A breath of fresh air has been breezing through church life in Hove over the past six months.
Talisker MacLeod, 30, was ordained as a deacon in June and joined All Saints in The Drive as a curate, assisting Father Phil Ritchie, a relative newcomer to the parish himself.
She was ordained by a bishop who opposes women priests and she was part of what the church authorities described as “a bumper crop”.
The Reverend Talisker MacLeod stands out in a number of ways. She is tall and striking with flame orange hair. She is one of a growing number of women in the ministry although still a minority. And she has an unusual name.
Ask her about it and you start to get a flavour of the down to earth humour she brings to her spiritual calling.
Talisker is the name of a whisky taken from the place on the Isle of Skye where it’s distilled. She said: “It’s one of the finest single malts. It’s exceptionally nice, I have to say. I’ve been blessed by the spirit.”
She confessed to being a bit flippant and mischievous at times, saying: “I find it quite difficult sometimes to realise I’m now one of the pillars of the community.
“When people are being too serious I just want to poke fun. I’ve got wicked sense of humour.”
Sharing a name with a Scotch, it should be little surprise that Talisker ran the college bar when she was a classics student at St Andrews.
She said: “I left university knowing that the two things I was never going to do were being a teacher or a priest.”
Well, after a spell teaching, and just six months after being ordained as a deacon, she said: “I think that God has a sense of humour.”
In June she was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Chichester the Right Reverend John Hind, who is due to retire next April.
Like his predecessor, the late Eric Kemp, he has opposed the ordination of women priests although Talisker said: “Bishop John is remarkably supportive of us as people.”
Of her posting to All Saints she said: “I’m here to be trained. Your curacy is effectively your training post. I’m here to experience ministry in as many of its varied forms as is feasible.”
Talisker is not the only curate at All Saints. Father David Weaver is the other assistant curate at the church.
Talisker said: “I do quite a lot of visiting – not just to the old and the housebound but also to younger people who’ve come to the church.
“I take part in various services. I run a house group. Father David runs a Bible study and a prayer group and I get to help him out there from time to time. I taught one of the confirmation classes recently.”
Those classes are a sign of the changes at All Saints. While most of the congregation are 75 to 95, a growing number of young families and their children are attending.
She added: “We run a brilliant youth group on Tuesday evenings called Hove Hut. About 50 youngsters come along. If anything, we need more volunteers to help run it.”
All Saints is the only church in Hove listed on the Changing Attitudes website. The site helps gay and lesbian Christians work out where they will be welcome to worship.
Talisker said: “This is a very friendly, very welcoming and very lovely church. We have a tangibly and visibly growing number of young families. And we’re an inclusive church.
“Our strapline is the church for everyone in Hove.
“Music is a very important part of the tradition here. The congregation are very proud of their robed choir.
“This isn’t high church. This isn’t low church. It’s sunny side of the middle.
“We’re just firmly Anglican with the odd touch of a smell from time to time. We only use incense on high days and holidays.
“This is still the civic church and very proud of being so but it’s very mindful of being a parish church with a vibrant and loving community.
“We want to make this building a real resource for the community so it can be a real asset.
“We’ve got this marvellous gift that we want to share.”
While the doors are often shut, to try to keep the heat in, All Saints is increasingly open.
And at this time of year many will go along for the carol service on Sunday (18 December) at 5.30pm.
Expect the children’s crib service at 3pm on Christmas Eve to be popular and Midnight Mass at 11pm – with carols from 10.30pm.
All Saints also holds a family service at 10am on Christmas Day.
Advent and Christmas are times of hope and joy in the church calendar. And there is a weight of expectation on the likes of the Reverend Talisker MacLeod and the rest of the bumper crop.
Given Brighton and Hove’s reputation as a godless city, perhaps they could yet be the answer to the Church of England’s prayers.