Vicky Meets'¦ The Rev Rachel Hawes
Associate Rector of the United Benefice of St Paul, Chichester with St Peter, Westhampnett
I’ve heard about changing career path, but London lawyer to parish priest sounds – no pun intended – like an almighty leap. “It’s less of a conflict than you might expect,” said Rachel, passing me a cup of tea as we settled down to chat. “Lawyers live by a very high ethical code of conduct. They have to understand confidentially and are used to receiving the burden of other people’s problems, using their professional skills to resolve them. Intellectually you need to be able to think clearly as a lawyer and also for theology, which is quite a taxing discipline. So it’s not so very different.”
Ordained in London in her 50s, Rachel admits that she had been aware of her vocation to ordination all her life. “It got me in the end,” she laughed, explaining that her post is unpaid (“but that as a as a lawyer so I have a pension”) and that she returned to Chichester, her birthplace, last year when she was licenced to St Peter’s.
“It was a church that been without a permanent priest for some time and I think the congregation felt a lack of continuity, not least someone to steer projects like getting a loo and a kitchen put in. It is a medieval church on the old Pilgrim route and to the shrine of St Richard, but nowadays it is part of an area that is undergoing considerable development. Within the next five years it will be at the centre of an extended community. I want the community to feel they belong; to link them to their historical past and to make them feel that the church is part of their future. That means creating proper amenities. The church is open all the time and I’d like the people of Westhampnet to feel that I am there for them.”
With Easter approaching I asked what Rachel has planned. “Holy week starts with Palm Sunday, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. We have got a donkey and children are invited to come dressed up as disciples and we’ll process into the village with palms. For the church, Easter is the most significant festival and the basis of our faith; the death and the resurrection of Christ. To not experience that whole story means you miss out on that profound cost of resurrection and you forget the heart of the Easter message.”
As for faith, Rachel thinks it is natural for people to seek something outside themselves at some point. “I was brought up in a Christian family, but like many I moved away from it as a teenager. Now I cannot imagine life without it, but of course I have experienced doubt along the way; if you think deeply and carefully about things you are bound to encounter doubt, but the Holy Spirit assists faith. You make a move and then there’s this enormous movement back to help you.”
For stories by Phil, see: https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2