Jonathan Croucher, the curate of St Michael & All Angels Church in Blackheath, always wanted to pursue a career in the ministry, but when he came down from Cambridge at the age of 21 he decided he needed some “real-life” experience in order to be able to relate to his future flock, so he became a City lawyer instead.
“I ended up in the law because it was one of several possibilities that sensible people consider,” he admits. “I never had a passion for the City. I intended to qualify in private client or move to the country; I had no real understanding of what the City involved.”
But from these vague notions Croucher subsequently qualified in employment at Taylor Wessing legacy firm Taylor Joynson Garrett and, because he loved the firm, spent the next 18 years there, first as a partner, then as HR director and latterly as chief operating officer – a role he maintained until he left last year for his full-time parish role.
During his fee-earning days he says his clients included “big American corporations, London universities, foreign exchange brokers and small charities”. He acted on corporate restructurings and employment litigation as well as general advisory work.
But how did he reconcile his experience of advising large organisations seeking to maximise their profit with his belief in Christian teachings?
“There have been challenges, and one of the things about doing advisory work rather than M&A is that you can influence how people are dealt with in an organisation,” he argues. “I hope that something of what I believe about the value of people influenced the advice I gave. If you value human beings and who they are, you’ll treat people well and avoid litigation.”
Determined to pursue his spiritual vocation, in 2001 Croucher started training for ordination at the South East Institute for Theological Education. He chose to do a non-residential course because of his belief that it is right “not to separate the secular and the sacred”.
“I’m passionate about the Church being relevant to the legal profession and the City – I think it’s relevant to everybody,” he explains. “For me, the Church is about a group of people trying to understand how we live our lives under God. If it’s just stuck in a building it’s hard to be relevant.”
While he never took up a formal chaplaincy role at Taylor Wessing he says that “as an HR director I’d like to think I was quite pastoral and lots of people used to talk to me if they had a problem. It’s not necessarily all about being ordained”.
Croucher says the Church can be “quite caricatured” in the media, but he did not experience any hostility from law firm colleagues during the process of ordination and the ensuing combination of part-time duties at the Church with a full-time job at Taylor Wessing.
However, he does feel that the Church needs to find ways of innovating and keeping up with the times. Part of this is through attracting a greater number of younger ministers, partly through adopting new technologies “to compete with the opportunity to watch telly or sit in front of the Wii”.
But he is less comfortable when pressed on his views about either the ordination of women bishops or the right of gays and lesbians to get married in church. He simply says: “The Church has to understand today’s society and not pretend we live in the Israel of 2,000 years ago or medieval times.
“On the other hand,” he adds, “there are some truths that are unchanging.”
Despite having taken an 18-year law firm detour since deciding he wanted to be ordained and embracing his current full-time curate position, Croucher does not feel that his legal career per se stood him in good stead for the ministry.
“It’s just a question of knowing what it’s like to run a family home and have an income – things people in the real world are affected by,” he says.
But with partners at Taylor Wessing making six-figure packages, how much of an understanding has he had of the financial circumstances affecting ’people in the real world’?
“A curate’s salary is £23,000, so it’s a big change,” he concedes.