Suffolk Dean and husband set to serve church together

Dean Frances and her husband Peter, who are both taking up new roles. Picture: KEITH MINDHAM

Dean Frances and her husband Peter, who are both taking up new roles. Picture: KEITH MINDHAM - Credit: Archant

She is one of Suffolk’s most senior priests, he a former hospital consultant – they were dubbed by friends “the clerical medical” couple.

The Very Reverend Dr Frances Ward speaking at the service to celebrate 100 years of the St Edmundsbu

The Very Reverend Dr Frances Ward speaking at the service to celebrate 100 years of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese at St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

And for 30 years the couple have pursued largely separate careers – one in medicine, the other in the church.

But in September, Peter, 60, now retired from medicine, will start training for the priesthood as his wife, the Very Rev Dr Frances Ward, 57, announces she is to leave her role as Dean of St Edmundsbury Cathedral in order to follow her passion for theological study and writing.

Over a cup of coffee in the kitchen of The Deanery, just a stone’s throw from the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds, the pair discussed the decision to leave.

Frances said: “We have found the people of Suffolk to be generous and kind and we have made some wonderful friends here. We will have very happy memories of Suffolk.

Man jailed after stealing Lego. Pic Contributed

Man jailed after stealing Lego. Pic Contributed - Credit: Gregg Brown

“Over the last few years the cathedral has developed a strong and exciting vision for the future. There is a great team in place and I think it is time for fresh leadership to bring that vision into reality.”

For Peter, the former clinical director of the women and children division at West Suffolk Hospital, the time has come to respond to his own vocation to priesthood.

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He is due to start training at the College of the Resurrection, in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, in the autumn with a view to taking up a post in Cumbria in due course.

The son of a Devon dairy farmer, Peter said: “I am very excited. Over the last 20 years I have seen the NHS struggle to respond to the emotional health needs of people in a secular world.

Dean Frances Ward inside St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

Dean Frances Ward inside St Edmundsbury Cathedral. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

“I think priesthood is a continuation of my vocation to healing as a doctor and I see a real alignment between medicine and priestly ministry.”

Frances, who worked at Bradford Cathedral before moving to Suffolk to be appointed the county’s first ever female Dean seven years ago, said the pair have long felt a strong sense of vocation to work in the north of England.

The mother-of-four added: “The north faces very different challenges to the south of the UK and for much of our working life we have lived in the north of the UK. It is where we feel we should be.”

Frances, who will be studying for a second doctorate at Durham University, is expected to take up a position at Carlisle Cathedral in the summer of 2018.

The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Dr Frances Ward, signs her book Why Rousseau Was Wrong a

The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Dr Frances Ward, signs her book Why Rousseau Was Wrong at Waterstones in Bury. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

As Dean, Frances has contributed to newspapers, including the East Anglian Daily Times, and other publications and has often spoken out over a number of issues as part of her leadership role at the Cathedral. It is a point she acknowledges.

She said: “I think I have been bold on occasion and I am not afraid to speak out. I think that is what priests should do.

“It is important the church engages with the public sphere in all its forms. In some ways I will have more freedom to speak out in the future than I have had as a cathedral Dean as I have always had to consider the constraints of the office.”

As one of the highest ranking clerics in the Church of England, Frances Ward’s name has been tipped as a possible bishop.

Verger Matthew Kemsley helps Dean Frances Ward prepare for a service. Pictire: LUCY TAYLOR

Verger Matthew Kemsley helps Dean Frances Ward prepare for a service. Pictire: LUCY TAYLOR

She said: “At times people express the expectation that I may become a bishop. I’m delighted that there are a number of Bishops and Deans now who are women. There were only four Deans seven years ago, and the position of women in the Church of England has changed significantly in recent years. Women in senior positions are no longer a novelty.

“I’m called to be a theologian next – I’m clear about that – and I’m very aware that there is little room in the working life of a bishop to be a theologian in the way that there perhaps once was and that I feel I ought to be. ”

Dean Frances has long held the view that the church should be active and vocal in its engagement with society and public life.

Frances said she would be studying 18th century politician Edmund Burke as part of her PhD. She said: “I am interested in Burke’s political imagination and what his views can tell us today, particularly about populism. I will become a sort of freelance theologian, which will include teaching, writing and studying.”

The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Dr Frances Ward, signs her book Why Rousseau Was Wrong a

The Dean of St Edmundsbury, the Very Revd Dr Frances Ward, signs her book Why Rousseau Was Wrong at Waterstones in Bury. Picture: PHIL MORLEY - Credit: Archant

The couple will soon both be priests – the “clerical/clerical” couple.

Frances added: “For the first time we will be working together and we are very excited about the next chapter in our lives. Peter followed me here to Suffolk; it’s my turn to follow Peter as he starts on his ministry as a priest. God has our lives in our hands.”