At a service in Millbrook on Monday 21st August, the Reverend Jo Northey was formally licensed in her new role as oversight minister for Cornwall’s southeastern peninsula, an area encompassing Torpoint, Maryfield, St John, Millbrook, Cawsand, Maker, Rame, Antony, Sheviock, Hessenford, Tideford, Downderry and St Germans.

“I’m a vicar’s daughter,” she laughs. “So I should have known better than to come into this!”

Her family moved around a lot during her childhood, but they spent much of that time in Worcester and Tunbridge Wells.

She studied Biology in Durham before completing a PGCE at Oxford. She went on to teach at secondary schools in Hertfordshire and York.

Her schoolteaching career was interrupted by what she calls  a “brief foray” into medical education, spending three years running a laboratory providing training in keyhole surgery techniques at the University of Dundee.

Having always wanted to be involved in Voluntary Service Overseas, she then spent two years working as a senior education methods advisor in Malawi, before she returned to the UK to complete another year’s teaching in York.

A call to ministry

It was at that point that she recognised that, while she loved working with young people, she’d much prefer to be doing so in a church context.

“I’ve always had faith since I was little,” she says. “But in my late teens and early twenties, it was perhaps a lower priority than it is now.”

She recalls that it was while living in Scotland that she felt that things had started to go wrong in her life.

“It was in that dark place that I came back to the church and reached out to God,” she says. “I found a new vibrancy in my faith. I saw what a faith community could achieve when it lived out what it believed – how you can really transform a community.”

So, she came at last to put her teaching career behind her when, nearly twenty years ago, she took a job as a youth minister in Kowloon.

After three years out in Hong Kong, she returned again to Britain, to train for ordination at Trinity College in Bristol. It was there that she met her future husband Ed.

They’d married in 2008 and she’d been ordained in 2009. She was seven months pregnant with their first child, Chloe, at the time.

Jo accepted a curacy in Swindon, while Ed completed his training for ordination in nearby Oxford. The couple then moved to Barrow-in-Furness, where they served as curates together.

“Part of my role there as an innocent young curate was to help to get the churches to work better together,” she recalls.

She launched an ambitious project with an ecumenical group of local people to establish a foodbank. That was back in the days when foodbanks were relatively new and scarce.

“Just as that was up and running, along came baby number two,” she laughs. Jo and Ed’s second child now goes by the name of Florence.

Having completed her curacy, Jo was appointed team vicar in South Barrow.

“We converted the Lady Chapel of St Aidan’s Church to create a community café and really built up our work with families and young people,” she says. “That was the defining part of my ministry there.”

The family moved south when Ed became a naval chaplain in Gosport. After working in family and youth ministry with the church in the village of Alverstoke, Jo was then offered the job of “pioneer, families and fresh expressions minister” in the nearby town of Emsworth, halfway between Chichester and Portsmouth.

She recalls that they’d actually moved house while Ed was away at sea – but she stresses she’d been careful to let him know where they’d be on his return!

They moved to Torpoint last summer when Ed was stationed to HMS Raleigh.

Coming to Cornwall

“I fell in love with this peninsula,” she says. “The longer I’ve been here, the more I’ve realised that this was my calling.”

When the role of oversight minister came up, it seemed perfect for her.

“I realised how many good people I’d got to know across these parishes,” she says. “I could feel the excitement of doing something new and different in this place. It really energised me. I wanted to be a part of it.”

She says that she was particularly attracted to her new role by its emphasis on collaborative working.

“I’m a great believer that church works best when we all play our parts, when we don’t just rely on a priest or a few people to make it work,” she explains. “I’ll spend much of my time building up people to lead worship and engage with our communities. That’s really exciting.”

She speaks with great enthusiasm about the possibilities open to the area, with the recent appointment of the Deanery’s new debt advisor (supported by the national Christians Against Poverty programme), as well as plans to appoint a pioneer minister and to develop schools chaplaincy work.

“All of this gives us the kick up the backside we need to build those worshipping communities that will  support and nurture our local families,” she says. “We must show that we’ll love, enable and nourish the communities already in our churches, so they can be the very best that they can, and at the same time create new communities, offering new ways to worship and to find out about God – so that people can see that their faith community is something they’ll all benefit from.”

She emphasizes the need for the church to engage people in forms of worship and action that are attractive, impactful and intergenerational.

“I’ll have succeeded if I’ve been able to equip local people to do these things in their communities,” she says.

She is clearly devoted to the congregations and communities she now serves.

“I love Cornwall,” she says. “You couldn’t want for a better place to live. It felt like home very quickly. The people, the beautiful landscapes, those places of ancient prayer. It’s very special isn’t it? And we put the jam and cream the right way on our scones!”

She’s even taken to swimming in the sea all year round.

“I’ve found a real peace in it, even in February,” she says. “That’s the very best time of year to be on a Cornish beach!”