Revd. Justine has been busy making friends since she joined All Saints and St Barnabas ‘on secondment’ in 2017 and I bet she’s already met everyone. But does that mean we know everything about our new Priest-in-Charge? Let’s find out.
First five facts that might surprise you. She …:
- was really into the ‘eighties synth pop duo The
Communards (one half of whom, Richard Coles, is now a C of E vicar and well
known as a witty TV and radio pundit)
- nearly became a doctor. Twice!
- waited until she was grown up and married before
being confirmed (in 1995))
- is a keen weight-lifter, and …
- amateur dramatics really are ‘her thing’
But let’s start at the beginning. Justine grew up in Ayr on the West Coast of Scotland. A socially conservative region it turns out.
Dad was a pharmacist with his own business, and her mum concentrated on bringing up Justine and her brother and making a home. Like most middle-class parents at the time with a bright daughter, a career in medicine, law or accountancy was what they had in mind for her.
“They were both really ambitious for me,” Justine recalls, “there was never the concept of any kind of academic study being something that you couldn’t do.”
“Dad, particularly, wasn’t impressed that I chose to study business at university, but he accepted it in the end, I suppose thought it’s ‘almost accountancy,’” she joked.
Growing up seems idyllic, with a huge garden and a slide that turned into a water-chute after a storm. But where was God?
“We had morning prayer every day at our (all-girls) school and Mum took me to our local Church of Scotland church, but dad didn’t come.”
“Church of Scotland was very black and white – it felt like ‘you MUST believe this’. My faith has changed a lot since then.”
Justine also took Sunday School classes, with adult supervision.
Religion seems to have taken a bit of a back seat at university, but Justine threw herself into philosophy, struggling with concepts of belief, in addition to her academic coursework. She remembers going to see the college priest, an Anglican, “but it all seemed slightly posh and not really for me,” she recalls.
Her college, the University of Aston at Birmingham wasn’t exactly a liberal-leftie institution with its rigorous focus on science, business and a career in industry. But there was time for a little left-of-centre politics.
“I was one of the university’s Alliance Association founder members,” she remembers. “We thought it was important to have an alternative point of view to the Conservatives.” This was at the time of the SDP-Liberal Party Alliance, now the Liberal Democrats.
Most people must know that Justine is an accomplished singer, an alto, with a broad musical taste. Radio 4 was on “all the time” at home and she remembers sitting and listening to classical concerts in full.
As a teenager she went to see ‘eighties bands like Duran Duran, Depeche Mode and The Cure. There was even a memorable trip to Glasgow to see Meatloaf, the Bat Out of Hell singer. But it was Jim Kerr’s Simple Minds that really did it for Justine. “I went to see them live, in a small ballroom and when we all jumped the floor moved – it was the best live concert I’ve ever been to!”
Esso poached Justine while she was at university and so they benefited from her skills during her ‘sandwich’ year in industry.
After graduating in Managerial and Administrative Studies she joined Esso as a Project and Budget Analyst doing all kinds of technical and financial work. Then for four years she was responsible for day-to-day liaison with commercial users of the national oil pipeline network.
“I worked incredibly long hours, “she recalls “but that was me, that’s what I’d always done.”
Socially she discovered an interest, later a passion, for amateur dramatics - something that had a huge influence on her life and led eventually to her meeting Guy and their marriage a few years later in 1993. “I suppose you could say that the theatrical stuff and the dressing up were good training for the priesthood,” she laughs.
It was while planning the marriage that Justine discovered how important her faith really was.
“We had long debates about how and where we were going to be married but I was determined that God had to be part of it, so there really was no way it was going to be anywhere other than in a church. It wasn’t a blinding Damascus moment, but it made me realise how really important this was.”
“Guy doesn’t really ‘do’ church but he understood,” she explains.
What about joining a church? “God and I were still looking for each other at this point,” she says, “so a lot of ‘church shopping’ was involved”.
Justine tried a local ‘white conservative evangelical’ church in New Malden and remembers being somewhat surprised to find that, after the ubiquity of Church of Scotland, there was a whole variety of Anglican worshipping styles and traditions. But New Malden took a very literal approach to Bible studies, so Justine’s search continued.
It was while attending the Holy Cross church in Motspur Park to hear her banns read that Justine felt a further nudge.
