Divine Inspiration: The Real Vicar Of Dibley

Posted on: 04 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Joy Carrol, 42, was one of the first women to be ordained a priest and is the real life inspiration behind the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley.

In 1997 Joy married an American, Jim Wallis, and moved to the States. They have one child, Luke, aged 5, and together run an inner city church in Washington DC.

Joy says, “I found myself dealing with quite a few culture shocks during my first year in the U.S. Even though we speak the same language, America has a completely different culture compared to our own. When I first moved to America I found I had to cope with quite a few culture shocks.”

One of Joy’s pet hates is the way America runs its health service.

“I had some dentist work done and it was so expensive I almost had to take out a second mortgage,” she jokes, “I could have flown to England twice for the amount it cost me. To get any type of care in America you have to have medical insurance.”

“If you are very poor the government will pay your medical bills. However, if you are on a low wage, you are not eligible to receive government help, but you won’t earn enough to pay for your own medical insurance. Over 40 million people in the States are uninsured.”

Guns and the blasé attitude of average Americans towards their role in society is also something Joy finds concerning, particularly now she is a mother.

“I got involved in the Million Mum March when I first moved to Washington to protest against America’s gun laws. Due to the power that wealthy lobby groups like the American Rifle Association have, it is going to be very difficult to change gun laws in the States,” says Joy.

Does Joy worry about bringing up a child in the United States?

“I am a little bit concerned about bringing up a child to live in a society where very often a person’s value is based on how much they earn,” says Joy, “I was 38 when I had Luke, so I didn’t have any of the resentments that younger women sometimes feel if they get trapped into family life early on. Becoming a mother is the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

So what is a typical day for Joy now that she has a family?

“My day really starts by taking Luke to school. After dropping him at school, I try to get on with some church work. One of the great things about being a priest these days is that I can communicate with everyone using e-mail. If I’m online I always take a look at Watchwomen.com, a site dedicated to promoting the cause of female Bishops in England.

“I also check out the British news websites like the Times and the BBC to catch up on what’s happening at home.”

Jim, Joy’s husband, works for a religious magazine called Sojourners, so the two of them do not see one another during the day.

“After working on Sunday’s sermon, I quite often meet someone for lunch to discuss plans that we have for the church,” she says, “at the moment we’re hoping to turn a local park in Columbia Heights, an area that is well known for drug crime and poverty, into an outdoor church to be held every Sunday.”

Luke currently only goes to school for three days a week, so when he is at home, Joy’s role as a mother comes to the fore.

“We go to Washington DC zoo a lot and the local parks. Luke is turning into an all American kid. He loves baseball and we have a season pass for a local water park, so we keep busy,” said Joy, “By the time I get Luke to bed, which sometimes doesn’t happen until quite late I usually just collapse and watch some television or read the newspaper.

“At 11pm I watch the BBC News on television because I find the American news appalling. It’s just not informative enough and it’s dumbed down beyond belief.”

So, any plans to move back to Britain? Joy laughs and says, “Not at the moment no. We’re based in DC for now, concentrating on our Church.”

Beneath The Cassock, by Joy Carroll, published by Harper Collins, is available online at Amazon.


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