Joy Carroll Wallis
The Real Vicar of Dibley
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A Little More About Me...

I grew up in the inner city of South London as the daughter of a clergyman in the diocese of Southwark in the UK. Growing up, my brother and I were fortunate to have a healthy experience of church and family life which my parents seemed to balance well. I was a rebellious and opinionated teenager who by the grace of God recognized a calling to take a gap year before going on to higher education. My year in Haiti was transformative and to coin the Jesuit Volunteer Corp’s phrase, I was “ruined for life”. It was then that I began to learn the life lesson that when we serve/give of ourselves, it is often we who are changed the most. (Isaiah 58: 6-10 when you share your food with the hungry and care for the homeless ... then shall your light shine... and your healing come.)

I trained to be a teacher at the University College of St. Mark & St. John in Plymouth, Devon in England where I earned my Bachelor of Education degree 1982. I taught pre-k and kindergarten for three years in a diverse South London inner city neighborhood before responding to a call to train for full time ministry in the Church of England. At that time it was only possible for a women to be licensed as a lay Deaconess and it was by no means a foregone conclusion that women would be able to be Priests in the Church of England. I earned my ministerial qualifications at Cranmer Hall, Durham in the North East of England. While I was at seminary in 1987, the Synod passed legislation to admit women to holy orders in the Diaconate. In 1988, at the conclusion of my training, I was ordained Deacon which I and my women colleagues were to remain for six years until we were priested in 1994, just 21 years ago.

My first job after ordination was to be the minister in charge of a small “daughter church”, St. Michaels on the Milton Court Estate (an urban housing project) in the diocese of Southwark. While living and working in the project, I was elected to represent the diocese on the General Synod of the Church of England and became a spokesperson for the ordination of women. At the age of 29, I was the youngest member of the house of clergy and it was a great privilege to be able to cast my vote in favor of the ordination of women to the priesthood on November 11, 1992. I served that community for five years and in 1993, was appointed Associate Vicar of Immanuel Streatham Common, another diverse urban parish in South London’s Southwark Diocese.

After the vote in 1992 and before the first of us were ordained in 1994, there was much debate around the “Act of Synod” which was to allow for special provisions and compensation for those opposed to the ordination of women. As I made a speech against the “Act” there happened to be a visitor in the public gallery who would later be in touch with me and take my ministry on a very interesting journey. It was comedy writer Richard Curtis, who wrote movies such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually, Notting Hill and epic shows such as Mr. Bean and Black Adder. He had written one episode of a new series about a woman priest for the BBC, but quickly realized that he knew nothing about women priests. To cut a long story short, I became his unofficial advisor and friend/chaplain to the cast of The Vicar of Dibley. The actress Dawn French shadowed me for a while, coming to hear me preach, officiate at a funeral and as we spent time together we became firm friends.

In the UK I became known as the real “Vicar of Dibley” and eventually was given the opportunity to write my book, Beneath the Cassock, the story of the Real Vicar of Dibley which really was an opportunity to tell the story of a woman in ordained ministry and document the struggle for, and the realization of the ordination of women in England. In the US the book is called, The Woman Behind the Collar, published by Crossroads. The book details my experiences as a woman in ministry and as a priest in the two parishes I served in for 10 years.

In England I was on the board of Greenbelt, a Christian music and arts festival. It was there that I met my American writer, speaker, activist and faith leader husband Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners Magazine (www.sojo.net) and author of a number of books including Gods Politics: Why the Right gets it Wrong, and the Left doesn’t get it. And more recently, America’s Original Sin: Race, White Privilege and the Bridge to a New America. After a two year transatlantic courtship, we were married in 1997 in my parish church in South London.

When I first arrived in Washington DC, I served as the associate Rector at Grace church in Georgetown until we moved for one academic year to Cambridge, MA where Jim was a fellow for the year at Harvard. It was in Boston that our first son Luke was born in 1998.

For several years, I led the worshipping community at Sojourners in Washington DC until our second son Jack was born in 2003. Since that time I have not held any official position of ministry inside the church but have dedicated my time to serving the numerous communities in which my children have grown up. I have been licensed annually by the Bishop of Washington, DC and have had numerous opportunities and invitations to speak and minister across the United States and around the world. I have had the opportunity to travel with my husband and share in his ministry as well as exercising my own gifts of leading worship, preaching, and pastoral care.

I am a founding and working board member (currently the board Chair) of the Wild Goose Festival (www.wildgoosefestival.org) which is a festival (inspired by the Greenbelt Festival in the UK) held in Hot Springs, NC each summer. It is a powerful gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. The Wild Goose is the Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit.

For the last 15 years or so, I have served in NW DC as a ‘village priest’ in unexpected ways. I have played many roles at John Eaton Elementary School in Cleveland Park, including chair of fund raising, chairing five school auctions, and serving two years as president of the PTA.

I have two boys who love baseball and I have served for many years on the board of NW Little League. For the past four years, I have been the league commissioner. It often strikes me that I use many of the same ministerial and leadership gifts that I associate with my priestly role whether managing a little league of families, players, umpires and coaches week by week or leading a school community of parents, teachers, staff and children. I have been tempted to write the book “My Altar is the Baseball Diamond”.

I serve on the SIT team (Site Improvement Team) that is currently overseeing the renovation of Friendship/Turtle Park.

Our 13 year old son Jack attends Alice Deal Middle School and our 18 year old Luke, having graduated from Wilson High School, is now studying at Haverford College in PA. For several years I have organized a baseball/mission trip to the Dominican Republic in February for the Wilson baseball players.

Rather than taking time out from ministry, I have been deeply immersed in the community outside and surrounding the church, engaging and building relationships with many of those who the church seeks to serve.

 A photo of myself and Dawn French - Geraldine in  The   Vicar of Dibl  ey!

A photo of myself and Dawn French - Geraldine in The Vicar of Dibley!

 
 
 
 At the  Wild Goose Festival ...with my wild goose tattoo.

At the Wild Goose Festival...with my wild goose tattoo.

Joy Carroll