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Farewell to Rector of Hethersett

The Rector of Hethersett, the Rev Di Lammas, leaves the village in the next few weeks. Her final service in St Remigius is scheduled for Sunday 30th September, 2012. Before leaving Di kindly spoke to this web site about her career, her beliefs. In a very honest interview she talked about being single, overcoming depression and many other subjects.

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The Rev Di Lammas was the first female rector of Hethersett and the Meltons and as such was something of a trend-setter and mould breaker.

She took up the post in 1995, the 52nd incumbent at Hethersett in an historic line going back to Ralf de Somerton in 1260.

As she reflected on her years of service, Di was very aware of the historical significance of her original appointment and that she was something of a trailblazer fighting for the ordination of women within the Church of England.

"I was ordained in 1994 and the following year was appointed to the post at Hethersett and the Meltons. I saw the Hethersett position advertised and a close friend said it was the job for me. As soon as I visited Hethersett I felt I had come home. I had holidayed for years in North Norfolk and had always thought of the county as somewhere I would eventually like to retire to which is rather ironic as on my retirement I am moving to Suffolk.

"I had been praying that Hethersett would be the right place for me. I had an inner sense that this was the place where I fitted in."

Di admits that she thought she was "the outsider" of the four candidates interviewed for the post but that she has left her mark:: "I hope over the years I have been able to help people and take them with me. I hope that I have helped people to listen to each other and I hope I have been there for them at times of both joy and sadness."

When talking to Di Lammas one word continually springs to mind - Fun.

"I have always tried to make wedding ceremonies personal and fun. God has a great sense of fun and Jesus also had a great sense of humour as historians are now revealing."

Over the years she has injected that sense of fun into Church life by introducing and supporting messy church sessions for children and holding Beatles and Abba singalong evenings along with art exhibitions and numerous other social events - usually featuring food and drink.

"The Victorians put pews in Church and took away much of the fun side of church life. Previously churches would have been large open spaces where people could meet and celebrate."

Di's sense of fun hasn't just been restricted to services and inside church buildings, however. Few people will forget her portrayal of the Vicar of Dibley in village pantomimes. She has also portrayed the Dawn French television character to open fetes and take school assemblies.

Of course there has been a serious side to Di's ministry as she reflected on prior to her retirement:

"My memories will be about the people. They are what makes the church what it is. When I came here I was aware of a need to heal certain things and I have had the privilege of spending time with people and that has helped my own faith to grow and mellow. When you are young everything tends to be either black or white but as you grow older you realise that there are many shades of grey."

She also happily reflects on the changing role of women in the church during her 17 years as rector and their acceptance in positions that previously would have been closed to them:

"The Norwich Diocese was always very progressive and I was very quickly accepted in Hethersett and the Meltons. In fact if there was a problem it wasn't over the fact I was a woman but that I was single. I think some people were concerned I didn't understand about family life but I soon pointed out to them that I was born into a family and even had experience of being a child. I won many people over when I refused to hold committee or business meetings on Friday evenings. That was an evening for families. I was happy to have parties and social events on Fridays but not meetings."

Diane Lammas was born in Finchley, North London, and still vividly remembers the day a young woman MP came to talk to her school.

"The school head told pupils that they had the choice of studying either the arts or sciences, but not both. I remember the local MP getting up and telling him in no uncertain terms that she had degrees in both.."

That MP was Margaret Thatcher who went on the become Education Secretary and of course our first female Prime Minister:

"There must have been something about her that day because I remember people saying that one day she would be famous."

Thatcherism may not be to everyone's taste but it left a lasting impression in the mind of one young Finchley girl about just what women could achieve in what was still a male dominated world.

After leaving school the young Diane worked as a punchcard data input operator at the Head Office of the Westminster Bank. She put up rather than enjoyed the work. There was also a period working on budgets for power stations, but this was not what Di wanted her life to be about. She felt a calling to work within the Church and in more of a social context - a path that would lead her all those years later to Hethersett.

Many posts followed including work as a deputy warden in a probation hostel for girls in Nottingham and a hostel for maladjusted children in Newark. The call of the church continued and Di attended Trinity College in Bristol and also became a parish worker in the Southwell diocese in Nottinghamshire.

After two years as a parish worker Di was allowed to become a Deaconess which was still a lay position in the church. She was confirmed as a Deaconess in 1979 in Southwell Minster. This was followed by a short period being attached to Woollaton Park and Lenton Abbey in Nottinghamshire. Other positions in the Lammas life included working for the Church Pastoral Aid Society where she was involved in organising and running theological conferences and lectures.

In 1987 women were given permission to train to become Deacons. The significant difference being that a Deaconess was still a lay position whereas a Deacon was a fully fledged ordained member of the clergy. Di was admitted to the church in a special service in Ely Cathedral.

In 1990 Di moved to Leamington Spa, the historic vote to admit women to the priesthood came in 1992 and in 1994 Di was ordained in Coventry Cathedral:

"It was a very special occasion and in some ways I felt I was a trail-blazer. There was lots of publicity about our ordination and I was interviewed by the local Coventry newspaper. It seemed symbolic that the ordination ceremony moved between the re-built Coventry Cathedral and the ruins of the old building. It seemed to symbolise moving from the old to the new but always maintaining a sense of history."

Fate of course took a hand in Di's story. She was friendly with the the Bishop of Thetford who played a big part in bringing her to Norfolk. The rest as they say is part of the history of our village.

During our interview Di spoke openly  about her life in Hethersett and the depression that caught hold of her a few years ago, that meant at time she was unable to even get out of bed.

"I have never tried to hide the fact that I suffered severe depression. Talking to people about my depression seemed to help them and also help me. I didn't want to cover it up. Depression is an illness like any other illness."

Di admits that there were a number of triggers that brought on the condition. Her mother and father and a number of close friends died in a relatively short space of time:

"Suddenly grief hit me and I became overwhelmed by it. It was almost as if I had put my grief on hold and kept going. Suddenly it took hold of me and it lasted for seven or eight months. At times I just couldn't get out of bed. The pastoral care and support I received from the Church was wonderful and helped me to recover."

Now Di is off to start a new life in South Lowestoft:

"There is a lovely and very active church in Pakefield and I once again had this feeling when I visited the area that I would be at home there. I will be able to help with the church without having all the responsibility that being a rector entails. I can really get to know the parish."

One thing that is certain is that Di Lammas won't be short of things to do in her retirement: She would like to visit the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, research her family tree, grow fruit and vegetables, undertake coastal walks and indulge in her passion of flower arranging. She also hopes to join a branch of the Red Hatters - a social group for "ladies of a certain age" who wear red hats and purple outfits that don't match!

Peter Steward 2012

The above article is the copyright of Peter Steward. All or part may be reproduced with his permission which is available by e-mailing here