reflecting on her experience of the loss of face-to-face interaction, Rev Minkkinen added: “That for me was just heartbreaking - you're just learning people's names.”

However, Rev Minkkinen continued her work, during the first lockdown, engaging in a range of projects including: becoming a trustee of Burnham Resilience Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), an organisation she was involved with before it received charity status, and setting up a hospital volunteer chaplaincy with Burnham and Slough Deanery for Wexham Park Hospital in Slough to support the ‘full-time paid chaplains’ during the pandemic.

One lockdown project, which Rev Minkkinen called the highlight of her first year, was setting up the Care & Share project, together with Burnham Health Promotion Trust (BHPT), May’s Chocolate House and Maidenhead Foodshare.

The project aims to help families and individuals in need.

Rev Minkkinen and the team at the Care & Share project. Photo by Lisa Pope

Rev Minkkinen, who previously set up Slough Foodbank at St Andrew’s Church in 2014, wanted to set up the Care & Share scheme because while Burnham ‘appears very wealthy’ there is also ‘a lot of poverty’.

She added that her commitment to set up a project like this and possibly turn ‘it into a social hub’, stems from her not being able to obtain the help she needed for her brother, when she cared for him prior to his death from cancer in 2017.

Reflecting on her year at St Peters, she said: “It's been a blessing, it's been a revelation.

“I still pinch myself I'm living here. I'm in awe of this community.

“I'm also working alongside some fantastic people.”

Timeline made by Jade Kidd

New ways of working

Made by Jade Kidd - 1800s photo provided by Burnham Historians and 2020 photo taken by Ian Longthorne

In a bid to adapt to the changing circumstances of COVID-19 and lockdown, the church set up a YouTube channel to deliver services and used Zoom for meetings, prayer, choir and Bible study.

She added that prior to COVID-19 the 10am church service would normally feature around 80 people, however, due to the current restrictions, it is attracting around 35 to 40.

Photo by Ian Longthorne

The new St Peter’s Church YouTube channel was started on Sunday 12 April 2020 and currently has almost 130 subscribers and can have between 50 and 100 viewers each week. 

She revealed that the number of people watching services is ‘higher than normal’ and is even attracting those living outside of Burnham in areas such as Somerset.

Made with Flourish- by Jade Kidd

Divulging in the church’s future plans, Rev Minkkinen added that the church is set to host a series of socially-distanced Christmas services and New Year’s Day services, including nine lessons and carols, a Christingle service with Puppets4All @ St Peter’s, Midnight Mass, Christmas Eucharist on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day Covenant.

All services will also be live streamed on the St Peter’s YouTube channel, except the Christmas Eucharist on Christmas Day and the New Year’s Day Covenant service which will be live in church only.

Equality in churches

Discussing gender equality in churches, Rev Minkkinen said it is ‘getting there’ but it has 'still got a way to go’.

The 57-year-old, is the second female to hold the post of vicar at St Peter’s church.

She is preceded by Olivia Graham who was vicar at the church from 2001 to 2007 and is now the Bishop of Reading.

The first female vicars in the UK were ordained in 1994.

           

Infographics made by Jade Kidd

Explaining her thoughts on why females were not allowed to become vicars before 1994, she said: “I think it’s like a lot of roles, women were excluded.”

Rev Minkkinen added that the vicars in the Jubilee River Group of the Burnham and Slough Deanery are currently all female, and there are total of seven female vicars and 10 male vicars in the Deanery itself.

“I think [equality is] getting there. I think there's still a way to go."

She added: “I think male and females can bring different qualities and different things to the table so I think we can complement each other.”

Church groups 

St Peter's Church has many different groups including:

Made by Jade Kidd

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