Photos: Canon Steven Saxby
Being a Vicar comes with its own stresses and strains, however if the corporate jungle holds little appeal, perhaps a career in the church is calling your name. Canon Steven Saxby has been the vicar of St Barnabas Vicarage in Walthamstow for six years and has become hooked on the positivity it brings to the local community. We talk to him about what made him decide to don a cassock and start preaching the word of God.
Describe the journey you had becoming a vicar. Was it something you have always been interested in?
I grew up in a non church family on Canvey Island, Essex and as a child, I attended a Church of England school. It was during this time, that I started going to church and it opened my eyes to a new world. I met other vicars by attending mass and I was inspired by the fact that these individuals were so engaged with the local community, politics and encouraged great opportunities within the area.
As a young person, I developed a strong sense of wanting to do good work within the community and the vicars provided aspirations for me that I couldn’t find elsewhere on Canvey Island. They engaged in thinking about things that mattered and opened up the whole world through their travels and work at conferences. It was this sense of positive change that really caught my attention and still has me hooked today. As a vicar, taking food to vulnerable people means that you get to engage in a life that occurs behind closed doors and help people that will otherwise be alone. It is a rewarding and social role which also benefits others, what is there not to love?
What does the average day look like to you?
There is no typical 9-5 as a vicar. Helping to nurture people in their faith can involve many things. Some of the tasks that I do on a daily basis can include the basics such as planning for worship, writing sermons and conducting Weddings, Baptisms and Funerals. Community life also takes up a portion of my time and I am often engaged with people experiencing homelessness, mental health problems or migrant issues. My job is so varied, but the key tasks are, creating good relations within Walthamstow’s ethnically diverse community and providing spiritual support for residents allowing them to flourish.
What is your opinion on the way Religious Education is taught within schools?
Understanding faith is important in understanding the world today. It is important to study religious education regardless of belief as it offers a contextual approach to the world’s main religions allowing children to be well equipped to understand all beliefs. It is key that it remains compulsory within the British education system.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Last year, I was made a Canon in recognition for all the work I do for the Filipino migrants and the support I give to the Filipino canons in London. This gives me a seat in the Cathedral. However, working at St Barnabas in Walthamstow has been a great highlight. I have been working at the St Barnabas Vicarage for six years. I was originally at St Peters’ Church but I used to go to St Barnabas for mass and tea with the vicar. It is a dream parish!
I am also the Executive Officer for London Churches, a network of churches across London that work together on social action issues. This is what first got me involved in faith and politics and one day, I hope to be elected for public office. I feel that politics needs a sense of justice and justice needs to actually care about humans and think about what creates peace within communities. Christianity has a contribution to politics, so for me, it is a natural step.
What things frustrate you about your job as a vicar in Walthamstow?
In any job there are frustrations and being a Vicar is no exception. I don’t enjoy digging holes to bury people but asides from that, there is rarely an opportunity to switch off, as you are always a phone call away from a tragedy. Because there is always the chance that something emotionally challenging could happen, the job can be relentless, emotionally draining and exhausting but it is always important to find that perfect work/life balance. I love spending time with my family and studying. These things give me a welcome break and keep me feeling refreshed.
What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a Vicar?
Be involved in the church, this is the main point. You need to love God, and you also need to love people in all their diversity. Once these points are covered, then the rest is a selection process. To provide the necessary evidence, to prove you have what it takes to become a Vicar, you must be emotionally resilient, sense what it means to the church to be involved in the wider society, exercise good leadership skills and have a strong relationship with God. Once you have satisfied the selection criteria, you will then be allowed to complete three years of training.
If you could be anything else for the day, what would it be?
If I could be anything other than a vicar, I think I would be a barrister!
You can find Steven Saxby at St Barnabas Vicarage, St Barnabas Road, E17 8JZ
Words Grace Molan