Skye Denno: Curate with a Difference
PUBLISHED: 14:12 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:37 20 February 2013
Skye Denno is a curate with a difference. The 29 year-old sports gothic-black hair and piercings and is studying Ancient Near East dream interpretation....
If you picture this year's Christmas services being taken solely by traditional vicars, then you might like to visit St James the Great in Dursley. The Reverend Skye Denno, with her nose ring and biker boots, certainly breaks the mold.
Skye works alongside Rector Janet Bromley as assistant curate, and will be fully ordained as a priest next June. "A few people do double-take, not just because of the way I look but because I'm a young woman as well," Skye says. "We all have an idea of what we think a vicar is but most vicars don't fit those stereotypes. The people who go to church, even if it's only once a year to a festival service, will know that - but we need to reach everyone else, too. I hope I might make them think."
Before coming to Dursley, 29-year-old Skye worked in India, in prisons, and for many charities, including Victim Support, Mencap, and Art Shape. She and her husband, Joel - a writer - are trained missionaries but, she says, "We realised we were more useful here in this country."
They have two children, Sofia, 6, and Phoenix, 3.
Where do you live and why?
I live in Dursley, on a new estate called Riversmill. We moved here in July when I was ordained. The reason I chose Dursley was because I'd met Janet, the Rector, and knew we would get on well; but I also simply felt this was where I should be. I guess it's just a gut - or a God - instinct. When I first went in for ordination, I assumed I'd be in an inner-city student area, so it surprised me that I'd found the right place in Dursley. But wherever you go, human nature is the same; people have the same problems and needs.
How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?
We moved here in 2000 when Joel and I began studying at Redcliffe College in Gloucester, a training college for missionaries. After we had Sofia, we were sent by the college to India where we worked in an orphanage. In the end, we both felt we were needed in Gloucestershire more than in India. We have more than we could possibly need in this country, but there are different types of poverty: people in Third World countries have a lot to teach us.
What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?
Weekends?! I get Tuesdays off - but in the last few weeks, even that's become half a day because I'm working on my dissertation, which I need to finish before I am 'priested' in June.
I'm looking at dream interpretation in the Ancient Near East, comparing it to Genesis, and bringing in psychotherapy as well; (my previous training was in art therapy and psychotherapy).
Obviously, Sundays are very busy: I do find being at the front of the church very nerve-wracking, though it's a responsibility that I love.
If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?
It's funny: I got married and had children when I was very young - both things people get scared of because they're commitments - but the one commitment I never want is a mortgage. I've managed to convince Joel that we should one day retire to a barge boat and I'll be a waterways chaplain.
If I had enough money, then I'd fulfill a vision I've always had. Over the years, I've had a lot of experience of people with addictions: my dream is for every church in the country to own a house where people can wash, rest, and stay, and get access to counselling.
Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?
I'll live anywhere I can be of use.
Where's the best pub in the area?
The Old Spot in Dursley. I like the food because you can get really healthy dishes - and I have to mention the beer! The Carpenters Arms on Uley Road is another good pub: it's under new management. They're really lovely people and it has a very family-friendly atmosphere.
And the best place to eat?
On my days off, Joel and I try to venture out and visit a different pub for a meal to get to know the Cotswolds better. Yesterday, we went to The Bell at Frampton (on-Severn). They had really good kids' food too. We tend to stumble across places. You think you know the area, and then you suddenly discover a village you've never noticed before: it's like a maze. Each place has its own little feature that makes it unique and special.
Have you a favourite tearoom?
The Courtyard Caf in Dursley is the one I go to most, but there are lots. I also like The Lighthouse, the Christian bookshop in town. Wherever I go in Dursley, I have to allow myself a few extra minutes because of the number of people who come up to say hello. Dursley is a very friendly town.
What would you do for a special occasion?
Definitely a party with lots of food: any excuse is welcome! At my ordination in July, we ended up having to bring caterers in because there were so many people - family, friends, members of the congregation - which was lovely. Joel and I like our house to be a space that's inviting: we've got a friend living with us at the moment. We've lived in communities for most of our married life, and we recognise that society is getting more isolated and lonely. If I had loads of money, I'd definitely buy a small house nearer the church that was more accessible for people.
What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?
I could make a massive list! The friendliness, the history, the architecture and the arts. Stroud is particularly good for artists, and the Cotswolds are full of beautiful scenery to paint.
... and the worst?
Public transport. It's not easy if you're trying to be environmentally conscious. There's one bus to Gloucester every hour and it stops after six o'clock. When you think of people like the elderly or those who can't drive, you see how isolated they can become.
Which shop could you not live without?
Joel and I have made a conscious effort only to buy things locally; we've stopped going to supermarkets. We get an organic box delivered every week, and we use the local butcher, Broomhall's, who do me gluten-free sausages. I thought it would be more expensive to shop locally, but we end up buying less rubbish. The only downside is shopping for clothes, but most of my wardrobe is second hand and there are loads of charity shops here!
