The new vicar at Lancaster’s oldest church is making her own mark in the history of the parish and the city.
When Canon Leah Vasey-Saunders is inducted at Lancaster Priory on September 8, she will be the first female Vicar of Lancaster.
Leah is joined by her husband of 20 years, Dr Rev Mark Vasey-Saunders, an academic tutor at St Hild Theological College in Yorkshire; and their children: Reuben, aged 17, a student at Chetham’s School of Music; Jude,16; Elias,14; and Miriam,11, who will attend Ripley St Thomas CE High School.
“Lancaster is beautiful and reminds me of places we’ve lived before. It’s a wonderful place with heritage, culture and arts opportunities,“ said Leah.
“ Lancaster feels like a place that has legs, it’s going somewhere. The parish is interesting because it’s in the city centre, part of a heritage site, as well as including the Marsh estate and new housing. It’s got opportunities from every possible perspective and I anticipate it will draw on my experiences of past parishes and cathedral.”
Leah will lead worship at many civic occasions in Lancaster and at regular services but such demands don’t faze the former Canon Precentor at Wakefield Cathedral where she organised arts and cultural events.
Music was Leah’s first love as a child born in Grimsby where she joined the Grimsby and Cleethorpes Youth Orchestra.
The family moved to Saudi Arabia for a couple of years with her dad’s work, an important experience in Leah’s faith journey.
But it wasn’t until Leah joined the church choir at Huddersfield University where she studied music, that she first contemplated a church career.
And even when a fellow bellringer suggested Leah could be a priest, it took time for her to come to that conclusion.
“I was from a working class background and not sure if I’d fit in so I took two gap years to explore what it was like to work in the church.”
Five years of training and studying followed until she was ordained in 2003, aged 25.
After curacies in Newcastle, Leah was appointed to parishes in Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire before joining Wakefield Cathedral’s clergy team.
Leah’s first challenge at Lancaster Priory will be guiding the parish through its pandemic recovery. During lockdown, Leah’s family led the Church of England’s national virtual service from their lounge.
“Everyone I’ve met so far has been really welcoming. I’ll be listening to as many people as possible and I want to go into schools and shops, get to know the Duchy , the Castle and people at Lancaster City Council.”
“And I really want people to have fun. Church should be something people treasure and enjoy.”