Herefordshire People: Kay Garlick talks to Herefordshire Life

PUBLISHED: 11:56 14 January 2011 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013

Kay Garlick

Kay Garlick

Kay Garlick talks to Michael Vockins about her work for the General Synod of the Church of England - while being Rector of seven rural Herefordshire parishes. Photographs by Paul Lack.

Kay Garlick talks to Michael Vockins about her work for the General Synod of the Church of England - while being Rector of seven rural Herefordshire parishes. Photographs by Paul Lack.

Call her "The most powerful woman in the Church of England" and Kay Garlick's face instantly portrays good-natured resignation, along with tolerant frustration. And she protests: "It isn't true!"

The accolade was given to Reverend Prebendary Kay Garlick by more excitable elements of the press when, in 2005, she was elected to the Archbishops' Council of the Church of England, and appointed Chairman of the Business Committee of its General Synod.

Kay - an attractive, warm, bubbly, outgoing woman - is also Rector, since 2002, of the Wormelow Hundred group of parishes, near Ross-on-Wye, which includes King's Caple, Little Birch, Llandinabo, Llanwarne, Much Birch, Much Dewchurch and Sellack.

As one of Hereford Diocese's General Synod representatives, she has been a member of the Church of England's 'parliament' for thirteen years now: "I believe it's vital that small rural parishes, and the rural Church in general, are properly represented." Kay is also grateful that the Church today embraces the ministry of women.

A vacancy on the Archbishops' Council (the CofE's most senior forum, which provides a focus for leadership and executive responsibility, and gives clear strategic direction to the Church's work) prompted colleagues to encourage Kay to stand. Her candidature received popular approval, and she recognised that here was an opportunity, as a woman priest with a real feel for rural ministry, to speak at this level of church government for those two 'constituencies'. Following her election she was advised "We expect members of the Council to take on a responsibility", which is how she came to chair the General Synod's Business Committee.

Here she plays a significant part in drafting the agenda for the twice-yearly meetings of General Synod; in determining when items will be discussed within each Synod's timetable, and how they might best be dealt with. Unsurprisingly this does give her a degree of influence in Church affairs.

"It can seem quite a daunting role. It's essential that in our arrangements we're careful to be both fair and sensitive to the different opinions and viewpoints within Synod. Sometimes you even seem to be promoting something which you yourself are unhappy about, but it is essential - and for the general good - that the issue is properly heard and debated."

One 'benefit' of Kay's role is that she feels she should attend every debate of the five-day Synods, in case agenda changes are required to accommodate any burning issues which arise and "to keep an eye on things, to see if we can fit in everything that day". And when a running order is changed, considerable tact is often needed to get everyone's approval for the change.

These national roles take her away from her home and parishes. "The Archbishops' Council meets six times a year, with two sessions being residential, and then Synod's Business Committee usually meets three times a year, and there are other meetings to attend."

How does she fit all this in, alongside her very active and widely-appreciated ministry in the parishes? "It's quite hard sometimes," she readily admits. "You can feel that, in trying to balance the parish and rural ministry here with Archbishops' Council responsibilities, you are continually failing everyone. But that's true of most clergy's ministry - and, perhaps, particularly in multi-parish rural benefices, where there is always someone else to visit, another event you'd like to attend, another service to prepare for."

Kay speaks warmly and gratefully of the support Peter, her husband of 35 years, readily provides. Until his recent retirement Peter was the hard-working senior partner in the local GPs' practice. Now, in a reversal of domestic roles, he supports the Rector! "I don't know what I would do without him," Kay emphasises, "although nowadays he probably sees more of the grand-children than I do."

Kay's family is important to her. All four off-spring - Rebecca, Bryony, Simeon and Lydia - are now married. The three girls and their families live locally, so Kay and Peter are able to enjoy their four grandchildren, even if Kay's time with them sometimes seems like fleeting moments between parish commitments.

