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To St. Albans. From St. Albans. Via York. March 23, 2022

Posted by nicholastufton in The Diary Monthly letter.
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En route to interview, for a potential pioneering Reader House for Duty post in rural Yorkshire 17 years ago, I crossed the threshold of Micklegate Bar, a stone castellated edifice in York once famed for displaying on spikes the heads of those who had displeased and fallen short! Be warned! And the archdeacon decides to take a chance. ‘Ann, just go and love the people,’ he instructs. I did. They knew; and my reputation was, ‘We see ‘er about,’ in the village streets, in school, shop, post office, homes as well as in church. So scarily, perilously, ‘a woman, lay and even from the South’, my most recent role as a Reader was for seven years in charge of three rural parishes in the Vale of York. And even for a year as chaplain to the Chair of Yorks County Council. The mould breaking post did in fact however ultimately raise significant issues. All part of the pioneering and I hope learning!

To fulfil this post, often during vacancy of the priest with oversight in the nearby parishes, I was blessed in being able to draw on the excellent St Albans training and experience I had in the Dunstable team ministry 30 years ago now. That had also led to a hospital chaplaincy and later running my own retreat centre, (with parish and diocesan support, good home cooking at the heart!). ‘Wellsprings’ in Bedfordshire, served those outside the church as well as in. It too ran for seven years; its reputation particularly growing in bereavement support and professional work with a small group of mothers caring for young adults suffering from eating disorders. During that time, I undertook an MA in Contextual Theology to help us understand and work in the integrity of our Christian foundation and local professionalism.

 Now, since officially retiring but in recent years working in a URC church in Northallerton, the County Market town of North Yorkshire,  where I learnt much about the difference between rural and urban spirituality and ‘mission’,  I astonishingly find I am back in ST. Albans diocese to be relicensed to other rural parishes, to help in the ministry team here in Barkway, Reed and Barley. This is a tremendous privilege for me, and I am deeply thankful, for your welcome as Paul and I have moved to be nearer to our families at this stage of our lives. I am passionate about the spiritual integrity of the parish churches at the heart of village community and look forward to living as a Reader, a woman, lay and now back again in the South!

Much of my varied Reader ministry is recorded in two books I have written and had published, one   in the genre of people’s parish stories written by themselves, threaded with my pioneering ministry reflections. There is another more critical document written alongside, called Grit in the Oyster, unpublished which I hope may one day be helpful as we seek together to continue to explore new ways of being church. 

I am hugely appreciating this connection with Readers and Lay ministers again today, whilst having a valued experience of the practice of contemplative prayer and a hope to develop a Julian meeting locally. I am currently celebrating the joined up-ness of my Dunstable Priory Choir experience back- in- the- day, to now being in Reed Choir, with the awesome joy of being able to sing Stanford in C again! Even in the Abbey in June!

And now for the next learning curve… IT. Help anyone?

Ann Bowes

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