Author, speaker, scholar, theologian: Canon Dr Paula Gooder has quite a few strings to her bow… Now she can add ‘Director of Mission Learning and Development’ to the mix as she joins us this month in this new role, as part of the Transforming Church strategy.
As previous Theologian in Residence for the Bible Society, you’re best known as a Bible scholar. Was that always your dream?
“No, none of it was part of a great plan – more a series of suggestions from others and nudges from God. I was a rather weird teenager; I loved reading Latin and Greek, so initially I wanted to study Classics at University. In fact, I ended up reading Theology, but coming at it from that linguistic angle. I love language, I love translation and wrestling with that whole question about the best way to translate the New Testament. Is there even such a thing as a ‘best way’? It’s these questions that keep me up at night, keep me animated. ”
So how have you ended up at the Church of England – Birmingham?
“I felt that I was ready for something new, a new challenge. Plus commuting from Birmingham to Swindon every day wasn’t great… As I was just wrestling with how I can find a new challenge, I happened to have a conversation with Bishop David, then Bishop Anne, who both mentioned the role. The more I found out about it the more I really wanted to do it – so that’s how I ended up here. Fortunately other people agreed that they wanted me to do the job too!”
What does ‘Director of Mission Learning and Development’ mean? What will you be doing here?
“One of the challenges for me is that this is a new role, so it’s a completely blank sheet of paper. I know that I will be managing a fabulous team of people who will be exploring Fresh Expressions, church planting, work on urban estates, intercultural mission – people with different areas of expertise in mission. My work in particular will be to do with learning and development, but not in a formal, essay-writing way. I don’t think that that’s necessarily where the most transformative things happen. For me, the question is: ‘What things really help ordinary people to deepen their faith, deepen their discipleship and become passionate about sharing their faith?’ I’ll be finding out what’s happening already in these areas; what’s useful, sharing good practice, seeing if there are gaps, and thinking about things we can put in those gaps.”
What do you think of the Transforming Church vision?
“It’s really, really exciting. Preparing the Church to be who it really is, preparing people who proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom. It’s a great vision. But it’s also a scary vision, because it is huge and it requires new ways of thinking about and doing things. I know - because I’m married to a member of the clergy in the Diocese - that clergy are at capacity already. So I’m 100% behind the vision and also 100% behind trying to find out how we make it doable because it’s a big task.”
You’ve lived in Birmingham for almost 20 years. What are the best things about it?
“I love that it’s vibrant, it’s multicultural, there’s all sorts of things going on all the time. It’s a great, diverse, brilliant, dynamic city. Being in Birmingham gives me loads of energy.”
If you ever have any spare time, how do you spend it?
“I have children, so they take up quite a lot of spare time - particularly taxiing them around! I also love gardening. I still write, so I’ve always got a book on the go.”