Bamber Bridge church welcomes BBC Two TV star as new minister

She's the TV star who cut her teeth as a church leader in one of the UK's remotest parishes.
Karen Le Mouton is the newminister ofBamber Bridge Methodist Churchin Station Road.Karen Le Mouton is the newminister ofBamber Bridge Methodist Churchin Station Road.
Karen Le Mouton is the newminister ofBamber Bridge Methodist Churchin Station Road.

Now Karen Le Mouton is using her time starring on BBC Two's documentary, An Island Parish, to help her flourish in her role as minister of Bamber Bridge Methodist Church in Station Road.

The TV queen featured in the Friday night show in series seven and eight, which followed her two-year journey from lay preacher to trained Methodist minister, among other notable characters and activities on the tiny Channel Island of Sark.

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Karen, who lived on the island for nearly nine years, said: "I wouldn't have leapt at being on TV as I'm happy to be in the background washing the dishes. But it was superb for Sark as it was having a lot of negative press at the time.

Karen starred onBBC Two's documentary, An Island Parish, which followed her as she trained to become a Methodist minister.Karen starred onBBC Two's documentary, An Island Parish, which followed her as she trained to become a Methodist minister.
Karen starred onBBC Two's documentary, An Island Parish, which followed her as she trained to become a Methodist minister.

"The programme showed a different way of life and Sark had loads of visitors as a result so it helped the economy. It gave the island a lift."

Karen said she had always felt a calling to ministry but her dreams never worked out during her youth. Instead, she embarked on a career in education.

Starting as a teacher, she worked her way up to become deputy head in Jersey's largest school, where she worked for 11 years with more than 600 pupils. She specialised in supporting children with autism before becoming head of pupil support for the island's education department.

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Meanwhile, Karen had been a local preacher across all the Methodist churches in Jersey since 2002 - but as time went on she felt the call to ministry growing louder.

And it became ever harder to ignore when she spotted an advert for a lay minister in the Island of Sark.

"I said to my husband I'd love to do that but my mother was terminally ill with cancer and we thought the logistics of going back and forth wouldn't work so the time wasn't right," she said.

"But from the coast of Jersey I could see Sark and my heart jolted.

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"I was listening to an interview between a minister and a circuit probation officer and he said, 'If God wants you in a place, don't worry about the logistics.'"

Despite having just one day left to make the application, she emailed it off and crossed her fingers. And just as she thought she'd left it too late, news came that Karen had landed the job.

She began the role part-time while she travelled back and forth to Jersey to support her mum during a two and a half year battle with cancer.

She then trained on the job, studying at a college in Birmingham and spending two years on probation.

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"The hardest bit was the travelling. I was on my own on this island and doing things which seemed to be the right thing to do," she said.

After 400 years of feudalism, Sark became a democracy in 2008 and held its first election on December 10. It is considered the last feudal state in Europe.

It is the smallest of the four main Channel Islands and the only way to get around is by horse and carriage, tractor or bike as there are no cars on the island.

"It's a beautiful place. It's very ecological and they look after the community. And they were picked as finalists in the Britain in Bloom competition out of all of Guernsey," she said.

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But having once taught at a school in Jersey with more than 600 children, Karen faced culture shock when she started her work in Sark.

"It's like living in a city compared to a small rural village. In Sark, if the ferry wasn't running, you couldn't get food in. People would always make their own bread and create their own entertainment," Karen said.

Being a key figure in a small and close-knit community, she soon found that her work was part of the lifeblood of the community.

"Apart from the doctor, there was no-one to call in an emergency. The church was the only place to get assistance so as a minister you're there to care for the community," she said.

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But while she enjoyed making a difference, she sometimes struggled with the responsibility.

"Carving out time for yourself was sometimes difficult. It's a small community and everyone knows you so it's hard to be anonymous," she said.

"It's like stepping back in time. Sark is very rural and the main source of economy is tourism. People do as much work as they can in the summer to see them through winter as there aren't any unemployment benefits. It's a different way of life," she said.

"They don't have the same concept of a rest day as they work seven days a week, morning, afternoon and evening during the summer. And then winter is for entertainment and community life."

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The remoteness of her parish also proved to be a difficulty.

"You miss out on social aspects like going to the theatre or cinema and you can't travel too far as you only have one day off. You'd have to get a ferry and stay over somewhere if you wanted an evening out," she said.

"You can feel isolated in winter as the ferries stop running because of the weather. It's the highest of the Channel Islands and has lots of gales so you have to be quite hardy to live there.

"It gets so busy with visitors in summer but when the last ferry goes out the whole island sort of breathes a sigh of relief as life slows down."

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But despite her struggles, her former career made her life as a church leader a little easier.

"I was able to use all those skills from my time in education to help build support networks in Sark, which doesn't have an NHS or child support," said Karen.

One of those achievements was to introduce nursery education into the island's only school, after working with a health visitor from Jersey to set up early years programmes.

She also supported individuals and groups needing pastoral care, including a family whose child had autism.

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"I've learnt a lot about people, relationships and how a whole community can pull together, as residents in Sark are very resourceful, versatile and resilient," she added.

"If there's a death, it impacts the whole community and the island comes to a standstill for funerals.

"Last year, there were 15 or 16 deaths, so it was very hard for the community. The people who died were real characters.

"There was a couple, both in their 90s, who were there during the German occupation."

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But it was those very woes and losses that Karen believes made her braver.

She added: "I think I'm far more likely to take risks now and do things outside of my comfort zone. Living in Sark has definitely made me more resilient."

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