Churchwarden steps down after nearly quarter century

When Sue Kanavan was asked to serve as churchwarden she never expected she would still be in the role 24 years later.

After nearly a quarter of a century, she stepped down from the role at Church of the Holy Spirit, Southsea, on Sunday.

"I feel very blessed to have been able to do the role of churchwarden and very privileged to be a member of such a lovely church and the universal Anglican Church," says Sue, who grew up in a Christian household.

As a child, she attended St Bartholomew's Church, which used to stand at the junction of Outram Road and Campbell Road in Southsea. Her father was the churchwarden there and her mother was in charge of enrolling new members for the Mothers' Union.

Later, the family started attending the Church of the Holy Spirit when it was built in the 1950s on the site of the former St Matthew's Church, destroyed in the Blitz.

Faith has always been a stalwart in Sue's life. It was her faith she turned to when her eldest son Sean, now 41, was born eight weeks premature. The doctors didn't think he would make it but the church prayed and, against their expectations, he survived.

"When Sean was born he couldn't breathe and he was put in an incubator in intensive care," she said. "I was sent home and the following day, our vicar visited him in hospital. The doctors told him, 'there's nothing we can do for this baby. It's the mother that needs you.'

"On the Sunday the vicar led mass and at the beginning of the service the whole church prayed for Sean and apparently there was this fabulous feeling in the church. People have told me that it was almost tenable.

"After the service the vicar went straight to the hospital expecting the baby not to be still alive, but the doctors told him that they didn't know how it had happened but Sean had turned a corner and was expected to live. The vicar was able to come back and tell me that. To me that was a real seal on my faith."

Faith was there for her again when her husband of 42 years, Phillip, underwent major heart surgery six years ago.

"I don't think I would have coped without my faith, my family and the people at Holy Spirit," she said. "I have a holding cross and I find that a great comfort, just being able to slip my fingers around that. It gives me a real sense of peace."

Most Anglican parishes have two churchwardens who serve in a voluntary capacity to take care of the church building and property.

When a parish is between vicars, the churchwardens are responsible for making sure services continue.

During her 24 years as churchwarden, the 66-year-old oversaw two interregnums and a major £750,000 rebuilding project to bring the worship space and parish halls together under one roof.

She credits her faith as the source of her strength.

"I just wonder how people manage if they haven't got a faith because I don't think I could," she said.

In her early 20s she became secretary of the deanery synod and joined the Parochial Church Council of her own church.

It was in 1989 that the then vicar, the Reverend Richard Evans, asked her to serve as churchwarden.

She never planned to stay so long in the position.

"I do believe that one should change these roles regularly to bring fresh people in, but it just never seems to have happened," she explains.

"Over the years we have had two interregnums and each time people said to me 'you can't go now'. We had the rebuilding work, which was a journey that lasted another five or six years, and I couldn't leave in the middle of that."

When Phillip Amey was appointed as the new priest-in-charge last year, he asked her to stay on until he had settled in and she agreed.

Now the time for retirement seems right, she says. "It is early in his priest-in-charge time and, God willing, we will have him for a good few years to come."

Sue may now be retired as churchwarden but there is still plenty to keep her busy. The former headteacher has taken on a new role as training officer for the deanery Mothers' Union group and will still head up the church's events planning committee.

She will also be organising the church's annual pilgrimage to Walsingham and continue singing in the choir she has been part of for more than 20 years.

Work aside, Sue is looking forward to spending more time with Phillip.