St John’s, North Holmwood

In the Church of England, after ordination you normally serve as curate (or, more specifically, assistant curate) for three or four years before moving on to your next post – often becoming a vicar, rector, or priest in charge.

Finding your next post might sound exciting, but in reality it normally involves trawling the diocesan websites to look at vacancies, alongside the job adverts in the Church Times every Friday. If there’s something of interest you ask for more details (unless it’s all on the website), and apply. A shortlist is drawn up and these people are invited to interview.

I applied and was invited to St John the Evangelist North Holmwood, in the Diocese of Guildford, for interview, and I remember going to the Spur Steakhouse (a South African chain we enjoy) in Staines on the way there. We were shown around, met the Parochial Church Council over food in the evening and, after spending the night in a local Travelodge, I was interviewed the following morning by the Bishop, Archdeacon, and Churchwardens. And we left, driving back to collect Bridget from family in Reading but stopping at Guildford Cathedral (dedicated to the Holy Spirit).

The Bishop called to offer me the post, so three months later we arrived and I was collated as Vicar (collated because the Bishop is Patron). The parish was partway through fundraising to build a new community building, the vision of my predecessor the Revd Caroline Corry who tragically died before it was achieved.

St John’s, North Holmwood

The parish had a fascinating mix of large village just outside the town of Dorking, and post-war housing estates (with high rise blocks of flats) on the edge of Dorking. Ministry went on – celebrating the sacraments, developing links with the community, fundraising for the new community building, becoming a governor at the Church School, and helping the church through its grief at Caroline dying.

I was fortunate to have a retired priest, the Revd Leah Kearns (a former prison chaplain and one of the first women priests in London), and a Lay Reader, Gordon.

The parish had the history of a catholic tradition, and still enjoyed annual pilgrimages to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, somewhere I have been going on pilgrimage since childhood, and I became a Priest Associate of the Holy House soon after being ordained priest.

Diocesan pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham

Our ministry team soon grew as Margaret was selected and trained as a Pastoral Assistant, while Jane, Caroline, Natalie, and Rowan trained as Occasional Preachers. Later, Jane and Caroline would discern that they were called to ordained ministry and began training to become priests. This nurturing of vocations is something I enjoyed so much.

After a wedding at St John’s

Ecumenically we started working closely with our sisters and brothers at the local Elim Pentecostal church, worshipping together a few times a year and joining together regularly for prayer and study.

After a few years, and after some false starts, we had raised enough money! The old community building behind the church was knocked down, and I had a play with the digger. Before long the new building was taking shape, and was blessed by the Bishop of Guildford upon its completion.

Knocking down the old community building

As a governor at St John’s School we were also seeing transformation. After a difficult number of years the school became an Academy, sponsored by the diocese, and appointed a new head teacher. The local governing body and head worked closely together and saw standards rise rapidly as it became one of the best primary schools in Surrey.

Everything was going so well. The school was a success, the community building was built, ecumenical links were strong, and I was serving on Diocesan Synod and the Deanery Standing Committee. Additionally, Jane and Caroline were training for ordained ministry as “Ordained Local Ministers” so would continue to serve in the parish.

But, at that point, it felt that my job was done. Those things I had been called to the parish for were complete. And I felt that God was saying, get ready – it’s time for a change…