The Reverend Heidi Huntley has been licensed by the Diocese of Truro as Rural Dean for Kerrier, in the southwest corner of the county, one of the twelve deaneries which constitute the presence of the Church of England in Cornwall.

Her licensing ceremony was conducted by the Right Reverend Hugh Nelson, Bishop of St Germans, at St Michael’s Church in Helston on Thursday 16th March.

Her role will be to lead on the implementation of her Deanery’s plan for renewal and sustainability. That plan lays out the details of Kerrier’s mission to engage with local communities, to support those in need, to serve families and young people, to care for the natural environment, and to welcome people of all backgrounds and ages into the activities of the church.

This remarkably rural deanery includes 23 churches, most of which are medieval. Fourteen of these are Grade 1 listed buildings. Large parts of Kerrier have been designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and, at the tip of the Lizard Peninsula, it famously includes the southernmost point of the British mainland.

Heidi has come to Cornwall following more than a decade of service as vicar at the Parish Church of St John the Baptist in the Hertfordshire town of Royston.

At the end of 2018, Royston’s church building, which dated back to the thirteenth century, had been devastated by a major fire, but, under Heidi’s leadership, it was restored to its former glory, and it reopened last November. Even the eight church bells, which had cracked in the heat of the flames, had been recast and replaced in the medieval tower.

In addition to the restoration of that beautiful building, and her ministry to her parishioners, much of her work in Royston focused upon support for children and youth, as well as upon efforts to sustain the future of the natural environment. Last spring, St John the Baptist in Royston earned an Eco Church award.

Heidi was born in Kent and grew up in Dorset. She was raised as an Anglican but was schooled at a Roman Catholic convent. That made her into what she calls something of a hybrid.

“It had a defining impact on my life. It has helped me straddle different traditions. We went to quite a low-church service on a Sunday and then I’d spend the week at the convent.

“My faith has always meant everything to me. I can’t think of a time when God didn’t mean everything – even in my teens, when I had a bit of a rebellion and broke away from the organised church. My faith journey and my relationship with God fashion everything I do.”

One of Kerrier’s beautiful medieval churches, at St Germoe.

She went on to study nursing at St Bartholomew’s in London, where she met her husband Phil, a firefighter. She worked as a casualty nurse at Bart’s, before specializing in children’s nursing, which she practised in Essex and then, back in London, for seven years at the world-renowned Great Ormond Street Hospital.

“My training as a nurse influences my ministry every single day,” she says. “My experience of looking after people in times of crisis helps me in everything I do.”

That experience has also underpinned her approach to engaging children and their parents in the work of the church.

“Using the gifts I’d gained through nursing, I’ve been able to work with brilliant teams of volunteers to reach out to young people,” she says.

She’s very eager to offer people opportunities enjoy family time in their church communities. Hers is clearly an emphatically welcoming and intergenerational vision of the church.

“What I want is for young people to come to church and to know that God loves them unconditionally – and also to know that church can be fun.”

That care for young people goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to more senior members of the church.

“Something that’s always been passionate in my ministry is looking after people in the winters of their lives, because they’ve always been the stalwarts of the church. Helping them through this time of change is very important to me.”

Supporting people through change

Heidi recognises that this is a decade of great change in the church, and across the country and the world, and that this brings its own challenges.

“Jesus turned everything upside down. He was all about change,” she says. “I think he’d not only hope but expect us to change, so as to continue to spread his Gospel.

“But the church is the last place we expect change. When the world is changing so fast, it’s the one place we don’t want to change. So it’s very important that we help all our people through that change.”

Heidi believes that God had been calling her to her vocation since she was a child. But she hadn’t understood it at the time. “Of course women weren’t ordained then,” she explains.

It wasn’t until 2001 that she at last heeded the call. “I felt God was screaming at me to listen to him,” she says.

St Mawgan Church in Kerrier, famous for its daffodil festival.

Following her theological training, she was ordained as a deacon in 2009. She served her curacy in south-east London, and was appointed as vicar of Royston in 2012. There, amongst other priorities, she led on a series of social action initiatives.

She describes her experience of such work – and the fellowship, hospitality and real benefits conferred – as transformative for everyone involved. It is a form of mission which she will be continuing in Kerrier.

“Deprivation is obviously a massive challenge to many people in this area,” she says. “I’m thankful for all the work that’s already been going on – such as the food bank – and I also think we have an amazing opportunity to reach out to people in these challenging times and show that in the midst of this strife there’s a God who shares your pain.”

“A dream come true…”

As she settles into her new position, she is now very keen to explore Kerrier and to get to know local people and parishioners.

“I’m really looking forward to finding my way around all our churches, and I can’t wait to meet everyone in the Deanery,” she says.

“I’ve been coming to the Lizard Peninsula since I was a child. My husband and I have always come here on our holidays. The fact that God has called us to minister here is just a dream come true. It’s a heavenly blessing, it really is.

“As soon as I saw the advert for this position, I thought ‘My goodness!’. It felt like God had hit me over the head with a baseball bat – it just jumped out of the page of the Church Times at me!

“To me, God wants his church to grow in Kerrier, just as much as in any other part of the world. I believe we’ve got a unique and exciting opportunity to reach new people and share with them the hope and joy that we find in Jesus Christ.”

Mullion is one of the parishes in Kerrier working to support its local community through these difficult times.