The Priest in charge of St.Nicholas’ Church Burnage, Manchester blogs about condoms, and plays guitar in a Metal band called Kingdom of the Blind.
She is also a poet and writes a music column for her local paper. Her outspoken views that ‘Christians could learn a lot about life from Heavy Metal’, have caused controversy in some parts of the church.
Flush the Fashion met Rachel Mann, the women who really is on a mission from God.
What made you want to be a priest?
Blimey, easing me in gently, there? Hehe. I guess I’d say it was a calling.
I was teaching philosophy at Lancaster University and I began to feel pulled to something more, to something weightier. Over a long time I worked out that that pull was to be a priest.
What does the job entail?
Well, in many ways, it depends on the priest. I’m unusual in that I do parish-based stuff as well as being poet-in-residence at Manchester Cathedral. I do all the usual things – taking services, funerals, weddings, christenings and there’s quite a lot of visiting folk.
I also have to manage a church building that’s been the subject of a lot of thefts and is Grade 2* listed. That’s a big responsibility.
But I also get to write – as well as writing poetry, I write for newspapers and I write academic theology and philosophy as well.
I’ve been doing a lot of music reviewing recently and am currently writing a big academic piece on metal’s relationship with religion. I’m very privileged to be allowed to write as part of my job. I also get to speak at lots of events and lead workshops and teach.
Is it fun?
The truth? It can be bloody hard work. But it’s also an incredible buzz – I don’t have to worry about managers telling me what to do, I get to meet endless amazing and fascinating people and I get to help people in some of the crappiest situations any of us can face.
It’s an unbelievable privilege. At the same time, it can be exhausting – sometimes it’s hard to find time off – and some of the meetings I have to go to are as dull as a WAG’s conversation.
How long have you been in Kingdom of the Blind?
Well, Kingdom of the Blind are the combination of two other bands – Sick Vicar and the Joey Deacons and Corrosion. We shared a bassist and last Summer thought it was time to combine. We started out as a straight metal covers band, but we’ve been writing new material since last October.
We’re planning on entering the studio in the next couple of months – once the bassist is back from his honeymoon – to cut an E.P. Though at the rate we’re going, it looks like it might be an album.
Who is your Favourite Metal band?
Oh bugger! why did you have to ask me that, hehe? So many. Maiden (Iron) have been with me so long that it’s almost like they tell the story of my life. I love them almost beyond words.
Opeth also continue to slowly take over my life. Metallica – back in the days when they were still throat-crushingly vital – changed my life too.
Currently, I’ve been getting a bit obsessed with Ihsahn, Ageless Oblivion and Sylosis.
Isn’t Rock n’ Roll the Devil’s music?
Ooh, I really hope so, Hehe. Look, metal has always been about ‘reacting against’, about saying, as Rage (against the machine) so rightly put, ‘I won’t do what you tell me’. Part of that has often been about ‘flirting’ (maybe even going to bed) with the devil.
Personally, I can’t bring myself to believe in some ‘real figure’ called Satan. For me, to blame bad stuff on ‘Satan’ is some sort of trivialization of what’s really bad in the world – whether that be natural disaster, human nastiness or whatever.
As I’ve often stated, metal is all the better for not being afraid of the dark and its got a lot to teach a sometimes up-tight world.
What was the reaction from your superiors about your comments on Heavy Metal music?
I’m glad to say that I don’t work for an organization like the Roman Catholic Church where a priest has very obvious ‘superiors’. The Church of England has basically left me to it – mainly, I suspect, ‘cos most of my colleagues are just bewildered by metal. Have I done my career prospects some serious damage?
Who knows. Probably. My own sense is that I’ve become a bit of a joke among ‘serious’ church people – just a whackadoodle vicar whose views can be dismissed. I suspect that probably means I’m doing something right.
What do you think happens when we die?
If you’re looking for specifics, I haven’t a clue. And in my view no one has. My own life experience – in which I’ve often sensed God’s presence close by – tells me that, if God gives a damn about us in this life, then why would s/he give up on us once this flesh dies? But, look, I’m someone who did a PhD in philosophy – I’m a born doubter. There are times when I find it hard to believe in anything beyond what we have here and now. And that doesn’t worry me.
To have lived this life would be enough. I’m sure that makes me questionable to many people of faith, but hey, I’m used to having the piss taken out of me for thinking as I do. Theologically, I’m as influenced by classical theologies as Christian ones.
Do you think it is important for religion to move with the times?
Yes and no.
I can’t stand religion that is inflexible and unsubtle. I can’t stand religion that can’t be honest about how complex life is. Religion needs to be intelligent and thought through if it’s going to have anything halfway interesting to say.
As such, religion has to ‘move with the times’. It horrifies me that people can still claim that, for example, God hates gay people. I’m lucky that I’m part of a church that gives me space to think – that says that reason is as valuable as tradition or scripture. And I know that I’m very much on the radical, left-wing of that church.
I struggle all the time to stick with an institution that often seems to embody anti-human attitudes.
At the same time, ‘religion’ shouldn’t be afraid to stand up to the sometimes shabby and shitty modern world. Jesus was not some mealy mouthed wuss – he challenged the authorities of his day about how the poor and the seemingly unimportant were being treated; he wasn’t afraid to say that caring for other people was about as important as it got.
And he ended up getting nailed up for it. Speaking ‘truth to power’ is never popular and I wish to damn that more in the church had the balls to do it.
Can the church offer kids something that stimulates their interests?
The truth? Depends on the kid. Most teenagers have got far too much going on in their lives to be particularly turned on by Church. That’s how it was for me for sure. And church is horribly uncool, no matter what some people might want to do to make it appear otherwise.
But for some kids maybe the more contemplative and reflective thing that church offers will scratch an itch.
What inspires you to write your poetry?
So many things. I’m currently working on my first collection. At the heart of it is a mass of poems about monsters – real and imagined. So I’m writing loads of stuff about figures as diverse as Satan, Joe Stalin, Eva Braun and the Bogey Man. All cheery stuff!
Other poets inspire me, as well as news stories and myths. I’m fascinated by history and what drives people to commit obscene acts. I feed a lot of that into my poetry.
If Jesus was around now would he have more Twitter followers than Lady Gaga?
Isn’t he on Twitter already? If not, who’s that bloke I’m following?
Who is on your stereo at the moment?
Right this minute? Strapping Young Lad.
Aren’t Oasis from Burnage?
If they decide to get back together and the call came, would you play guitar for them?
Oasis are from Burnage. Their mum lives just round the corner from me.
If they decided to get back together and asked me to play guitar I’d turn up to the first rehearsal and see if I could start a fight between Liam and Noel. Shouldn’t be hard, right?