Eleanor Lalley is remembering a perk of her old life in the American state of Tennessee. ‘Nashville has fantastic church musicians because they have all the session musicians that play on the country records so at Mass it’s multiple guitars, percussion singers, drummers,’ she explains. ‘People are professionals so they can just sing church music at the drop of a hat.’
It is just over a decade now since she, her husband Hans and their five children left behind the home of country music for the city that bequeathed the world the Beatles. For Eleanor, one of Liverpool Archdiocese’s new pastoral associates, the 4,000-mile move proved smoother than you might imagine. ‘People are so welcoming and friendly, it wasn’t hard to emigrate here,’ notes Eleanor, born and raised in Washington DC, of a switch that has brought eagerly embraced challenges – and rich rewards.
While Hans works as the principal at Liverpool College, Eleanor – previously an RE teacher with an degree in Religion from Kenyon College, Ohio and a Master’s in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School – spent eight years as a project coordinator with the Archdiocese, overseeing Sacraments of Initiation and Adoremus projects. Now a fresh set of demands beckon in her role as pastoral associate at the twin parishes of St John Stone and Sacred Heart in Ainsdale.
‘I worked at LACE for eight years but this was a completely new opportunity and I wanted to be part of something new and experimental,’ she reflects. ‘It’s been about getting to know the culture of the parishes and getting to discern with them. I’m extremely blessed because they did their work preparing for a pastoral associate and are already working collaboratively with Father Tony Slingo. He’s a terrific parish priest.’
Of the challenges ahead, she cites ‘adult formation’ as a key aspect. ‘How do we feed the faith of our parishioners and develop adult formation, and how can we draw new people to that relationship with Jesus?’ she asks – and she made a start in Lent with a series of Scripture study lunches.
The ‘wonderful’ ecumenical connections already established by Fr Slingo should help too. ‘How can I link in with what’s already going on and how can we work together ecumenically as Christians in the community?’ continues Eleanor, who has also been building a relationship with the young people from the Sefton area who will travel on the Liverpool Archdiocesan Youth Pilgrimage to Lourdes.
‘It’s a parish with a lot of committed parishioners who are retired, so we’re trying to understand how to make contact with more families and how to support young people too. We’re also looking at working ecumenically with the Southport & Area School Workers’ Trust – they work in schools with young people and have youth groups and after-school sessions.
‘I’m lucky to be there,’ she adds of her parish communities. ‘They already did a lot of hard work before I came in terms of trying to discern what they wanted.’ Happily, it is not the first positive experience of parish life here for Eleanor and her Aigburth-based family, who attended St Austin’s parish on arrival – and are now at St Charles & St Thomas More. ‘People were really generous – there was a lot of support for our family and for us as Catholics.’
If it all sounds too good to be true, there is one snag. She laughs as she describes the linguistic obstacles her children, aged 14-21, have yet to overcome: ‘They’re mixed up! When they’re home they sound more American, but when we go out on the street they sound really Scouse!’