Jonathan Lopez, Spotswood

“My wife would often say that I’m a bit of a paradox being an Anglican minister, and also a boxing coach. So often I get that; people are surprised by the boxing aspect, and how that works with the ministry.”

An audio clip from this interview with Jonathan Lopez:

So what’s a typical day like for you?

I don’t have a typical day. Everyday though, I have a sort of plan. More often than not, there are changes and it has to be a bit flexible. My priority, particularly being the full-time minister here [St Mark’s Spotswood], is to look at and see the particular spiritual needs of people, caring for them. That’s a big part of pastoral care that I do. One of the main goals we have is to connect with community – so the local businesses, and people – being in this area.

One of the things that I like about being out this way is that I’m from the west. I was born and raised out west. It’s been a bit of a homecoming, coming back home, but it’s to a different area compared to where I grew up west, which was Deer Park, Sunshine. It’s been a bit of getting to know … getting back to my sort of area and getting to know this area … it’s unique and has its own sense. So connecting with people, and talking with them through some of their particular experiences. Really just to build friendship and relationship initially.

So that, and then there’s a whole bunch of sort of administrative things that still need to be completed for the building project, at the house and the church. Just making sure everything’s running smoothly with that. Some aspects of security, and processes, etcetera. It’s a bit boring, but there are big reasons or rationales behind it all.

And then I give at least probably one day a week, eight hours in a week, to being a volunteer boxing coach. I’m over at Footscray Youth Club three to four times a week, which is just down behind Victoria University in Footscray Park. That’s from five to about seven that I’m present there, connecting with some of the local youth, and continuing some of the relationships that I’ve had with kids.

So every day? Monday to Friday?

Monday through to Thursday. Friday’s normally a day off, and Saturday. There is a Sunday session, but for obvious reasons, being a minister, I can’t because I’m working that day. And that’s a big part of my life. I’ve been learning boxing since I was about 14 years old up until now. So it’s over 20 years of boxing experience. So being able to train and coach our kids, not just in boxing, but one of the bigger aspects is lifestyle choices, which is a passion of mine, being from a former youth worker background.

I worked for the Salvation Army at Reservoir for a couple of years, as their high school chaplain at a local school, Reservoir High, and youth worker also. It’s an aspect that I really have a passion about: to being able to impart [experience] or get to know kids, but particularly honing in on and really hearing their stories, particularly [listening for] some of the possible bad choices that they will make later on in life, and being able to influence them in a different direction.

So you said you came from Deer Park, Sunshine area. Have you always lived in Melbourne?

Well, prior to arriving here in Spotswood seven months ago, Rachel and I had been living in London for a year. We lived in Lambeth, which is central London, just across the Thames from Big Ben. And Rachel and I lived at – as Archbishop Justin Welby calls it – a quasi-monastic boot camp for one year, with a range of different young adults from all around the world, from the ages of 20 to 35, and from different denominations. Living in central London was my first time living away from home for more than two months. It was a bit of an eye-opener, and being 35 at that time, it was something that I’d never thought I’d be doing, because a lot of Australians in their twenties end up traveling, and maybe living in somewhere else for the experience. And I found myself there, part of this program called A Year in God’s Time, which is the program put on by the community of St Anselm, a community that the Archbishop Justin Welby put together, with his staff and team. The program is guided by another community, the Community of Chemin Neuf, who are French Catholic, but very open to Ecumenical ties. So they guided us through Ignatian spirituality, plus were very much charismatic in their expression of worship and church. So that was a unique experience.

Rachel and I didn’t think that we’d be invited, because it’s a pool of probably 1000 people around the world that are applying for this thing. And yes, step by step. It was hard to let go of my job in Salvation Army, and youth work, because I really loved the impact I was making. It was really discerning with people and friends who were investing in my life as spiritual direction, or mentors. But this was the right decision. It was a real taking a leap of faith that things will be okay.

So, you mentioned some of the spiritual disciplines that you were doing, Ignatian practices. For people who have no idea about what a quasi-monastic boot camp might be like, what was life like?

Yes, so when we say we lived at Lambeth Palace – which is the actual residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his family, and a whole bunch of his staff too, who were there – it was an experiment in seeing how to blend in not just Ignatian spirituality but also disciplines from Benedictine and Franciscan monastics, living a certain rule of life. The Community of Chemin Neuf guided us through the Ignatian spiritual exercises, which is a daily examin [review], going through five to seven-fold questions about your particular day, not so much looking at or praying through your particular needs, but looking at where God has been present in certain aspects of your life.

