AN Anglican priest who is running for Parliament in next month’s election has explained how her Christian vocation drove her into politics as well as the priesthood.
The Revd Dr Catherine Shelley, an ecclesiastical lawyer and non-stipendiary minister in the dioceses of London and Southwark, is the Green candidate for Croydon South.
She said that her faith pushed her to fight against social injustice and to protect the environment. “It comes from my Christian vocation — my priestly ministry is just one aspect of how that Christian vocation works itself out.”
Dr Shelley said that, had she been in full-time parochial ministry, she would not have stood for election, as a party political affiliation would have conflicted with having the cure of souls for an entire community.
But engagement with politics for everyone else was not just an option, but a necessity, she argued. “Because I don’t have care for a particular congregation, I felt freer to pursue election alongside being a priest: it’s a very important form of service and something that Christians should get involved with. I think it is compatible with priestly vocation, but the bigger thing is it’s a Christian vocation.”
Dr Shelley, who has previously been a local councillor for the Labour Party, has been a member of the Green Party since 2011. Her previous jobs also include working as a parliamentary officer for Church Action on Poverty during the 1990s, and two years as Anglican Chaplain to the University of Birmingham.
Her candidacy has been cleared with both dioceses in which she has permission to officiate. The Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, made it clear that he could not say anything about her choice of party to represent; but, Dr Shelley reported: “He is really pleased that I see that as a way of furthering my Christian vocation.”
Members of the clergy have been able to stand for Parliament since 2001, when the centuries-old disqualification was repealed to allow a laicised Roman Catholic priest run for a safe Labour seat in Scotland.
When Dr Shelley attended meetings in the constituency in her clerical collar, the responses were largely positive, she reported. It had led to some good conversations about the role of the Church. Some non-believers were pleased to see that the clergy, as the public face of the C of E, were keen to be involved in their communities to the point of seeking election, Dr Shelley said she had found.
Her constituency is a safe Conservative seat: the sitting MP is defending a comfortable majority of more than 17,000 votes. But while she admitted that her candidacy was a “triumph of hope over expectation”, she urged Christians not to be put off voting for candidates who faced an “uphill struggle” to be returned to Parliament.
“It’s not a wasted vote. If what you believe is contrary to the politics that’s in power, then you should express that. It’s not about voting for winners, but voting for what best approximates what would be best for the country and your community.”