We talk to Joan Matthews newly elected Chair of the House of Clergy

At the last Diocesan Synod Rev Canon Joan Matthews was confirmed as Chair of the House of Clergy. So we caught up with her to find out more about the role, her calling and her ministry in Newton-le-Willows.

Q:      So Joan, Congratulations. How are you feeling as you embark on this role?

I am humbled to have been selected for this role and thank all my clergy colleagues for the level of trust and faith that they have put in me. I hope that I will be able to serve our clergy to the best of my ability.  

Q:      For the uninitiated  - what is the role of Chair of the House of Clergy

The role of Chair of the House of Clergy is multi-faceted, but mainly I represent the clergy in the diocese so I’ll be using opportunities to help me keep my ear to the ground.   I have been in the diocese for a long time so I already know a good number of my colleagues but I also look forward to getting to know more of them.

As the senior clergy officer of the Synod I will be working alongside both Maggie Swinson, the Lay Chair and the bishop in the  practical management of our Diocesan Synod which Includes having  input to the agenda as well as sharing in the chairing  of  Synod meetings.  As Chair I will also be involved with the strategic direction of the Diocese.

Q:      What do you hope to be able to bring to this role?

Having been ordained for more than 22 years I hope that I can offer my experience of the role and knowledge of serving in the Diocese of Liverpool for those years. I think I will be able to honestly reflect the views and knowledge of our clergy serving in a variety of ministries across our diocese. We are a remarkable united diocese, one that is fully respectful of a range of churchmanship and theological thought. I want to be able to honestly represent our clergy as I take on this role.

Q:      How do you feel about following Nicholas Anderson in this role.

Well that’s quite a daunting task but Nicholas has been in touch offering me his support and wise council.  Just what you would expect from Nicholas. Of course I will approach this in my way using my gifts but I hope to be able to discharge my duties faithfully for the benefit of all.

Q:      What do you feel are the main issues facing the clergy at this time?

Although we are officially a growing diocese we have to recognise that many clergy are struggling with declining numbers in their congregations whilst at the same time having to serve in multi parish benefices and often in broken buildings that simply are no longer fit for purpose.  How’s that for a starter!!  But our diocese is good at being honest with itself over the challenges we face and trying to prayerfully discern the best approach to create a sustainable future for all.  

Q:      What do we, as a diocese, need to be focussing on?

I fully support the Growth Agenda and helped shape the final document through participation at the Bishop’s Team Meeting and through my membership of Bishops’ Council. It clearly sets out the challenges of ageing money, retiring clergy and broken buildings. As a parish priest these are challenges I know I face and believe we all should be working hard to deal with. It is about the kingdom and about growth for if we tackle these issues we can be free to fully serve our communities.

Q:      You have plenty of experience as priest, vicar team rector and Area Dean – how do you think this experience will help as you move forward as Chair of the House of Clergy?

I hope that the wide experience that I have enjoyed in ministry will enable me to have a better understanding of any issues that my fellow clergy colleagues may be facing whatever the context of their ministry. I also hope that this experience grounds me and keeps me focussed on the issues that matter.

Q:      You were one of the first women priests in our diocese – what was that experience like, how have things changed and now that we seem on the cusp of accepting the first Women Bishops in the CofE what are you hopes for the future?

The church will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ordination of women in May of this year & I will be in London with Bishop Cyril representing our diocese at a special service.  I clearly remember the day of our ordination at Liverpool Cathedral (22nd May 1994).  I and 27 of my women colleagues were very excited but also very nervous as the service began as we had all been warned that there could be some disruption by those who opposed our ministry.  As it was there were no problems and the service went off without a hitch. Indeed I recall that at the end of the service as we were walking to the well of the Cathedral the congregation stood and applauded & cheered!!

The reaction to my ministry in those first years was largely positive, I remember how people were often surprised to discover that a woman could actually conduct worship well and especially surprised that a woman could conduct a funeral service without dissolving into a flood of tears!  I wish I had a pound for every time someone patted my hand on leaving a funeral service and said ‘well done dear that was wonderful, I didn’t think a woman would be able to do so'.

I hope there won’t be the same reaction to women bishops and clearly there are some very, very talented women priests who I’m sure would make excellent bishops and  will serve the church faithfully in the future if the legislation goes through. They along with their male counter parts will continue to need our prayers as they seek to lead the C of E forward into the future.