Secretarial: I Work For... Archbishop of York - This job was heaven sent

Mary Murray is Private Secretary to the Archbishop of York
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The Independent Culture
I have been private secretary to the Archbishop of York for 10 years - six for John Habgood and the last four for Dr David Hope. Before starting here at Bishopthorpe Palace I worked for a variety of companies. In the Sixties I did secretarial work for the BBC, Habitat, Terence Conran, and the trade unionist Clive Jenkins.

I moved from London to Yorkshire initially because my husband found a job here, but when I saw the advertisement for this vacancy I thought it sounded fascinating. Religion was very much on my mind at the time, and I felt as if God had pushed me into applying. I didn't actually become religious until I was in my thirties, which was when I had a religious experience. I had this feeling that God was around, an almost annoying presence - well, I shouldn't really say that because I'll probably get lots of bishops phoning me up to complain. It was more of a constant presence. These feelings started happening all of a sudden, completely out of the blue.

When I applied for the job I thought that the Palace would be really old-fashioned, with everyone sitting on stools and writing with quill pens, and I was slightly dreading it. When I arrived I found it was very modern, everyone had computers. And I think other people still have similar perceptions of the place; they ask me if I'm on e-mail and then act really surprised when they find that I am. My role is also very different from what I had anticipated: I thought it would be purely secretarial, but I'm really a manager and adviser as well as an administrator. In a way, I've been given the freedom to develop the role.

When I heard that David Hope was joining I was very glad; he was the Bishop of London and I expected him to be rather holy, wise, patient and kind. I wanted him to come here because I knew he would be good at the job, but what I didn't expect was that he would be able to make me laugh - and he does. He told us that we all had to give up eating biscuits for Lent, and then we found him trying to sneak one or two when he thought we weren't looking. By nature, he's a funny man and I think this helps him in dealing with the stress of the job.

We have always worked well together and still do. We don't always agree: he's from York and I'm from Lancashire, so it's a little bit like the War of the Roses. When we disagree, I think it's the Yorkshire in him.

I think many of my friends were flabbergasted that I could do this job, and at times it's very daunting. It's a major responsibility working for someone who holds such a senior role in the Church of England, but you have to be a normal person like he is. I think the ability to listen, to do three things at once, and to be tactful but firm are all important in this role. When there is a political situation or controversy in the press, as there was recently over the Archbishop's views on female bishops, my job is affected only by the increased number of e-mails, letters and calls. The Archbishop has a press officer who takes the pressure off. When members of the public ring up and demand to see the Archbishop, you have to be quite firm. A lot of them seem to think he has nothing to do all day. I have to listen to them, and I think it helps.

I haven't had any formal training for this job, apart from bringing up my two children, Olivia, 22 and Laura, 20. They tease me to death, saying: "You may be the Archbishop's secretary, but what's for tea?"

I really enjoy my job because no one day is like another; you could be managing the properties we own or attending to the grounds, looking after staff or health and safety matters. I have to be a brilliant organiser because there are receptions, dinners, visits and also the Archbishop's diary to organise.

I'm quite strict about the hours I work (nine to five): I have a family and I don't think anyone is any good after five o'clock. I only stay late if there is a holiday coming up and it gets quite busy. The Archbishop goes on retreat at Easter, and arrangements have to be made for Easter messages in the press. Managing the budget is the hardest part - it's not easy to find the right suppliers. Because it's the Church, you have to make it clear that you're not a fool in these matters.

I feel that perhaps I've come as far as I can. There are only two jobs like this in the country, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury's PA has a very different role from me. They have 50 members of staff and we have 15. I would like to stay until my retirement. The staff get on very well. Last week we all went out to the local pub, and I think the Archbishop would have come with us if he hadn't been away.

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