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Acceptance and Joy by Emma Percy from 'Voices of this Calling'. Edited by Christina Rees

Acceptance and Joy

by Emma Percy

from Voices of this Calling, pp. 126-128.
Edited by Christina Reesand published by Canterbury Press 2003.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

Born Emma Bray in 1963, she was educated at Woodford County High and then read history at Jesus College, Cambridge. After a few years of travel and part-time jobs she studied at Cranmer Hall and gained a degree in theology. In 1989 she married Martyn a fellow ordinand and the following year they were ordained deacon to serve as curates in St Andrew’s, Bedford. They moved to Cambridge in 1994, where Emma set up the chaplaincy at the Cambridge campus of Anglia Polytechnic University. At the end of 1997 they moved to Sheffield where Emma is priest in charge of Holy Trinity Millhouses and Martyn runs a theological research institute. She is the mother of Ben (8) and Joe (5).

I remember 11 November 1992 as a day of tension and then euphoria; returning to Bedford from London to find a full answering machine and a porch full of flowers and champagne. Then we were told to wait and not to be triumphant. So I waited while getting on with being a deacon in a busy, eucharistic parish.

On 22 September 1993 I became a mother. Ben was born and the church bell ringers rang a quarter peal for the curate’s son. I took maternity leave and returned to parish work. On 23 April 1994 I was ordained priest. I was number 6o in a mammoth service at St Albans Abbey where 62 women were ordained. The Abbey was full and crowds waited outside, and somewhere my poor parents-in-law paced with a crying baby wanting a feed from his mother. These last ten years have been for me a period of growing into these two roles, mother and priest, priest and mother. I have added one more son, Joe, and have moved from my training parish to a new university chaplaincy and into my first incumbency.

The most remarkable thing for me is how smoothly it has gone and how accepted I am. Initially there were painful moments when parishioners I had pastored as a deacon stayed away from any service where I presided as a priest. Recently a priest would not allow me to take my nanny’s wedding at her home church and only allowed me to participate if I wore ‘a flowery dress and no dog collar’. Yet mostly I am struck by how readily accepted I am as a priest by my own congregation and by the wider community. People find me approachable because I’m a mum, I’m like them. When I came on interview to Holy Trinity, PCC members were invited to meet the prospective vicar. They knew nothing and it was a treat watching the faces as they realized that the young woman with the baby was in fact the candidate. One said to the wardens later, ‘When we said we didn’t mind a woman, we didn’t think we’d get one!’ Four years on we have all worked together to help this parish to grow and flourish, and they like being the parish with the woman vicar.

My time at Anglia Polytechnic University was a challenging time to work out my sense of being a priest. Only six weeks after my ordination I found myself without a congregation or a church or chapel. I did celebrate the Eucharist in lecture rooms, but it was not the heart of my ministry. What was interesting was how much more confident I was to work in this mission situation representing the Church in a secular institution, now that I felt the Church truly owned and accepted my ministry. I was a priest and that was more than being able to do certain things; it was about being someone who could represent God and the Church to this diverse community. It was a rewarding time, and I am particularly grateful to those who also provided places for me to preside at the Eucharist, especially John Binns at Great St Mary’s.

It is so exciting for me that the Church has ordained women when I was still quite young. I am still in my 3os and able to give energetically to the life of the parish, and as a priest I can be in the role of vicar, able to lead the parish. I am able to fulfil the role that I felt God calling me to in my teens, when it had seemed impossible.

As a mother I have found it a wonderful job to combine with bringing up my children. The vicarage is a busy place with children, nanny (now au pair), and parishioners in and out in a wonderful complex partnership. On one occasion my husband said it was like an advent calendar, someone new behind every door! My mothering and my ministry are collaborative and I am able to bring vision, shape and leadership to both roles. The wider Church is still at times a frustratingly masculine place and I long for the insights that women bishops and other senior clergy could bring. I have also come up against nice men who like women - but find they don’t know how to treat them as colleagues. There are still cultural shifts that need to be made, but slowly women are beginning to leaven the lump:

All in all my experience is good. I am a fulfilled parish priest struggling with all the issues of parochial ministry. I have a wonderful honorary curate in my husband whose support through out our 12 years of ministry and 13 years of marriage, has been invaluable. Often I am in the local infant school where the children all know Emma the vicar and it delights me that from an early age their image of a vicar is one that 1, at their age, never imagined. What a joy that the Church has changed.

Emma Percy

Read also: Ordination in the Anglican Church.

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