Dartmouth's Churches Ready For New Vicar, By The Dart Meets Parish Secretary Jill Cawley.
I find Jill Cawley tucked away in an office in the corner of St Saviour’s Church in Dartmouth, busily putting together orders of service under the watchful gaze of dozens of pairs of feline eyes.
Cat lover Jill has adorned the walls with photographs of her beloved Maine Coon cats, pets past and present. She currently shares her Yorke Road home with five of the huge moggies, famous for their fluff and size – oh, and with her husband Dave!
Together the couple run a specialist hi-fi sales company, supplying high end audio equipment – record players and recording gear but not MP3s. They’re proud to be part of the vinyl revival. The Cawleys used to run a hugely successful holiday let company and Dave is now busy with the popular online Dartmouth.TV. They’re a couple with entrepreneurial spirit, but for a day and a half each week, Jill also works as the parish secretary for the United Benefice of Dartmouth and Dittisham.
“I look after the admin for the three Dartmouth churches, St Clement’s, St Saviour’s and St Petrox, and St George’s in Dittisham,” she explained. “And I’ve been doing it for six years.
“My job is to assist the vicar – but that’s a bit tricky at the moment because we don’t have one!”
Rev Simon Wright, Dartmouth’s popular vicar who had been at the parish helm for 10 years, retired a year ago and moved to Yorkshire. The custom is to not appoint a replacement until there has been a period of interregnum, but Jill said the parish was now ready to move on.
“It is hard to find someone to step straight into the vicar’s shoes, particularly when the vicar was as much loved as Simon was here. But we have just heard that a new vicar will be joining us in the summer, The Reverand Will Hazlewood. He’s joining us with his young family. He’s currently vicar in Iver Heath in Buckinghamshire.
“We have really missed that spiritual leadership that one person brings. The vicar is a big part of the community, especially in a close knit town like Dartmouth, and so many organisations here invite the vicar to be part of them – for example there is a place for the vicar on the Dartmouth Trust that is currently standing empty.
“A lot of people have worked very hard to keep the churches running smoothly, but I think everyone is really missing having one person at the head of our parish.”
Jill types official church correspondence, writes the parish magazine, produces all the service sheets and makes sure they are filled with the correct prayers and readings, along with dates and times for forthcoming services, notices, banns of marriage, and details of individuals who are being prayed for. Her job has certainly been busier over the past year without a vicar in post, and she paid tribute to everyone who had rallied round to keep the churches active.
“Each of the churches has two churchwardens plus there are two parish wardens who look after the three Dartmouth churches combined. They’re Fred Radcliffe and Richard Rendle, and they’ve had the job of finding people to take services.”
Jill said all sorts of people had stepped in to help: “We’ve been very lucky to have Rev Phillip Luff, who is a retired priest from Harbertonford and who has done most of our Sunday services and mid week Communions. We are hugely grateful to him.
“However he hasn’t wanted to do weddings or funerals, so everyone from the Archdeacon to a vicar friend of mine from London, who was coming down for the weekend, has helped out. Weddings are booked well in advance so tend to be more straightforward. Sometimes the couples have a family friend or uncle who is a vicar, and they ask them to take the service.
“Obviously you don’t have the same timescale with funerals. Thankfully most Dartmouth funerals are looked after by Pillars, who have gone above and beyond their normal duties and been a tremendous help in organising lay readers to take funeral services. It doesn’t have to be a member of the clergy. They know how things work and that arrangements have to be made quickly, usually within a fortnight.”
In the absence of a vicar, Jill and other members of the church have been taking their place on a rota to cover Saturday surgeries at St Saviour’s Church, a chance for people to come in and talk about their wedding plans, for example, or christening arrangements. “Lots of people are putting in a lot of extra time because there is a lot of extra work.”
Jill grew up in Essex and Suffolk, and for 25 years worked as a policy officer, researching for and advising senior councillors in local government. She has always kept cats, even as a young girl, and is a keen badminton player, playing competitive league tournaments in her younger days.
Church has always been important to Jill, who is also a server in the parish. She first attended church as a child, and explained: “I went to Sunday School and used to go to church with a neighbour. My family weren’t churchgoers at all, so I went without them. I couldn’t imagine being a Christian and not going to church – being part of that Christian community is part of who I am. I can’t imagine life without it.”
First Published March 2011 By The Dart