ordinands Claire and Rose Jones

Ordinands Claire and Rose Jones

Meeting Revd Claire and Revd Rose Jones felt like throwing open the windows and breathing in fresh, energising air. The couple will be ordained as priests on September 25th at St Petroc’s, Bodmin. Because of the Covid19 crisis, it won’t be in the Cathedral with all the accompanying pomp, but it will be very special as they will be ordained together.

Being ordained as a pair seems a particularly sweet blessing for this couple who have journeyed together on the path towards this milestone. When Rose was studying at Cranmer Hall theological college in Durham, Claire took a job in Sunderland. While there, Claire successfully went through the Bishop’s Advisory Panel and, thanks to God’s impeccable timing, was accepted to start at the same college the following year. And so began in earnest the exploration of life as ministers in the Church of England.

Two ordinands together in Cornwall, working at opposite sides of the Cornish coin

Rose is based in the North Cornwall Cluster of Churches, arguably the heart of Cornwall’s more wealthy tourism industry. The churches are in different settings, from Port Isaac, a fishing village, to rural and coastal locations like St Kew and Rock. Rose was brought up in Redruth, “I thought I knew Cornwall, but I didn’t know this area. It’s like we have dual congregations – in the summer and during festivals they swell with regular visitors and, in the winter, it is the more comfortably retired who congregate. In places like Port Isaac, we generally don’t see the locals until the winter as they are working flat-out and don’t have time to come to church.”

Claire is based in Bodmin, an area diametrically opposite to Rose’s parish, where the living circumstances of too many are profoundly hard. “The work is challenging but the team are great. It was a really exciting time to start as a lot of groundwork had been laid and many things were just about to take off. I was part of a team tasked with creating a new service of contemporary worship, which was an amazing opportunity.”

How lockdown divided the year

And then the lockdown began. “It feels like two different years, the pandemic changed everything,” says Rose. “When I first arrived, it was completely mad! I was catapulted into six churches and was rushing around trying to get to know everyone and everything. I’d just begun to settle in when the pandemic hit.”

“It feels like two different years, the pandemic changed everything.”

Because Rose is one of the youngest members of the team, much of everything to do with the internet fell to her. “I was really happy to help as it’s very familiar territory to me as my work before involved a lot of social media management.” Rose used to work in the music industry as well as being a part-time music pastor for a church in London. “We basically started everything from scratch, set up Facebook pages for all the churches, worked out how to record services, re-did the website and got everyone involved up to speed as quickly as possible. There was a lot of immediate creativity and thinking around how to re-define what church could be.”

Of the many benefits for Rose when wrestling with how to re-define church into online offerings, was the appreciation for all the different styles of worship. Rather than try to encourage everyone across the cluster to adapt to one particular way of worship, they embraced all forms so that everyone experienced worship that was different to their own previously preferred way. “So we’ve had Taizé, Evensong, informal worship… and we’ve carried that on even when we are physically together.”

“We’ve had Taizé, Evensong, informal worship… and we’ve carried that on even when we are physically together.”

As part of her training Rose opted, albeit reluctantly, to do a module on digital theology. “Who knew it would be so useful! It was the theology behind digital church so it’s been really helpful when working through questions about online Communion, what it means to be a community in the church and the body of Christ – can that be achieved digitally?”

The landscape may have changed, but the task of helping people encounter Jesus in everyday life is still the task

As Claire says, the way of doing church and the landscape might have changed but the task hasn’t. “Helping people encounter Jesus in everyday life is still the task.” In Bodmin they set about doing that in very practical ways. One of the team members, Revd Elaine Munday, worked hard setting up an activity packs scheme to reach out to local families. “It’s different here. We have set up Facebook pages and live-streamed our services, but people respond better in a face-to-face relational way. They don’t necessarily lead the sort of lives that allow for a quiet afternoon to tune into a service, and also may not even have access to a computer or the internet.”

“It’s different here… people respond better in a face-to-face relational way. They don’t necessarily lead the sort of lives that allow for a quiet afternoon to tune into a service, and also may not even have access to a computer or the internet.”

Pre-lockdown, Claire worked hard to create new events and opportunities for people to engage in church. Post-lockdown, it’s been difficult to pick up the same momentum. “Families who were beginning to come along to special events and festivals were not at the stage of coming along more regularly. So they didn’t engage online and, although it’s very early days, they’re not currently coming to church, especially as numbers are so restricted and we are prohibited from organising more celebratory events. So it’s a challenge!”

For all ordinands, this year has been a year like no other. It’s required creativity, nimble responses and an acceptance that it’s nothing like they said it would be at training college! The digital door has been opened, life is constantly changing in ways none of us foresaw and the church is doing an impressive job of keeping pace.

Unexpected joy in the uncertainties

But in amongst the change and uncertainty, Rose and Claire have had some unexpected joys. For the first time ever, they were able to attend church services together. “It was lovely to sit together on the sofa and share worship,” says Claire. Pre-lockdown so much of their time was spent apart as each tended to their own ministries. “It’s frustrating sometimes as we both have talents that the other could really use – when I was putting together this new worship service it would have been great to have a talented musician like Rose to help out. But Rose has come along to help our fledgling worship band and I’ve helped out with Rose’s youth groups. It’s very healthy as each of us are learning so many valuable lessons in our different settings and it’s really helpful to be able to share that with each other.”

The diversity, acceptance and freedom to fail as an ordinand in Truro Diocese

The Diocese of Truro is benefitting hugely from the energy and life-experience that Rose and Claire bring with them, but they would say they are benefitting just as much by being in this diocese. “Because it is so far away and relatively small, it has to be creative and responsive to the needs down here. As we’ve found, you cannot simply roll out a formula that has been successful elsewhere. Everything has to be home-grown and adapted to the context. And often, if you have the energy and enthusiasm, the opportunities are there to take that on. That doesn’t necessarily happen elsewhere,” says Rose.

“They give you freedom to fail,” says Claire. “Freedom to try stuff, see where God leads and change direction if necessary, to take people with you on a journey. It’s a very welcome organic way of doing things.”

Claire and Rose both come from conservative church backgrounds, and still consider themselves evangelical. Some in those traditions would object to the ministry of women in a same-sex relationship, but rather than any resentment about this, the pair feel only love and understanding. They agree it’s relationships that make the difference, not issues, and knowing they are family together in Christ and partners in the Gospel. As Claire says, “The great thing about people with evangelical faith is they are so driven by the Gospel and need for people to know Jesus. If you’re on board together with that, that’s so much more important than our differences.” Messages we all need to hear and to feel encouraged by. The Church of England is diverse and accepting and as both Claire and Rose agree, they do that better than any other church, and that is such a witness.