Along with that, we also did a lot of silence. So daily, we did silence for about three to four hours. So real intentional silence, where you weren’t encouraged to just go off and read a book, but to read certain parts of scripture, with a notebook and pen. And they also guided us through a silent retreat, which was a longer prolonged silence for about a week, which everyone participated in. I, myself, really enjoyed it after day two or three, when I got over the challenge of being silent for prolonged periods. But you’re also guided by some teaching, and a spiritual director, or as they call it, a spiritual accompanier. Each day you’re encouraged to catch up with them. Rachel, my wife, found it a bit too challenging. She didn’t really enjoy that amount of silence. And some of us, myself and Rachel included, did not go on a 30-day retreat, which was in the Swiss Alps, in the mountains. Some of our friends did: some enjoyed it, some didn’t. There was that guidance of how that works, and there’s a structure which you follow, which is Ignatian, a Jesuit type of guidance.

So life was really interesting blend of Jesuit, and then Charismatic also, and how that worked out in community. On a Monday morning, you’d be at morning prayer, which is the daily prayer office in the morning. There were three offices a day, including Eucharist and then evening prayer. On particular Mondays we’d have an extra 1662 Old English Prayer Book service, which the Archbishop attended a lot of times. I accidentally sat on his chair a few times too in a certain area where he likes to sit. And then we’d end off with an evening of more Charismatic worship, and hearing from God, particularly sharing words of knowledge, or prophetic words, or something like that, with a chance for people to be prayed for, for healing. So, it was a really broad range of really traditional and more contemporary.

So I understand that there was some engagement with the community as well as part of this practice. Is that right?

Yes. Two days a week the community members who lived in Lambeth Palace would go out to certain charities in central London, and some a bit further. I, myself, was just down the road. It was probably the least exciting of the charities that we went to, but was particularly challenging also. I was at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital with four of the members, being volunteer chaplains, doing all sorts of bed visits, but also working with some of their little projects that they have for the chaplaincy team, to provide a bit more of a community within staff, and with patients. For example, getting about 1200 Christmas stockings made by Savile Row Tailors, who all volunteered to make these stockings. That was a big massive project towards Christmas, and we got that done, sourcing stocking fillers, and all that type of stuff. So that was a bit of an exciting thing, and also stressful.

Rachel, my wife, went to the Marylebone Project, which is headed by Church Army, which is very similar to Salvation Army, and has similar historical connections, working with homeless women in the Marylebone area. Some went to L’Arch, which is a special needs community, that has regular people living community alongside special needs people. A large portion of us went there. Some went to a local Baptist ministry, engaging disengaged youth in the local Lambeth area, with teaching and after school care. And some others went to New Haven, I think it was called, which was an alcoholic men’s halfway shelter. So there was a broad range of community engagement. We obviously had different challenges, and some of us were a bit more attuned to be able to handle them, and some found it more challenging.

What was it that brought you back here, and to this role at Spotswood?

Yes, so I had no idea this place had this mission or direction. At the start of January 2016, I thought I actually should start praying about the possible job I’m going to, and about Rachel and the future. It was important that I had to start thinking about that, or at least praying and asking some of our friends and supporters to pray with us. But even before sending that request out – it’s amazing how God works – Gordon Preece e-mails, and gives us this brief. I’ve never met Gordon myself; maybe in passing. He explained the direction in which the parish has been going, and the possibility of us working and living here.

Often my friends come here, and they say, “Oh what a lovely house. You know, it’s great, and it’s all new”, sort of hinting towards, “Oh that’s why you came. It’s very comfortable.” We had no idea of what we were walking into, nor did we actually see any of it physically. All I remembered was this particular corner being clay court tennis courts.

So you didn’t know what you were coming to?

No, no, apart from what Gordon was telling us. We tried to send through some people that may have known about what was going on here to just check it out for us, but no one was able to, and so we were going by what Gordon said and what the interview process was like, with him, and the wardens, and church. It was interesting just to get to know them, but also to be very open about our expression of our faith. Rachel and I come from a more charismatic background; that’s where we come from and who and what we are. That’s part of us and we were being open about that too. It was an interesting process to go through. Alongside that, in community, it was important to discern some of the big decisions we would be making in the next year.

While you were at Lambeth?

