I was married to Ian, who was Bishop of
Peterborough for 13 years. In Letting Go of Ian, I wrote
about my faith journey over four very eventful years.
I structured the book around three determining moments
that changed my life: Ian's terminal diagnosis in 2007,
his death in 2009, and my experience in the Christchurch, New
Zealand, earthquake in 2011.
When Ian became ill, I started to keep a
journal where I could articulate my feelings and reactions. As I
looked back after a near-death experience in Christchurch, I wanted
to share those reflections, and to explore the "why? what? how?"
questions that I was asking God. I learnt things I wanted to
Immortality is not an option, and the issues
here are ones that we'll all, at some time, have to face. Also, I
had in mind other people in high-profile positions who have to walk
through these difficult times in the public view.
It's not really a book about grief and
bereavement, but about journeying with God through the
unexpected. It's an adventure of life and love, as well as
Ian was a polymath, with a wonderfully wide
range of interests and talents. He came from a family of
mathematicians and teachers, and his deep faith had been nurtured
from childhood. I was the grounded lawyer. He did the DIY, tinkered
with clocks and old cars, and taught me about the natural world. I
cooked the Cordon Bleu meals, and my father taught him about wine.
Both of us enjoyed singing. We met in a Christian choir at
My father was a consultant surgeon, and my
parents came to England from New Zealand in the 1930s. My mother's
great-grandparents had gone there in 1830s as CMS missionaries, and
my father's family had left Northern Ireland in the 1880s. I grew
up in north London with two older brothers.
I went to a Woodard boarding school. That gave
me a formal Christianity for which I'm immensely grateful. We
learned plainsong, and prayers by heart - things which this
generation doesn't know.
It moved from my head to my heart when I was at
university, and Dick Lucas came to a mission. My faith
matured through singing with the choir, because we were trying to
preach through our music. Almost exactly a year after the meeting,
I realised how much I had changed. It was like having a first
Ian and I were married shortly before he was
ordained; so for me marriage and ministry have always gone
together. After qualifying, I always worked part-time as a
solicitor so that I could have time with the family and be involved
in Ian's ministry. I have two sons and a daughter, and five
Life as a bishop's wife was fascinating and
enjoyable, because it enabled so many insights and
opportunities. There is involvement in church, community, and civic
life, as well as national and international contacts.
Life now is very different. I'm finding other
ways of being involved in local church life, and I no longer have
community involvement as a lawyer or as a non-executive director in
the NHS; so there's the challenge of finding a new identity and
purpose in life.
I'd arranged to be at General Synod in York on 14 July
to promote and sign my book; so I found myself able to
attend the debate on the ordination of women bishops. When the vote
came, it felt like the right way forward in a real spirit of trust
and reconciliation, and also of profound joy. Ian would have been
One of my sons now lives in Australia; so in
2011 I had arranged a trip to visit him and meet a new born
granddaughter, and this gave me the opportunity to go on to New
Zealand and visit family and friends there. Hence I found myself in
the cathedral in Christchurch on 22 February when the major
In January this year, I was back again, partly
to research family papers in the National Archives in Wellington,
and I revisited Christchurch. The Transitional Cathedral is
inspiring and beautiful. They don't like to call it the cardboard
cathedral, but it's made of big cardboard tubes triangulated like a
tent, with perspex over it. It's designed to be earthquake-proof
and to last for about 40 years. It's built opposite the cleared
site of the Canterbury Television building, where most of the
people who died were. They are still debating what to do with the
New Zealand provided two contrasting images,
which I have used in the book. The earthquake was perhaps the
ultimate determining moment in my life. It made me ask much more
fundamental questions of God than I had ever asked before: Why am I
still here? What is my life about?
Then there was the Maori motif of
koru, the unfolding fern leaf, which speaks of
new beginnings, new life, gradual growth, and helped me to see
these past four years as an unfolding journey.
Each day is a gift from God. I want to see our
family growing up. I want to go on sharing life's adventures. I
want to go on storytelling.
I love the peace and quiet at the top of
Weardale, in County Durham, with just the sound of the
wind and the birds. But then, for comfort, there is nothing like
the sound of a kettle boiling for a cup of tea.
There are two groups of people whose friendship was
important to me. First, the Ichthyan Singers, an
interdenominational Christian choir which was formative in my young
Christian life. That range of churchmanship has helped me feel
comfortable in any group of Christians in later life. Second, the
Lawyers' Christian Fellowship [LCF], which helped me to integrate
my faith with my chosen profession.
In the 1980s I edited a little booklet called Law:
Some Christian perspectives, which dealt with issues
of money, family law, defending a defendant whom you believe is
guilty, and generally how to be a Christian with integrity in a
profession where there are many temptations to take the easy or
lucrative route. Expectations and financial pressures have
increased; but there are some very fine Christian lawyers around in
all branches of the profession, and the LCF has been going strong
The individuals who have influenced me most have been
Ian, and then Ruth Etchells, who was Principal of St
John's College, Durham, when Ian was Warden of Cranmer Hall. She
was an academic with profound spiritual insight who became a valued
friend and mentor. I miss them both greatly.
I read widely: history, biography, novels,
Christian books. I remember a little booklet, Sacrifice,
from my student days. We were a generation who were taught to count
the cost of Christian commitment. More recently, I appreciated the
novel Suite Française by Irene Némirovsky, for her
profoundly moving understanding of the often painful complexity of
human life and love.
I pray daily for an awareness of the reality of
God in what the day may bring, and for the people I will
This question reminds of the end of Buñuel's film
The Exterminating Angel. If I was locked in a
church with anyone, I'd like to be with my
great-great-grandparents, John and Anne Wilson, and have an honest
insight into what life and ministry in New Zealand was really like
in the 1830s.
Jo Cundy was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
Letting Go of Ian was published this year
by Monarch, £7.99 - CT Bookshop £7.20 (Use code CT945