Revd Dr Joe Kennedy is Tutor and Lecturer in Theology at St Mellitus College, North West. Below he answers a few questions.
Tell us a bit about yourself
I grew up near Edinburgh in Scotland. My family has a diverse Christian heritage. My father attended Sunday School in a Presbyterian Church which had connections with the Covenanter movement; my mother’s family were Roman Catholic – with Scottish recusant and Irish ancestry, and also some English and Irish Anglicans. I was one of three children, and we were brought up in the Roman Catholic tradition, attending church schools and active in the life of our local parish church.
When I left school, I went to Edinburgh University, where I greatly enjoyed being a student, met lots of interesting people, and made some tentative steps towards learning how to think. Slowly, however, it dawned on me that maths (my chosen subject) wasn’t where my heart really was. One illuminating moment was when I looked round my student room one summer evening in my final year, and discovered I had more theology books than maths books on my shelves!
A period of theological study followed, and I was hugely blessed to learn in a rich variety of settings: at Edinburgh’s New College, then still dominated by the Scottish Presbyterian tradition; at St Stephen’s House, Oxford, with its rich Anglo-Catholic history; and as a doctoral student of John Webster, one of the world’s leading Barthian scholars. It was during my time as a theology student, too, that I found my spiritual home in the Anglican tradition, and trained as both a teacher and then a priest.
What were you doing before you started at St Mellitus College?
After ordination, I served for three years as a curate in the Diocese of Oxford. After that, I worked as Dean of Chapel at Selwyn College and Chaplain at Newnham College in the University of Cambridge. During this time, I oversaw the life of a college chapel, worked with a range of others to provide pastoral care for students and staff, and also taught some theology. I was then appointed Principal of a residential theological college, located in Mirfield in West Yorkshire and responsible to the Church of England for training clergy.
More recently, over the past six years, I have been Vicar of Oxton St Saviour, a large and diverse parish on the beautiful Wirral peninsula. We have a worshipping congregation of over 500 people, including more than 100 children, we’ve grown 40% since 2007, and we currently welcome on average one new family per week. Our parish community is a warm and welcoming place, with a talented, passionate Leadership Team, and a commitment to offering diverse worship opportunities. For instance, we value worship which is Eucharistically-focussed and choral, and we also have four Fresh Expressions, including a Café Church and a popular and informal Sunday service for pre-school children and their parents.
Since 2015, I have served as Vicar of Oxton for 80% of the week, and as a lecturer and tutor at St Mellitus College, North West for 20% of the week. So I now have two of the best jobs in the Church of England!
What do you most wish to share with your students?
I want to share three passions with my students.
Firstly, a passion for prayer. In prayer, we sit in God’s glorious presence, bathed in his love, as he gives us words to sing his praise. It is this experience of being loved by God which frees us to love others and to minister. When we study God’s Word, and allow the Christian traditions to enrich us, we experience this same freeing love of God – for when God speaks to us, he tells us of his love. So, firstly, I want to share with my students a passion for prayer, and a passion for prayer as the foundation for all Christian service.
Secondly, a passion for engaging with what God is doing and saying in the lives of other Christians. Psalm 96 exhorts us to ‘sing to the Lord a new song’. This is I think my favourite verse in the whole of Scripture. There is indeed always a new song to sing, always a new story to explore and tell about the ways in which God blesses us and saves us – this is my experience of life. For me, that’s the deepest reason for a generous orthodoxy. Such a receptive and expectant engagement with others across the Christian traditions builds in our hearts an openness to the new things which we have not yet discovered about Christ and his work. So generous orthodoxy helps us to feel the longing which the Holy Spirit has put in our hearts for the inexhaustible riches of God.
Thirdly, a passion for mission. God calls us to share in his mission, as he reaches out in love to the world. Isn’t that such a beautiful truth? There are so many different and wonderful ways in which God invites his people to share in his mission, and so we ought to be discerning over and over again (as individuals and as communities) how God is calling us at this point in our lives. Leadership in mission means leading and facilitating this ongoing discernment, and inviting the communities of which we are a part to prioritize this process of listening and responding.
And what do you do when you are not at St Mellitus College?
My wife Emily and I have two young children – David, who is six, and Mary, who recently had her first birthday. In what is probably a slightly over-busy life, I try to spend as much time with them as I can. They are an absolute delight. In addition, I spend time reading (mainly theology, though my wife would like me to read more novels!), baking my own bread, and inexpertly taking photographs. In my parish job, I spend increasing amounts of time supporting the ministries of others, which is something I love and which never fails to excite me. When I feel the need to zone out, I have a weakness for US television dramas with fast-pace over-articulate dialogue. West Wing and Suits are particular favourites.