Kay was made a deacon of the Wormelow Hundred parishes in 1990 and served as a non-stipendiary minister. Then, in 1994, she was among the first women priests to be ordained in Hereford Cathedral, and this allowed her to widen her ministry in the parishes. For a while she also balanced this with being Chaplain at Hereford Sixth Form College, and a member of the College's Music Department.

At around the time Kay was appointed full-time Rector, two further parishes were added to the group. There could have been no-one better to unite them all than Kay, whose efficient and sensitive organisational skills are more than matched by her energy and zest. "With the new parish grouping, we felt we needed a new name," she explains, "one which embraced us all and didn't give prominence to any particular parish." With relish she defines the historic term 'Hundred' as "an area of the countryside which could be called upon to produce 100 horsemen for the King" - and one feels that, under Kay's spirited leadership, the Wormelow Hundred could readily achieve that task today!

With Kay's encouragement the Wormelow Hundred parishes became linked to the St Weonards parishes to form the Archenfield Group. "This means I work closely with their Vicar, Elaine Goddard. She's a good friend and we both work better together than alone. Our two Readers work across the whole group too, which provides another uniting factor."

Until recently Kay also had part-time support from Reverend Moses Nthukah, while he was completing post-graduate studies here. Moses has now returned to Kenya to be the Bishop of Mbeere. When I suggest she has added Bishop-training to her many other roles, Kay laughingly sweeps this aside.

Kay speaks touchingly of how the clerical 'dog-collar' is a key to so many doors, especially in the countryside. "And that's so true when one is asked to take a funeral. It's an immense privilege to be alongside people at such times, and to help them when they most need it. One never feels a stranger in their homes - you're always welcome."

Children and young families are an important part of Kay's ministry. This is just as well, with three schools in the seven parishes, and Saturday morning children's workshops (a successful alternative to Sunday school), featuring high on her agenda. Another group, PUFF (Parents and Under-Fives Fellowship) meets in church. "It's a wonderful time," enthuses Kay, "a good chance to talk with parents and the tinies. I want children to feel happy, and at home, when they come into church."

Amidst all of her parish and village activities and her work for the Church at national level is she able to squeeze some time out for herself?

"Anything to do with music is still important to me," Kay replies. "It's where I started, as a music teacher, and it had a strong influence in my coming into the Church. I love helping people sing, and letting them realise they can sing. It is such a joy enabling people to sing in ways which are fun and effective. Singing is a God-given gift."

Having been among two or three hundred members of a congregation that Kay had joyously singing - in Swahili and in harmony - within minutes, and having enjoyed her singing, I can readily endorse her affirmation.

Music provides her own relaxation. She and Peter are long-time members of Vox Praeterita, a group of five friends who sing and play medieval and Renaissance music, performing on reproduction period instruments.

Music will be part of the parishes' Easter celebrations, with Kay running a workshop on Faur's Requiem for all past and present members of Much Birch's church choir. Alongside this will be preparations for the Palm Sunday procession, with a donkey leading the parishioners of the Wormelow Hundreds from Kings Caple church, across the Wye by the slatted footbridge, to arrive at Sellack church. Here their communion service ends with the distribution of the traditional pax cakes, everyone being greeted with the words "Peace and Good Neighbourhood". And all this before the delights of Easter Day itself, with a dawn service before a parish breakfast and then on to the glories of Easter morning's principal services.

Kay's joy, and sense of privilege, at her calling to serve the communities among whom she lives is both real and readily apparent, as is her appreciation of the opportunity to serve on a wider stage. That's reflected in her admiration of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams: "It's an enormous privilege to work alongside Archbishop Rowan. He's very special. His ability to listen in a really deep and understanding way to people of every background and interest is amazing, as is his leadership and - understated though it sometimes seems - it's so very right for our Church today."

And, as the folk of Wormelow Hundred will readily affirm, so too is Kay Garlick's much-valued ministry among them, though both Kay and the parish recognise there will come a time when it will be right and sensible to reduce the juggling of all these roles in her very full life serving the Church nationally and here in rural Herefordshire.

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