1. What was your first job?
The first job I got paid for was putting up marquees for a marquee hire service. I also spent part of a year out on a pig and sheep farm (more pigs than sheep) on South Island in New Zealand. I’ve always liked the outdoors and been attracted to it, but have never had the wherewithal or the background to do it. I was brought up in leafy Surrey, in Hazelmere, where my mother still lives. It was green, but a commuter town.
As a vicar, you can be out and about and the day has variety to it. Like farming, it is a way of life rather than a nine to five job.
2. Have you stayed working at the same thing all your life, or have there been changes?
I worked for six months at insurance broking at Lloyds of London. I was not good at selling things to people. You could argue that being a vicar is kind of selling God, which is challenging in different ways. But it’s certainly not that kind of business.
After Lloyds, I spent six months working in a care home for people with learning disabilities. Then I joined the l’Arche community in Kent – a kind of monastic, open Christian community where people with and without disabilities live together. People who are poor in the world’s eyes have as much if not more to offer as people who are successful in the worlds’ eyes.
We used to take the residents to church every Sunday and I got to know and respect the local vicar, who appreciated what was catholic with a small ‘c’ in the Church of England.
3. How did you first become associated with Brightwell?
I found the job on the internet. I was finishing my curacy in Henfield, Sussex, and looking for my first post of responsibility. Oxford diocese was high up on the list. I thought it had a broader church with a sense of an exciting outlook. I’d studied at Cuddesdon theological college, and liked the idea of being close to a university town.
4. What job did you think you’d do when you were growing up?
I didn’t really know what I’d end up doing. I liked History and wanted to do that at university; that was about as much as I knew.
I think it was important for me to study at Durham not just because of the reputation, but because churches and cathedrals lend a sense of place to somewhere. Cathedrals dominate a town not just in terms of architecture but in terms of outlook. There’s a depth to people’s thinking that doesn’t exclude questions of faith. What I wasn’t very attracted to was the kind of faith you get in the Christian Union. I don’t believe that doubt is the opposite of faith; certainty is. As someone once said: the church is a bit like a swimming pool; all the noise comes from the shallow end.
5. Who did you most look up to when you were younger?
My older brother, who ended up going into the army and then into the police force and is now in the drugs squad in Cumbria. He’s always been fairly unflappable and practical and has a great sense of humour. He’s gentle but can be strong when he needs to be and is a good friend.
6. What’s a typical day (if there is such a thing)?
I’ll spend a couple of hours answering emails, sorting out rotas etc. before going out and about. There may be a funeral or wedding to organise. If it’s Wednesday, I’ll try and get to Brightwell for coffee, for example, and there’s an Emmaus group – trying to bring faith to inquirers – in the evenings. We need to encourage one another in our understanding of the faith – but it happens with an acknowledgement that none of us has ‘arrived’.
There are no time sheets, praise the Lord. We have staff meetings every fortnight, so are accountable to each other, but we have quite a lot of freedom about how we apportion time in the day. Time is a precious commodity.
7. Where would you like to be in 10 years time?
I like working in rural and semi rural communities where you can’t afford to be too partisan in your views and where much of the joy comes from questioning stereotypes. Parish ministry is the heart of the ministry, trying to build hope and a sense of community for people. I’d like to be doing a similar job if there are still vicars out there (if that’s not too pessimistic).
8. If you were Prime Minister tomorrow, what one thing would you change?
Put your money where your mouth is. People think the church has pots of money out there; by no means – quite the opposite. On VAT relief for charities, the Prime Minister’s got to start walking the talk, really. We need more resources behind the Big Society, more faith in the traditions that have made and can still make Britain great if that doesn’t sound too pompous. We need a sense of service amongst politicians, a sense of royalty and the history of our democracy. Because it was shaped and informed by Christianity at every level: Edward the Confessor was a king but also a ‘confessor’. We need to ensure that the historic religion of this country still has the resources to provide a role in society.
9. Tell us something surprising about yourself.
Given half the chance I’d love to have a Staffordshire bull terrier – although the last one I met had one eye, which is a bit scary.