Local Face: Marian & Peter Louis

  |  Published: Apr 1st 2014

Marian and Peter were brought up in Bromley, in Kent, scarcely a mile apart, travelling on the same bus to school; of such are romances born! Marian was the first Anglican Head Girl of her Catholic Convent school in Bromley. Peter went to Oxford in 1960 to read Chemistry and Marian to Cambridge a year later. Hence Peter went to Cambridge for his Post Graduate Certificate in Education in Marian's last year at Homerton.

During that year in Cambridge their acquaintance with Lee Abbey in Devon flourished and the call to ordained ministry began to make itself heard. The wonderful deaconess chaplain at Lee Abbey encouraged Peter to respond and his Chaplain at Jesus College arranged for him to attend a Selection Conference, which in due course recommended training for the Anglican priesthood. By this time Marian and Peter were engaged; the Church recommended that a couple of years’ teaching should precede ordination training. So in 1964 Marian and Peter were married at St Luke's church in Bromley by the then Bishop of Tonbridge, with Marian's father, the church organist, both giving his daughter away and playing the organ! But first they had to set about finding teaching jobs and a home.

When a job for Marian came up in Harefield and for Peter in Yiewsley they approached the vicar of Harefield to see if he could suggest any accommodation. He found an ancient lodge cottage at one of the entrances to Harefield Grove for the newly-weds' first home. In return for this Peter would be required to run the Youth Club and the Sunday School, the House Groups and the Confirmation Classes and assist at the hospital chapel and the annual fete. So with preaching and praying it resembled doing a curacy before receiving training or ordination. With Marian being involved too it was a busy but fascinating time; with each of them having challenging and demanding full-time first teaching posts.

After two happy and fulfilling years in Harefield came the move to Wells. Amazingly the Building Society provided a mortgage to buy their first house and a friendly bank manager provided an overdraft. Times were different then! Stephen obligingly delayed until a week after their arrival in Wells.

As the Church's ordination grants only covered the ordinand himself Peter was delighted to inherit a job teaching games every afternoon at a local prep school from a departing student and subsequently added a six week post as Head of PE at the local comprehensive school. Tom Baker was an outstanding Principal; one of the first fully to involve each student's family in the life of the College – just as well in Peter and Marian's case as they had to attend the cathedral Eucharist every Sunday placing the newly born Mary in her carry cot under the pulpit; praying hard and telling stories quietly to the 18 month old Stephen in the adjacent pew!

Peter had always assumed that after ordination he would become a conventional parish priest. The sixties however had seen the advent of the French worker-priest movement (clergy having full-time secular employment but working as priests in parishes as well as in secular work). Tom Baker was interested in this type of ministry and suggested that Peter might simply combine what had begun to seem like a dual vocation to teaching and the priesthood, rather like the Harefield experience!

So Peter and Marian set about finding a suitable school with an appropriate parish. Both emerged in East Grinstead and in due course Peter was appointed as Head of RE at the local grammar school to prepare for its combination with the neighbouring secondary modern school as a comprehensive. The parish boundaries matching the school's catchment area, made a curacy at the local church of St Mary, opposite the school, entirely appropriate; the vicar was a governor. The newly appointed Head had assembled an amazingly talented staff and Peter and Marian's six years there were hugely enjoyable. Soon Peter found himself marrying staff and baptising their children, as well as some of those of the older girls!

1974 saw Peter appointed as Deputy Head of a Grammar School in Nottingham to steer its becoming Comprehensive, with another curacy at another St Mary's in Radcliffe-on-Trent. Ben had joined the family by then and Marian had taken the opportunity to resume her teaching before moving from East Grinstead. She continued supply teaching until Katy completed the family in 1977, finding enormous fulfilment in teaching children with Special Educational Needs and becoming a highly skilled and experienced Head of Special Needs.

Headship arrived for Peter in due course at a Church Comprehensive in Coventry and he was licensed to the entire City as his pupils came from all over it. Before that all his teaching had by choice been in Maintained schools as opposed to Church Schools and the opportunity came to study for an M.Phil on the Church's role in Education at Manchester University. This coincided with a growing feeling that a senior administrative post in a busy school really made priesthood something of a token activity. There is a sense in which a person is never really a priest until he, or now she of course, is a parish priest. Priesthood finds its most real expression in a parish.

In due course, Peter became Vicar of the Parish of Welwyn Garden City, St Francis of Assisi and the family moved into the vicarage. What became central to St Francis' life and brought traditionalists and people with little if any church background together was the thirty ten week Alpha courses held at the vicarage, two or three times a year, with meals provided by the congregation and ending with a residential weekend at Ely retreat house. These saw many life-changing experiences, as did the many parish trips to Assisi or Tantur in Bethlehem. St Francis saw a steady stream of people offering for ordained or Reader ministry and Peter being made a Canon. His role as a Spiritual Director grew and continues.

So St Francis was a hard place to leave but a decision was made to retire halfway between when Anglican clergy can retire and when they have to. “Retire now Dad,” was the call, “while you've still got plenty of energy!” They couldn't have found a better place to retire to, even another St Mary's!

Peter and Marian have been wonderfully welcomed into the parish and the village, not least by Mark to whom they are especially grateful, and they rejoice at their decision to retire here, where three of their five grandchildren live. Marian enjoys her governorship, her role as librarian for the Choral Society, her book groups and her Probus membership as does Peter his role at St Mary's, in the Deanery, Diocese and Churches Together.

With their many friends in Wendover, they consider themselves greatly blessed.

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