Feature interview: Lucy Berry

The Revd Lucy Berry explains her calling as a poet-minister – and what that means

Your website describes you as a poet-minister; can you unpack that?

I’d say that “minister-poet” is a more accurate description. My call is as poet – and I can’t separate being a poet from being a minister. Poetry, writing poems, is the most authentic outworking of my ministry. Through poetry I can most clearly articulate what it is I want, what I need, to say about God and the Church. It gives me a voice, a platform, which allows me to face – head on – some of the really difficult issues that many of us wrestle with.

And, somehow, it also lets me takes risks … taking risks is important because, when we’re taking risks we’re not worrying about paying the bills or buying the biscuits for the Church Meeting, we’re focussed on something bigger than ourselves: being more like Jesus.

Poetry, writing poems, is the most authentic outworking of my ministry. Through poetry I can most clearly articulate what it is I want, what I need, to say about God and the Church

What does this minister-poet mix bring to the party?

Well, I’m not always invited! But when I am, it is almost always by people who are moving, exploring, open to new ideas – open to mission. And I hope I make them think about old ideas, preconceived ideas, in new ways.

Are any subjects out of bounds?

No, none. But when I’m working with any organisation I will always check if there are subjects to avoid.

Tell me about your work with other organisations.

I fairly regularly work at conferences and denominational assemblies – I am only ever invited to these events when someone on the organising committee has been excited/moved or challenged by my poetry and they want it to excite, move or challenge others. When I’m there, I perform a combination of existing poems, poems written for the event and poems written at the event. What I bring is my role as an outsider who can comment on what they see – sometimes bringing a level of discomfort which can then be discussed and dissected by the audience.

What’s really thrilling … what I love … is that a truth that can be hard to hear can be expressed through poetry; poetry is tough, but it’s not unkind. At its best, it allows me to say to the listening audience: “Look at this – this thing that’s here. Let’s address it. Let’s really look at it together and resist the temptation to hide it or hide ourselves away from it.” Because of this – I am not always invited to the party. Only the brave invite me.

I have never been to a Lucy Berry event but I have read many of your poems – and some of them seem deliberately provocative. Are they?

[Laughs] Do I intentionally write to provoke? The brief is always “love one another”. I’m not very good at that – I’m constantly exploring it. I want my poems to get people thinking: “Am I kind to others? Am I kind to the people I know who are not coping? Am I as loving as I could be?” The answer for most of us is almost always “no”! But deliberately provoke? No. I hope I’m deliberately uncompromising. I hope so.

What’s your dream job?

Poet-in-residence to the United Nations. And the United Reformed Church. Dream on.

Lucy Berry was interviewed by Gill Nichol, the URC’s Head of Communications. Over the past ten years, Lucy has worked at several Baptist events in the UK, including the Scottish Assembly and a conference for the Baptist Missionary Society Catalyst Live events. Overseas, she was Poet-in-residence for the 2015 Consultation on Christian Identity in the Middle East and North Africa; she was also Poet-in-residence for the 2016 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, which focused on “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism”. Lucy is available to work with individual churches who are trying to discern their mission more clearly.