Chaplain a fitting choice at home of campaigner for women priests

Rev Anne Freestone, in the chapel at Castle Howard estate, will become its first female chaplain. Picture: Tony Bartholomew
Rev Anne Freestone, in the chapel at Castle Howard estate, will become its first female chaplain. Picture: Tony Bartholomew
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In a year that has seen Britain’s first female Bishop, Castle Howard has appointed its first woman chaplain. Catherine Scott speaks to the Rev 
Anne Freestone.

Anne Freestone had never been to Castle Howard before.

She was visiting the stately home with an old friend from Yorkshire when they decided to take a look in the ancient chapel.

“We’d done the tour of the house and grounds and the lavender farm,” explains Anne. “The last part of the tour was the chapel. One of the guides had said that they were looking for a chaplain. I said ‘Can I apply?’ They looked at me a bit strangely but I did explain that I was qualified to apply.”

She applied and got the job, becoming Castle Howard’s first female chaplain.

“It could have been serendipity,” says Anne. “I didn’t see the job advertised on a website or in a newspaper I just heard about it while I was a paying visitor.”

The Rt Rev Dr John Thomson officially welcomed Anne in a special service at Castle Howard attended by her friends and family including her two grown- up children Joanna and Peter.

“I’m very pleased to welcome Anne as chaplain to Castle Howard. As well as leading services in the wonderful chapel, Anne will be helping provide a warm and caring welcome to the thousands of people who visit Castle Howard each year. Anne will bring her many gifts and talents to the role, and I pray that she will flourish and be a blessing to the whole Castle Howard community.”

Anne is also a padré at Catterick Garrison supporting not only the soldiers but their families as well, a role she will continue to do alongside her new role at Castle Howard.

“I value my work at Catterick. I work closely with the soldiers and their families. I have taken christenings, weddings and funerals. I‘ve always been interested in the forces, I think probably if I had my time again I would have joined the Army, but of course I couldn’t have been a chaplain as they have only recently allowed women to become padres in the Armed Forces.”

Instead Anne, originally from Northamptonshire, went into teaching. She taught at a secondary school in Sussex and then moved to Dublin, worked in a primary school and had her family. She started to work with children with special needs and eventually moved to work at the Darlington Education Village where she taught children with severe and complex special needs. But Anne says she had always had a keen interest in the church.

“From a young age I went to church, although the rest of my family didn’t,” she recalls. “It has always been there although I decided quite late in life to enter the ministry.”

She was ordained in in 2007 and took a part-time MA while still teaching as well as a Diploma in Theology from Durham.

“Catterick were having an open day about what chaplaincy meant to the Armed Forces. I went along and asked if there was anything I for me to do.”

Anne was offered a post working alongside a regular padre, who is in the military. “I’m not allowed to be deployed on active service,” explains Anne, who has been officiating chaplain for the military since 2010. “I have been to Belgium and France with them, They are wonderful to me. My CO (commanding officer) and his RSM (regimental sergeant major) came to support me at the service on Monday. It was amazing.”

It may seem that being an army chaplain and chaplain of a North Yorkshire estate are poles apart, but not according to Anne. “It is actually quite similar,” she says. “The location is different, the setting is different and the dynamics are different but the job of the chaplain is the same.

“I will be there when people need me. I will evolve the job and will be there for the Howard family and the people of the estate as I am there for the families of the regiments. If they want me they can contact me. I will go out to see people wherever they are. I even plan to spend some time in the shop. I will be working with other local clergy and the community.”

As well as being a presence across the estate for workers and visitors, Anne plans to develop more services in the historic chapel.

“I would like to hold a Mothering Sunday service and a Palm Sunday service.”

Anne knows that being chaplain at Castle Howard brings with it a lot of responsibility.

“I am very excited and honoured to have been given the position. “Sometimes I do have to stop and think ‘Am I really here?’ But it will be a challenge – the ministry is not meant to be comfortable.”

Being the first female chaplain at Castle Howard in the same year as the first female Bishop was consecrated is not lost on Anne. “I see it as a very positive thing,” she says.

And the late Dame Rosemary Christian Howard would have approved. She was the aunt of Nicholas Howard, who currently lives at Castle Howard with his family. Born at Castle Howard, she was a founding member of The Movement For The Ordination of Women, as well as being active in the ecumenical movement.

In 1972 she wrote a report for General Synod entitled The Ordination of Women to Priesthood. She died in 1999.

“I would like to try to live up to all that Dame Christian Howard stood for,” adds Anne.