Photo by Lee Woolcock
Reverend Sue Woodcock
Having been ordained in Bolivia in 1995 and priested in Oxford in 1998, Sue has worked for the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church (the Spanish Anglican Church) in Sabadell for 11 years. She was the first female priest in the diocese.
I was brought up near Heathrow Airport, but have lived most of my working life outside of Britain, in Iran, Uganda, Bolivia and Spain. I lived in Barcelona for three years in the Eighties—it was very different by the time I came back.
I work with a little Spanish congregation of about 40, functioning in Castilian and to some degree in Catalan. Historically, they were all local people from Sabadell but nowadays about a quarter are from outside. We have South Americans and one Australian. There aren’t many English people in Sabadell, they tend to live in prettier places.
I was brought up in the Church in the sense I was sent to Sunday school and was confirmed. That is the graduation from Sunday school and the point where most people never go back. I kept going because I had a friend there and we went to different schools. She kept going, so I kept going.
When I went off to [Oxford] university, I found myself in a hostel with about 12 students. The majority had church connections, so they said: “Come to church with us on Sunday.” I’d always been to church on Sunday so I did! I’ve often wondered what would have happened if I’d been with a group of people who’d said, “We’re going on an excursion on Sunday,” and I really don’t know.
I discovered in those early weeks in Oxford that being a Christian wasn’t about one hour on a Sunday morning. I found that in an environment where biblical truths and arguments were presented in a rational way, I could not say, “I don’t believe it is true.” It’s got to be all or nothing. So I began to look at mission work.
I had always wanted to travel. My older brother is 10 years older and when I was going off to secondary school, he was going off to Africa as a geologist so I’d kind of grown up with the idea that the world is out there and you can work anywhere. I had no idea where my work would take me. If you had used the word missionary [to describe me then], I would have run a mile.
I’ve never felt particularly discriminated against either before or since becoming a priest. I was brought up believing I could do whatever I felt I wanted to do. I understand before I came to Sabadell there was someone who was against having a female priest, but I don’t think I’ve ever met them.
I think in post post-modern society, organised religion has a bad name and yet I think what a lot of people have rejected, certainly here in Spain, is the Roman Catholic church for all sorts of historical, political and social reasons, and they paint us all with the same brush. I don’t think they have rejected Jesus. I think the danger of religion which is not organised is that you can go down every alleyway and most of them are dead ends.
Home is wherever I am. I don’t miss very much at all from England although I enjoy it when I’m there. The only thing I bring back is Marmite and I have an endless supply of English books.
I go to the cinema quite a lot. I like it because I am not looking at the pile of papers in the office, or the pile of ironing to be done, I haven’t got the phone on so nobody can get me, and if I fall asleep, nobody notices.
There are all sorts of places I’d still like to go. I’d like to go up in a hot air balloon anywhere, it doesn’t matter where. At the end of the day, I would like to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”