Just set to retire, Angela and Chris Howarth found themselves called to lead a church in an urban priority area of Coventry. They are also students on the CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership training course. Helen Harwood caught up with Angela to find out more of their story.
HH: I hear congratulations are in order as you were recently ordained (30 June); well done. Please can you tell me a bit about your journey to ordination?
AH: We felt called to the community of Canley in Coventry and were appointed lay ministers-in-charge of St Stephen’s Church, Canley and then ordained as deacons in October 2010. We became curates-in-charge then.
It helped getting to know the community through the local pub and Chris acting as coordinator of the Family Centre, part of St Stephen’s, where we ran a cafe twice a week. The community looked on us as the ‘vicars’ and accepted us into the community. The bishop recognised what we were doing and agreed to ordain us as deacons in October 2010. It was thought that we should do some training – the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course was a real answer to prayer for us and we were ordained in June as priests.
Can you tell me something about the journey that brought you to the UK from your native New York, and specifically to Coventry?
We made a real commitment to Jesus while in Malawi and carried on in leadership in Swaziland. We returned to England in 1986 after 15 years in Africa. Again we felt called to work within the church and we were both licensed as lay readers. As our children grew up and left home, marrying and living in different areas of the UK and in the USA we felt it was time to move. We prayed about it and waited for God’s permission to move. He gave it to us in the summer of 2002 and we moved to Coventry in 2003.
Some people your age might be looking forward to a quiet retirement and a vegetable patch, how do you manage to keep going in a demanding and vibrant role? Also, working with a husband or wife can be demanding, how have you managed to juggle this, your spiritual journey and all your other commitments?
Chris has retired twice, so is getting used to having a new job. Sometimes, the job gets hard. We’ve had to learn about the rules of church buildings (ugh), how to find funding. The real important thing to us is people, especially those who are not in church. We know that the congregation need to share the vision of a deep commitment in order to reach those in the community who do not yet know Jesus. We have different gifts, so find that (although there are times when things are not so peaceful) we complement each other. We do make sure we keep our eyes focused on God and remember that without spending time with him we are lost. God never said he had a retirement plan, but we do make sure to take our vitamins regularly!
What is it about the setting you are currently in that fires you up?
Canley is a UPA* community similar to the community I grew up in. We recognise that we should be in this for the long haul; however, our long haul is shorter than some leaders. We love to look at the folk around us and know that God loves them, so seek ways of bringing them to know him that make it an easier journey than what they preconceive. A number of people have come to know the Lord through our two tots groups, the after school group and family nights that come out of that group.
*Urban Priority Area – Canley is among the most deprived parishes nationally. The criteria are levels of unemployment, overcrowding, household lacking basic amenities, pensioners living alone, single parent households, high levels of addictions etc.
How has the Pioneer Mission Leadership Training course helped you and encouraged you?
The course has introduced us to other people who see mission similarly to us. It has been great being able to bounce ideas and thoughts off one another. We felt so blessed that this course was found for us and that the diocese allowed us to be part of it. It helped us to continue to think outside the box of church and to look at new ways to do ‘church’ and to recognise that there are different ways to do church and they can all be the right way. The course has helped both of us on our spiritual journey.
What does the future hold for you both? How can we pray for your work?
As we are possibly looking to retire in five years time, we are looking to build up a strong church community and a leadership that can continue to carry God’s mission forward in Canley. For prayer, that Jesus’ love will spread throughout this community and lives will be changed, that people will be made free from addictions and destructive lifestyles.
Thank you, Angela and Chris, you are an inspiration. Please pray for Angela and Chris and their work.