Braunston's very own 'Vicar of Dibley' appointed first female Dean of Hereford

Braunston's very own 'Vicar of Dibley' has been appointed as the first female Dean of Hereford.

By Lucie Green
Thursday, 15th July 2021, 10:32 am
Updated Thursday, 15th July 2021, 10:34 am
The Rev Canon Sarah Brown.
The Rev Canon Sarah Brown.

Her Majesty The Queen has confirmed the appointment of the Rev Canon Sarah Brown, who will take up her new role in autumn.

The former vicar of Braunston was a late entrant to the priesthood, only commencing her studies in her 30s after a career in marketing, before becoming ordained in 2008.

Her first major appointment was in 2011, when she became vicar of the major canal-side village of Braunston and surrounding churches, a post she held for more than seven years. This ended after the Christmas Day service in 2017, when she was promoted to her present role at Peterborough Cathedral.

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The then Rev Sarah Brown with Prunella Scales and Timothy West at the 2014 WWI Centenary Service by the newly resored Braunston War Memorial. Picture: Tim Coghlan

In her Braunston years, Sarah was soon noticed for her great energy and infectious enthusiasm, which won people over, and greatly increased the size of her congregations. Comparisons were made to Dawn French in the television programme the Vicar of Dibley.

Tim Coghlan, director of Braunston Marina, said: "There was also a serious side to Sarah, which did not make for television sit-coms.

"She took Christ’s mission to the poor and down-trodden very seriously, and was not afraid to do so publicly. In particular she tended to those elements of the canal community, who had fallen from the mainstream of life and were living in rough conditions on their rundown boats, and often on their own, with little outside contact. In her work, she was not afraid to work with other Christian groups, including the Salvation Army."

Sarah also ministered to the aging community of former working boatmen living in retirement in Braunston - including when the time came, their funerals. In their childhood, many of these boatmen had attended the Sunday Schools arranged by the Salvation Army on its floating narrowboat chapel at Hawkesbury Junction on the canal north of Coventry. Here the young learnt to sing hymns, the three family favourites of which were ‘Abide With Me’, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ and ‘How Great Thou Art.’ At their funerals, the service invariably ended with ‘Abide With Me’, but the first hymn was usually one of the other two.

Sarah recalled how in one of the earliest boatmen- funerals she presided over, the first hymn-choice was ‘The Old Rugged Cross’. The small and aging congregation bellowed out the first verse and chorus, but thereafter was silent on the verses, leaving Sarah to sing out the remaining ones on her own, with the congregation then joining in the choruses. Afterwards she learnt that the congregation were illiterate and could no longer remember the other verses - as that generation of boatmen had never learnt to read and write.

In late June 2014, early on the Saturday morning before that year’s Braunston Historic Narrowboat Rally and Canal Festival, a special centenary service was held by the newly restored Braunston Village War Memorial. This was to commemorate the thirty one villagers of Braunston who had lost their lives in WWI, some seven of whom had been working boatmen. Sarah presided over a very moving service, with musical accompaniment from Daventry Brass. The service including recitals of WWI poems from Prunella Scales, with Timothy West reading the names of the thirty one dead, and using what information there was, giving their age at death, where they fell, and their occupation before the war commenced – the likes of farm labourer, milkman, and postman. As he concluded each name a solemn bell was movingly rung once from the village steeple by bell ringer Peter Wenham.

Music was provided by Daventry Brass, and appropriately included all three of those boatmen’s favourite hymns, concluding with ‘Abide With Me’ and ending with the Royal Marines’ version of The Last Post descanted into the tune.

Tim added: "It was a very moving service, recorded for posterity on DVD by Stuart Kettell of Kettell Productions, who recently walked from Braunston to London backwards, to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care.

"Those in Braunston who knew and loved Sarah in her role as vicar, believe there is still more to come for her in her promotion as a female into the hierarchy of the Church of England."

The then Revd Sarah Brown (R ) with Prunella Scales and Timothy West at the 2014 WWI Centenary Service by the newly resored Braunston War Memorial. (Tim Coghlan)