What's the most under-rated thing about the Cotswolds?
Firstly, I don't think people realise how well all the different churches work together: there's a real united front. And secondly, the Cotswolds have such supportive communities. If you walk down the street in Dursley, you'll find people talking to each other: there are no brochures that tell you that.
What would be a three course Cotswold meal?
I love asparagus so that would be my soup.
Really good lamb; I'm a roast-dinner girl.
Chocolate Fairtrade organic ice cream made at Hill House Farm, Farmington. (The Cotswold Ice Cream Company)
What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?
From Stinchcombe Hill. I also like the view from my study of 'Pox' Hill: I shall paint it at some point. I've told myself I'm going to do at least three paintings in the next 12 months.
What's your quintessential Cotswolds village and why?
Uley: considering it's so tiny, it has such a lot to offer. It's particularly special to me because I did my very first wedding there at St Giles Church.
What's your favourite Cotswolds building and why?
The church of St James the Great - it's a hidden treasure. All churches for me have a sense of beauty that I love because for so many years people have prayed and worshipped in them. Obviously, God isn't confined to any building but there's still something very special about them. St James has beautiful stained glass windows and an open, airy feel. It also has an amazing choir - about 35 people - and fantastic bell ringers. It's a real privilege to be working with them. St Mark's in Woodmancote is different again - very small and beautiful, with a lovely sense of walking into someone's front room.
What would you never do in the Cotswolds?
I'd never criticise Gloucester. It has managed to retain so many things cities often lack, including a sense of intimacy. And then there's the cathedral... I love stained glass windows and Gloucester has my very favourite - in the South Ambulatory Chapel, with glass by Thomas Denny. The cathedral might be huge but it still feels small and friendly because it maintains its nooks and crannies.
Starter homes or executive properties?
With the way the market's going at the moment, it's a good job we don't want a mortgage because we couldn't afford one. Unless we have starter homes, how are we going to expect people to move up, especially now grants aren't part of the university system and we don't have apprenticeships any more? In an ideal world, it would be nice to use only stone from the area, but we're a population that's increasing; realistically, how are we going to help people to support themselves and empower them to buy houses?
What are the four corners of the Cotswolds?
My four corners are all in Dursley because that's where I feel called and that's where my home is.
If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?
I probably wouldn't go abroad. One of the things I've realised is that we're surrounded by nature, and we're killing that with aeroplanes. So unless there's a real need, we should encourage ourselves to visit our local area more and find the beauty that's on our doorstep.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give to somebody new to the Cotswolds?
Don't be afraid to get lost! Start walking, without aiming for anywhere, and see where you end up.
And which book should they read?
I'm enjoying looking through books of old Cotswold photographs. If you compare them with the same place today, they're often very similar.
Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?
Any event where there's a community feel and everyone gets on well together. A good example of that is the arts week St James is putting on next June, which will involve lots of people from Dursley and round about.
If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?
I'm not sure I'd want to be invisible, but it's certainly not possible for me in this area. For one thing, my appearance means people remember me, which isn't always great! My ministry as a curate is not restricted to when I've got a dog collar on. There's the sense of being watched all the time, and that means your lifestyle needs to be consistent with what you're saying. It's a 24/7 job.
To whom or what should there be a Cotswolds memorial?
To the work of our two bishops (Gloucester and Tewkesbury) and fantastic archdeacons. I was reminded of that at our annual get-together at Cheltenham Racecourse. This is a very diverse diocese - we're all quite different in our backgrounds and in our views. But Bishops Michael and Bishop John want to encourage people in their gifts. There's no sense of being pigeonholed or stereotyped; that's why I'm here.
The Cotswolds - aspic or asphalt?
The Gospel says the church needs to be organic and living. I don't mean we need to throw away liturgy; it means we need constantly to be looking at the needs of the area, and not just doing things in a certain way because that's the way they've always been done. My vision would be that the church and the community - all the different churches - would blend into each other without boundaries. When I preach, I often think that the walls of the church are not there: I feel I'm speaking to the whole of Dursley.
What attitude best sums up the Cotswolds?
Creative and welcoming.
With whom would you most like to have a cider?
I'd love to step into one of those old photos, especially in Dursley, and see for myself what it was like then - perhaps to mingle with the workers of Lister's. I'd like a sense of what it was like to have been born here. That's something I can never have.
Christmas services at St James in Dursley include: December 21, 6.30pm, Christmas candlelight; December 24, 4pm Christingle service and 11:30pm Midnight Mass; December 25, 8am, Holy Communion with carols. Christmas services at St Marks, Woodmancote, include: December 25, 10am, family communion with carols; January 11, 4pm Epiphany carols. All are very welcome; for more information, call the parish office on 01453 549280.