Yes. So a part of our spiritual direction was always to discern what the possible next steps are in your life journey. So it was important to catch up with your spiritual accompanier weekly to talk about all those sort of thoughts and decisions. We were also guided through practical ways in which to be able to apply for jobs. There was a range of people in the group from people that had just graduated to people that were priested. It was important to be able to accommodate and share in that praying and discerning together with people, and be open to it. Yes, I found a bit more hesitation, because I felt that I’d been already doing that, being prepared for ordination. So I was going by the advice that I had from ministers here, who had been praying and discerning alongside myself, particularly around ordination. So [about this possibility at Spotswood] everyone was willing, and saying, “Yes, it’s a great opportunity”. So you had already been doing that preparation for ordination before you went to London. Yes.

Now that you’re in this role as a full-time minister for the first time, how is life different from what you’ve experienced previously?

Rachel would say that prior to going to Lambeth I was managing about three or four different jobs in some way: working for the Salvation Army as a chaplain, but then also youth worker, and alongside that being a placement student at a local parish, finishing [studies at] Ridley, and being a boxing coach. So I wore different hats. Rachel is happy that I’m only taking on the one hat, being a full-time minister and can focus a bit more about what I’m doing here, and how God’s moving, and be guided by it.

It’s an interesting transition to try to consolidate those things but draw from all those experiences also. I think particularly around youth work, and giving a bit more of a focus to the needs of the kids at the Footscray Youth Club, and being a bit more connected with them, rather than having the three other jobs that I’m thinking about, and that preoccupy my time. But particularly here at the parish, I’ve been very grateful to be able to have experiences in parishes that range from elderly to young people, and to be able to minister regardless of what age. So yes, it’s been interesting to use those experiences and those gifts in application to here.

I’m excited about the possibilities of the other ministries that we’re thinking of: particularly how we connect with the childcare centre – which is on the church property, but is just being rented and sublet to them – and connecting with some of the families there. And then thinking about possibly having a little café on the decking out there to be able to accommodate some sort of communication or relationship with parents.

And I’m running Alpha later on this year at the church. It’s going to be a massive opportunity, being so exposed on a corner, in a busy road like this. Having a massive sign out there on the board about Alpha, which is a Christian discipleship program brought from England. And I’m excited about what the potentials are with that, when people do come and learn about the Christian faith through Alpha, and then look at the possibilities after possibly coming to faith, and the giftings God has given them, and working with them about where the future may lie. Lots to be excited about. Yes.

If someone saw you in the street, who didn’t know you at all, what is something that you think they would be surprised to know about you?

I think it’s that aspect that people… Rachel would often say that I’m a bit of a paradox being an Anglican minister, and also a boxing coach. So often I get that; people are surprised by the boxing aspect, and how that works with the ministry. I would say it’s pretty much a part of my life – boxing – since I was quite young, and I see a lot of the fundamentals and the principles of boxing being able to be used in application to life circumstances and not just in the boxing gym. Those particular disciplines, particularly resilience, and perseverance in training; boxing’s not an easy physical thing to do, and applying that to certain life situations for kids. I think it’s a really different side than ministers might normally engage in. I only know of one other minister, Father Dave Smith, in Sydney, who’s also in a similar circumstance. He’d been doing it for many years. I got to talk to him a few years ago, and train with him. So he’s nearly in his sixties, and he’s still quite fit. So I’m aspiring to that type of endurance in ministry, and also in boxing.

Is there anything else that you would like the readers of this blog to know about you?

Yes, it’s not to put people in boxes when you do meet them. You know often there’s the clichés around certain things people have. So my background ethnically is Filipino, and so we often hear the stereotypical things that people might think of when they think of a Filipino: “Oh you’re a Catholic”, or “You like basketball”, and “You know, Manny Pacquiao, the famous boxer from Philippines”. Interestingly, when I tell people I’m a trainee minister, and they see a picture of me wearing a clergy shirt, or something like that, they say, “Oh you’re a priest”, and automatically think I’m a Catholic priest. When I say, “Actually I’m an Anglican priest, and I’m married, and this is my life,” that sort of throws people off a bit. And the boxing aspect throws people off a bit. And some of my views on certain things about life, I think, throw people off a bit. Particularly in a world that’s a bit more antagonistic towards Christian faith. How I live out my faith is something that people also might put into a box – as Christians being ultra conservative. Yes, knowing a bit more about my story would really help that. Often we don’t fit into those boxes.

Thank you so much for your time and some of your story.

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