I took up my new post in February, continuing
the work achieved through the Wedding Project, and developing new
projects around the Church's ministry at times of birth and
I won't be working nine to five. Although
some of the time I'll travel to Westminster, at other times I'll be
in various parts of the country.
I'm looking at christenings and funerals
- though the Church calls it baptism . . . encouraging people to
think they can access their church for those things, and
encouraging them to come back a bit more.
A lot of the work will be helping clergy and lay people
to understand their role; but also the public as
well: to know that they can access the Church.
The Wedding Project has had quite a high
profile. It makes the whole experience of booking
and creating a church wedding much more accessible, and helps
clergy look at the key stages, so they can help support couples
better, so they will come back in the future.
This work brings together all kinds of themes in my
life - growing up in a shop in a rural community, my
career in marketing, academic research, being a parish priest, and
my passion to see people of all ages discover that God loves them
and there is a place for them with God's people. In July, an advert
in theChurch Timescaught my eye, and I wondered if this
was the moment when I should make a change.
Living in a village shop is a distinctive
childhood, quite good for someone working in the
public eye, meeting people's needs, doing pastoral work. It was an
"everything shop" - toys, books, cards, the mystery world of fancy
goods, as well as food. My mum used to let us play shop in it - the
only rule was to put everything back on the shelves afterwards. We
learned about serving. It was good.
I think that I have a particular way of looking at the
culture we live in: listening to and noticing the
realities of life for those on the edge and beyond the Church, and
then building communication. Someone once told me I had a gift for
the sacred in ordinary. In reality, this means I watch adverts,
read magazines, enjoy TV, and talk to people, and place all that in
dialogue with the gospel.
Adults often categorise as pressures things that are
simply realities for children - like using
technology. I've just been rereading the Cazalet Chronicles by
Elizabeth Jane Howard, and I found myself thinking about the
resilience of children during the war, and how life for children is
just what it is, lived in the moment. But it's true that some
children live in very difficult circumstances, often economically -
but more frequently emotionally - difficult. Love is still the most
important need for children: love, security, and freedom.
Children are co-disciples, followers of
Jesus, who have good days and bad days, just like everyone else.
The Church has been working with a very educational model of
discipleship with children, seeing them as empty vessels that need
filling - like Paulo Freire's banking model of learning. We've also
been through a phase of thinking we need to entertain them.
Only now are we realising that we simply need to create
a space where children can engage with God through
encounter and experience.
I am passionate about things like including children in
the life of the Church. I'm irritated by the
Church's inability to do basic things like hospitality, and the way
it so easily becomes a cosy club for insiders.
God is like a multi-faceted crystal.
Sometimes I spend a long time looking at one facet, thinking I'm
there; but then God shifts, turns, and whole new depths appear.
My default position is optimism. I'm
programmed to find positives and to enjoy life; so all my different
working experiences have had great moments in them and great people
to work with. The Church is the same - yet with the sense that what
we are involved with is always more than what we can see or touch,
with this capacity to transform lives and situations.
Family has always been important to me,
and my sister, niece, and nephew are truly special. The hardest
time of my life was when my parents died suddenly, six months
apart. They weren't young: it wasn't a tragedy; but it is a loss
that shook me deeply. I try not to do regret, but I do wish I had
been able to say goodbye to my parents.
I wanted to be an air hostess, as they
were called then. But I went to a wonderful girls' grammar school,
which led us to believe that, as women, we could achieve anything.
I believed them, and my ambition has always been to make a
difference. And to bring laughter.
There have been a fewSliding
Doorsmoments, when I have
wondered what would have happened if I had turned right instead of
left; but the best decisions were to study for my Master's, then a
doctorate, at Warwick University, and to push the door on
My research was in the area of adult
learning, specifically about adult women learning
faith. I discovered that women use life-experiences to shape their
faith, rather than formal learning. Women completely undervalue
these: they don't count them as learning.
Very ordinary people think very deeply about matters of
faith. We don't always put enough value on things
people say. They don't use the language of the academy or the
Church. They use homely language - like "christening" instead of
I don't have a grand plan for my life. I
simply want to do what I do well, to be who God has created me to
be, and to enjoy the journey.
I'd like to be remembered for making people feel good
As a teenager, I was deeply influenced by my Crusader
leader, who remains a good friend to this day. I
read widely, and my favourite fictional characters are lifelong
friends, like Anne of Green Gables and the girls at the Chalet
School. Writers who influence me now include Henri Nouwen, Gerard
Manley Hopkins, and Elizabeth Goudge. She's completely out of
fashion and underrated, but her books are embedded with spiritual
values. She writes really well about children, too. If I ever wrote
a biography about someone, it would be her.
Sometimes I wish I could remember and live out my own
sermons. When Christopher Lewis was Dean of St
Albans, he spoke one Ascension Day about the elasticity of
language, and the challenge of using the limited nature of words to
de- scribe the mystery of Jesus. If words are the tools of our
trade, they are both immensely powerful and yet strangely useless
I love Isaiah and Luke - the focus on
change, and including those who experience exclusion. And my fa-
vourite story is the raising of Jairus's daughter, including the
healing of the woman. I struggle with Revelation.
I've travelled a lot,both on holiday and when I
worked for a mission organisation for about six years. It was YWAM.
I did a lot of work training youth workers in other countries, and
was in the Ukraine not long after it became open. I like cities, I
like new experiences, and I like a bit of luxury, but not too much
I'm happiest with a book, a pen, and
paper in a tea room or coffee shop with great cake.
I am passionate about intercessory
prayer, which should be exciting and imaginative. I
pray for people known to me and unknown; I pray for businesses and
shoppers; and for people who shape our world. And I pray for those
I love. I like Ignatian spirituality, and, in a different way, will
pray with icons or paintings and Bible stories.
I'd like a bit of a girls' night in, if I
were locked in a church - with some of the women who have shaped
the Christian faith down the centuries: Martha, and Joanna, and
Lois, and many more. And they could bring the children, too. It
would be so much fun, wouldn't it?
The Revd Dr Sandra Millar was talking to Terence Handley