Penwith welcomes new Rural Dean
Five years ago, the Reverend Dr Nicholas Widdows and his family – his wife Claire and their three young children, George, Emily and Kit – came to St Ives, where he serves as vicar to the Benefice. Last month Nick was also appointed to the role of Rural Dean for Penwith.
Penwith is one of the twelve deaneries which comprise the Anglican Church in Cornwall. It covers the Land’s End peninsula, from Penzance and Newlyn to Pendeen, St Just, St Ives and Carbis Bay .
Nick was commissioned to his new role at a special service in June conducted by the Venerable Paul Bryer, Archdeacon of Cornwall.
“At this time of challenge and opportunity for our deaneries, the Rural Dean’s particular ministry of serving, guiding, leading and caring for all in the deanery is vital,” says Archdeacon Paul.
“With so many good things and so much change going on, our Rural Deans are there to give vital support and direction,” adds the Right Reverend Hugh Nelson, Bishop of St Germans.
Nick continues to serve as vicar of St Ives and Halsetown alongside his new role.
A journey of faith
Nick was born in Manchester, the son of an Anglican minister. The family moved south when his father had taken a position in Bristol, where Nick spent most of his childhood. His father’s vocation has clearly been influential on Nick’s own faith.
“I had a very positive role model for ministry when I was growing up,” he says.
Nick went on to study engineering at Oxford, where his college chaplain had encouraged him to consider a life in Christian ministry.
“But I didn’t know if it was for me,” he says. “It was hard to discern a genuine calling at that time.”
Instead, he joined one of the world’s biggest professional services multinationals to train for a career in accountancy.
He then moved into business consultancy and project management work for the construction industry. It wasn’t until he was offered a more senior position that he at last realized what he should really be doing with his life.
“It was something I loved doing but I still felt that sense of a calling to ministry,” he says.
So, he quit his job and entered into training for ordination at Trinity College in Bristol.
Following that, after having served his curacy in Fowey, he spent a year as acting chaplain at Jesus College, Cambridge, and then three years as chaplain at Magdalen College. It was during his time in Cambridge that he completed a doctorate in Theology.
“We’ve moved around a lot,” he says. “For the first fifteen years of our marriage, we lived in ten different places. We’d never been anywhere as long as we’ve been in St Ives. And we’re certainly not thinking about moving anytime soon!”
Settled in St Ives
Nick is clearly passionate about his parishes.
“We absolutely love it here,” he says. “We love the people. We love the place. It’s a real privilege to minister here and to be accepted into the community, its traditions and its heritage. The Cornish don’t suffer fools gladly but are truly warm and welcoming people when you make an effort. It’s a really special place.”
With its mix of wealth and deprivation, Nick describes his Benefice as something of a microcosm of Cornwall as a whole.
“For many people here, life’s a grind,” he explains. “Lots of people work in low-paid seasonal jobs. With both parents working long hours, many families struggle to get time together. And it’s made much worse because most of St Ives is so expensive.”
Nick is responsible for the Church of St Ia, a space of sanctity and calm, even in the heat of a bustling, tourist-filled summer, overlooking the beach right in the centre of St Ives.
He also serves St John’s Church, up the hill from the town, at the heart of the local community, the place where most of the permanent population actually live.
St John’s had been built in the 1850s in the fields outside St Ives, but over the years the town has grown and built up around it. As a spiritual and social centre for Halsetown, the church now offers everything from traditional Holy Communion on Sunday mornings to more informal ‘Wild Church’ services which take place outdoors when the weather is fine.
“It’s a really great place to reach out to the community,” Nick says.
St John’s acts as a community hub, hosting a range of local activities and events. The church itself runs a toddler group there, along with a group for young mums and its regular Welcome Wednesdays offering support and fellowship for older and isolated people. They also run a summer fête and are even establishing a community vegetable garden.
Mission and ministry
Nick says that he remains focused on his work as a parish priest, but that his new role as Rural Dean for Penwith offers him an opportunity to extend that experience, and the understanding he’s learnt from it, to support all those in his care.
“The priority of the Church in Penwith is, as it always has been, to see people come to Christ, to grow in faith and to become more passionate followers of Christ,” he says. “It’s about making Him known and knowing Him better.”
This ongoing process of mission is reflected in Nick’s sense of his own journey of faith.
“Faith in Christ is something I’ve never been aware of being without,” he says. “What that’s meant in my life has changed over the years. But it’s always been a significant and guiding component of my life. I’ve definitely felt the Lord’s hand in terms of that call upon my life.”
He says that he believes people are called to different purposes and vocations, and that he values all forms of service.
“This role’s just one way in which we can order our lives around the call of God,” he explains.
The priesthood is the role that he’s found to be right for him.
“A large part of it is trying to remain centred on that living relationship with Christ and ministering out of that place,” he says. “It’s a great joy on the whole, with many challenges along the way.”