Father Andrew Allman, the Catholic Priest at St Clare’s and current Chaplin at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals is moving on, having been given unexpected promotion.
We agree to meet in the chapel at the Royal Preston Hospital. He arrives unannounced with the air of someone on a mission and that every moment counts and yet with time for everyone.
“I have been a priest for 17 years and now my bosses have decided it's time for me to move on to a new post. I am going to work in St Marys College College Oscott, near Birmingham to help train future priests”, he says matter of factly.
I look a little bemused as he is somewhat underplaying the position I hear he has been given.
He smiles and goes on.
“So, I've asked to be the Vice Rector of the College. It's a role helping to lead the college and to oversee the formation of the next generation of priests for our country.”
Lets just clarify this, St Mary’s College has existed as a formation community for 226 years. It has been in its present location for the last 182 of those years. A bedrock for Roman Catholic teaching throughout the United Kingdom, more details can be found here http://oscott.net/. This is not just another college.
To Roman Catholics, Priests are God's representative on earth, authorised to administer the sacraments, oracles of great wisdom whose judgement help cure social ills, launch careers and settle family disputes.
All in all quite a responsibility and one that Father Andrew has found challenging and rewarding in equal measure.
“To be able to baptise a new-born child, to marry a happy couple and to offer help and prayer at a time of death” are a privilege admits Fr Andrew, quietly and with true sincerity.
“I'm pretty local. I grew up on the Fylde at Wharton. I believe God has called me to be a priest and that's kind of what I'm made for. That's my purpose in life really.
I certainly knew several priests when I was growing up and they were always good mentors and role models for me. So, you know, it's kind of strange now for me not only to be a priest, but to be moving into a new post where I'll be helping to train priests and hopefully help them to prepare to be good priests to serve the Church in our country in the years ahead.
This is not a job; this is a vocation. This is not a post you will find in the Job Centre. In Catholic eyes it is God given. I had a vocation and that inner drive, that inner focus has borne me a most fruitful and fulfilling life within the Church. This is the next step on my journey”
The passion shines brightly, and I wonder when this desire to offer himself for the priesthood with the rigour by which the standards are set was born
“I was very active in the church and when I was young, I was an altar boy, and all those kinds of things.
The idea was just always there in the background, I suppose. It never really left me. So as the years went on, I guess you know, my understanding of what it meant to be a priest changed. My understanding of the nature, the commitment, and the life that would lead changed and grew, but it was always there. So, it's difficult to pinpoint what started because I can't really remember, even when I was in primary school, I used to talk about it”
The role he plays in people’s lives is something he returns to again and I ask him to further elaborate.
“You know, people invite me into their lives at points when they may not even know me. For example, especially in a hospital setting I've often been called into see people who've never met me and never even heard of my name.
But I am called into their lives in that really crucial moment in those decisive moments and often very difficult moments in their lives, as well as very joyful moments to administer or to reaffirm their faith.
That's an enormous privilege really, to have that opportunity and to hopefully be able to help them and support them through those days”. He pauses and looks quite reflective.
“Often one of the things I noticed is that I will meet people, sometimes years later, and they will say ‘Oh, you came to see my dad who was dying’ or, you know, ‘You were there at that moment in my life’ or whatever it might be.
I may not, in all honesty, remember every person that I meet, but people do remember the fact that I was able to come in and help them in that in that moment, and that that's an enormous privilege.”
So now it’s time to move on and help mould the Church for the future. The College encourages its students to become collaborative ministers. To be devout and thoroughly faithful to the Church and her teaching, and yet flexible and open to new ideas, methods and approaches.
Father Andrew as Vice Rector will guide them to learn to work ecumenically. Helping them to be men of justice and social responsibility.
That’s quite a responsibility and certainly a change from day-to-day happenings at St Clare’s and the hospital, I muse aloud.
“I've been here for five and a half years. Obviously, we've had a quite a turbulent time both in the hospital and in the community with the pandemic and everything. But it's been a great time really and it has been and will continue to be a great very supportive community for my successor.
I've really enjoyed the work and being part of it and it will be hard for me to leave.
I didn't expect to be doing this, you know, moving on to this new post was quite a surprise to me when I was asked to take it up.
It should be for six years. That's the that's the agreement. And then hopefully in six years’ time, I'll come back to work locally, in the Lancaster diocese, which covers most of Lancashire and all of Cumbria.
So, you know, I would expect in a few years’ time to be back here.
But I've given up predicting really or trying to predict because I think life sometimes takes us in unexpected directions.”
Life and the Church are very much intertwined with Father Andrew as we sit in the chapel at Royal Preston Hospital with the sun streaming in through the open windows and doors. I voice this thought and he readily agrees adding,
“The Church is my life but not just the Church but because it's that point of contact with God and because it's also through him, my contact with others as well.
So, most of my friendships most of the relationships I have within the community I know and love, really grow from within the Church. It's central to my relationship with God.
It's what drives me what inspires me It’s what kind of gives me a sense of purpose in life.
Ultimately, I guess it's a constant reminder to me to keep my eyes fixed on the greater picture as it were. I believe that there is an eternal life, and I am called to that and to journey to that and to remind others of that truth as well.
To give hope, sometimes in difficult situations, is a great privilege and a responsibility for me, and a great joy for me to be honest.
To know that there are times I can help people, when perhaps there's nothing else scientifically or medically can be done, but there is something spiritually that can be done to help somebody. It's a great a great joy”
I ask for one final thought as he prepares for pastures new, leaving a hole in the local community and hospital upon his departure
“There's that sense I suppose, for me of just belonging you know, I feel I belong in the church, I'm at home in the church, and it gives me that that daily contact with God as well through Jesus Christ in the church”.
We wish him luck in his new position, and something tells me that we have not heard the last of Father Andrew Allman.
As they say, watch this space!