“It’s an unassuming breeze-block church, but the preaching was really good. I remember the priest talking about where God is in the world, how He loves you; he will challenge you, but above all he loves you. This was so refreshing, so important. He never said, ‘if you’re a bad person you will go to h
“And the church seemed full of colour and action, the music was really good and it was something your whole being could become involved in.”
Still looking to push herself career-wise, Justine joined LIFFE, the London International Financial and Options Agency Exchange in 1997 as a project manager. She was part of the team that implemented the new market control centre shifting all those traders who used to be shouting at each other on a trading floor over to sit peering at multiple computer terminals. Justine recalls challenging, and winning, an argument about investing in the much more expensive latest LCD screens on the basis that not only would they improve working conditions but also use much less energy.
Another ‘nudge’ came during a difficult period in her life when Justine popped into to the Holy Cross for some ‘silence and God space’ one Tuesday afternoon and someone quietly popped up and offered her a cup of tea.
“So, I went back on Sunday morning,” she recalls, “on the basis that if God was there for me on Tuesday, he’d also be there on Sunday. When we reached that part of the service, ‘Almighty God to whom all hearts are open and all desires known…’ I knew my life had been completely turned around; all in the space of a prayer.
So, Justine decided to get confirmed, in 1996.
But then those old doubts from her conservative Church of Scotland upbringing, about making the best of your talents, began to re-surface.
“I thought I still needed to be doing more to push myself, so I seriously considered going back to college to study medicine, so I could be sure I really wasn’t wasting any of my talents.”
In the end it was her priest who changed everything when, during an otherwise relaxed chat, he suddenly asked Justine if she’d ever thought about becoming ordained.
Later Justine recalled, “I remember telling Guy, ‘there’s something I’ve got to tell you.’ He said, ‘you’re not pregnant, are you?’ So, I told him I wanted to become a priest and I think he said something like, ‘Oh I think I knew that’. I was the last person to know. “
She later discovered that her work colleagues had suspected all along.
And so, Justine left LIFFE to study theology from 2000-2002; joining St Margaret, Lee as Assistant Curate in July that year.
She became Priest in Charge and later Rector of St Mary’s, Beddington before joining the Sutton Team Ministry, with responsibility for three churches. It was a challenging time that worked her hard and didn’t leave much time for her to get to know her parishioners, which she has already started doing at All Saints and St Barnabas.
Justine remembers feeling welcomed from the time she first arrived at All Saints and St Barnabas quickly picking up on the zeitgeist – the challenges we face and the feelings these arouse in us. Equally quickly, she decided that this was a challenge she felt she could take on, and relish.
“I was enthused by the possibilities and opportunities facing the worshipping communities. I recognise that there are problems, some across the churches and some unique to each church.
I know there is, perhaps, a sense of despondency that attendance isn’t higher. But there is a great opportunity to proclaim the Good News through things like Messy Church, Chat over Coffee and Cake and the early morning Christmas coffee at Kenley station. It is in those acts of loving service that we can connect with people and I would encourage each parish to spend more time identifying the needs of their geographical area – perhaps using the ‘missional emphasis’ of The Hayes to help put some things into practice.”
Justine has already begun to put more emphasis into her pastoral work but recognises this needs to be shared between all the members of the church as well as clergy.
She is keen to work with all churches to develop worship; the range of readings from Scripture, ensuring that the music supports our learning and worship, that our worship is seemly and well-ordered and accessible to those who come through our doors.
Justine picked up on the ‘structural issues’ raised in our joint Parish Profile and is confident that her strong business experience will help her in working with us to overcome our challenges.
Does she think these things be achieved without some degree of tension and dissension?
“Absolutely not,” she says, “I hope things can be talked out and different positions understood and reconciled. I have dealt with significant differences of opinion in my work in the City and in every church I have worked in; whether that be disagreements about mobile phone masts; behaviour of children in a service; changes to patterns of worship; the positioning of altars; debates about the role of an administrator. I have also dealt with significant safeguarding issues. I am not afraid to take on difficult issues if they are hindering the life and growth of the Church.”
I’ve already revealed Justine’s passion for weight-lifting but, and this is deadly serious, she’s considering an academic study of ‘bodybuilding and the image of God’. I’ll leave you to think about that for a moment, ‘It would look at the relationship between spirituality, faith and physicality, and the way we are all made in the image of God’. Interesting stuff … interesting times.