Bristol

Vicar replacing murdered John Suddards tells of her hopes

The Reverend Jan Van der Lely
Image caption Dr Van der Lely said security at the vicarage had been improved for her to move in

The vicar who has been appointed following the murder of Reverend John Suddards has spoken of her hopes and fears for both the job and moving into the vicarage where he was killed.

The Reverend Jan Van der Lely said she hoped to have an open door policy but would be balancing that with certain security measures.

Dr Van der Lely is relatively new to ministry and, becoming vicar of Thornbury, near Bristol, in September was her first encumbancy.

The former teacher said she had felt "shock and horror" on hearing that Mr Suddards was found stabbed to death at his vicarage on 14 February.

Stephen Farrow, 48, was found guilty at Bristol Crown Court on 2 November of murdering both Mr Suddards and Betty Yates, 77, from Bewdley in Worcestershire.

Dr Van der Lely said she felt "completely safe" moving into the vicarage.

"Archdeacon Geoffrey (Sidaway) held services in the building, so he blessed the whole house, going around with holy water and prayers," she said.

"He held a Eucharist service in the hallway of the house with a hundred people attending in the driveway outside, so the house has been thoroughly prayed in and blessed and hallowed. That's the first thing that's really important."

Vicarage alarmed

She added: "Then the decorators came in and did the painting and the floors and the carpets."

Image caption John Suddards was found stabbed to death inside his vicarage

She said the diocese had done its best to make sure she felt safe moving in - although Thornbury vicarage is not considered any more dangerous a place to live than any other - but added that she was glad her husband and dogs would be there to keep her company.

"The house is alarmed and there's a security light outside, and it's not difficult to see who's standing outside the door because you can see from inside," she said.

"We don't want to turn people away or seem unwelcoming because of one crazy, random crime. That wouldn't be good, so we do want to have an open door policy.

"Who you let into the house perhaps needs to be thought about a little bit, so if it's somebody you don't know you might hesitate before letting them in.

"You might speak to them outside or on the doorstep or you might ask them to come back when there's someone else who could be there with you for extra safety. Trust between clergy and people is very important."

Dr Van der Lely said it was "inevitable" Mr Suddard's death would still be on people's minds in the parish but that she recognised the positive side of that.

"I think in a sense that can be a good thing in that it might mean people in the town who might not normally think about the church and what the church is doing could be interested to see who is the new person coming in.

"So perhaps one or two more people will come to church or want to meet me."

Big impression

She said: "I think people have obviously suffered a lot of shock and trauma over this, but in the intervening months a lot of work has been done with them pastorally by the clergy already there.

"So my role there will be to pick up and continue with that caring work and, certainly from what I hear, people in the parish are at a stage now when they are ready to look to the future.

"They want to get started again with a new vicar and move on, in a way, while they still mourn John.

"I think those things always bring people together to some extent."

Dr Van der Lely said she believed Mr Suddards had made a big impression during the short time he was in the post.

"He got a number of initiatives going and proved himself a very good parish priest, so he's been very much missed and will be very difficult to follow," she said.

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