You don’t have to believe in God to be inspired by Paula Pye.
Although her closest family and friends may reflect on her remarkable journey of faith, few could ever have predicted where that journey would lead.
From nurse to farmer’s wife and mum of four sons, Paula was ordained into the Anglican church in Carlisle Cathedral last summer – not so much the culmination of her calling to the Ministry, rather just the beginning.
“Even as a young person my faith was always very strong; as a teenager I felt I was searching for something,” she says.
She met her husband Andrew on a blind date in Blackpool. The couple were married and moved to Andrew’s parent’s farm in the Trough of Bowland in Lancashire. Paula continued with her career as a nurse and worked part-time, but having married into a Methodist family, she embraced the strong Methodist beliefs of this rural community.
“I became a local Methodist preacher but there were still stirrings of something much deeper about where my faith was leading.”
With three young sons, the farm at Quernmore wasn’t large enough to support the Pye’s growing family – a situation that was to change much faster than anyone imagined.
“Andrew applied for the tenancy of a farm at Kirkby-in-Furness in Cumbria. It was the first tenancy we’d applied for so it was a bit of a shock when we were offered a 365-acre dairy farm at our first attempt,” recalls Paula.
At Low Hall Farm, the couple build up a 120-cow dairy herd and a flock of 700 ewes. They became nucleus breeders for the Meatlinc sheep breeding company run by the Fell family and established a caravan site and a bed-and-breakfast business.
“It was hard work, but we were young and keen and it was a wonderful place to live and bring up a family,” she recalls.
But without warning, Paula suddenly collapsed suffering from a brain haemorrhage. Although she had to undergo surgery, the doctors weren’t [?] optimistic about a full recovery – and there was still a farm to run and the couple’s three boys were aged just eight, seven and two.
“The doctors told Andrew I had less than a 33% chance of coming through the operation and that I’d probably live the rest of my life as a stroke victim, but I made a full recovery. Family and friends were amazing and I was out of hospital and back home within a week.
“It’s hard to believe it but within a few weeks I was lambing our 700 ewes. We have a joke in our house that when things get tough we say to each other “Get a grip” – so I did and just got on with the job.”
Paula put her “call to preach” on hold for while, but alongside family life – and the birth of fourth son in 2002 – Christianity remained ever-strong in the Pye household.
The family joined an Anglican church in nearby Ulverston where she was approached by the rector who asked if she would become a church leader.
“It was another part of the jigsaw I suppose, another step on the journey. I felt a bit rusty not having preached for a while but I hadn’t acknowledged to myself this was the start of something I hadn’t bargained for.”
A Christmas card sent by Meatlinc sheep breeder Henry Fell – jokingly addressed to The Rev Paula Pye – was to have profound consequences.
“That card was on my mind day and night for weeks. But every time I tried to rationalise things it was like hitting a brick wall. Then someone gave me a postcard with a picture of a line of beautiful stone arches. As soon as I saw that picture it was as though the brick wall had suddenly disappeared and I had to start on a new journey, one stage a time, dealing with every stage as though I was going through each of those arches.”
That was in 2004 and it encouraged Paula to have a meeting with the rector to discuss taking up the Ministry.
“When Andrew and I sat down to discuss all of this he said: “Well if that’s what God is telling you to do I’m up for it if you are.” He gave me his total support even though we knew it would mean giving up the farm.
The Pyes gave up the farm tenancy and in 2006 and took a student house in Durham to enable Paula to begin her degree course. She graduated with an MA in Theology and was ordained last year.
“Andrew’s support has been tremendous. He took over the house in Durham and looked after the boys. Some might say it’s been difficult for them to adjust to all the moves over the last few years but we’ve always been a strong family unit.” Paula is now a curate in a team of five based at Christ Church in Cockermouth, Cumbria, serving five churches in the area. Andrew has become area manager for First Milk.
Now happily settled in Cockermouth, within a few months of arriving Paula found herself in the midst of a community facing the ravages of last November’s flooding.
“Unless you were here, it’s hard to imagine how bad things were in Cockermouth. Our church became the main flood relief centre and we were here day and night to give any help and support we could to the people of the town.
“And that’s what we’re still doing and will continue to do, but even though the disaster has caused extreme hardship to so many families and businesses, it’s times like this that bring out a community’s true Christian spirit. We live in a rapidly changing world but when the chips are down you see just how God brings out the very best in people.”