After 10 challenging years working as a prison chaplain, vicar Liz Cox decided it was time for a change.
Although she has moved on to pastures new, in many ways her new role as the priest-in-charge of two Gillingham churches is a “coming home”.
Mrs Cox took up her appointment in December at the parish church of St Mary Magdalene and St Barnabas, which for seven years has been under threat of closure.
She has fond memories of the latter as it was where she used to be a lay reader, where her husband Philip was in the choir and where her children were christened and confirmed.
St Barnabas in Nelson Road has been without a full-time priest for 11 years at a difficult time when parishioners have fought an amazing campaign to save it.
Along with residents and children from nearby schools, they took on the Diocese of Rochester and the influential Church Commissioners to persuade them to keep it open.
Naturally, Mrs Cox – while working at a prison on the Isle of Sheppey – watched the story closely.
She said: “I was very sad to see what was happening to St Barnabas and, I have to say, surprised with what they achieved.
“The big thing is that they did not just sit back and think ‘well we’ve won’. They have reached out to the community, especially the homeless, with their winter night shelter.”
Mrs Cox, a mum of four and grandmother of two, said her time working at the prison where some inmates “rocked from crisis to crisis” has put her in good stead to deal with problems faced in Gillingham.
'It’s not about preaching, it’s about reaching out to people,' Rev Liz Cox
She said: “When I saw the vacancy on the website, I thought why not?”
She said: “They are in deprived areas. We aim to start a holiday club because when children are not at school, some don’t get a hot meal all day.
“It’s not about preaching, it’s about reaching out to people.
“We used to be tolerated when going into nursing homes. They would just say ‘the church are here’. Now we are asked to come in by managers.”
Mrs Cox also wants to go into more schools in the area.
She said: “We already have a good relationship with Rivermead and Saxon Way schools and Robert Napier which has indicated they would like to do more.”
She lives with Philip and their dogs at the vicarage next to St Mary Magdalene on Gillingham Green and shares her time between the two churches. She said: “I would like to see the two churches pulling together because between them they have huge resources.
“We are already doing a lot at St Mary Magdalene, which has just been refurbished, and once the heating is fixed at St Barnabas we will be able to do more there.”
After people power won the day there, they are now on a mission to raise £80,000 to get a new system installed.
Mrs Cox said: “I can’t believe it some days. I have my own vicarage, work with lovely people and I am doing a job I love. It’s like coming home.”