In times of trouble and celebration

Suzanne Cooke, chaplain to the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, with her ponies, Bernie, left

Suzanne Cooke, chaplain to the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, with her ponies, Bernie, left, 11, and Kenny, 10. Picture: Denise Bradley - Credit: copyright: Archant 2014

Within the Diocese of Norwich Suzanne Cooke is the priest in charge of the Upper Tas Valley Benefice – a group of churches to the south of Norwich – and, since July 2013, has been “gifted” the role of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association’s (RNAA) chaplain by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

The RNAA chaplain offers support to the almost 4,000 members and helps build a bridge between the ancient Christian tradition and the lives of the modern people in rural communities across the county.

“Fundamentally my role is to be there for the RNAA members who need a friendly ear or some advice at a tricky time. I am a neutral party, whose vocation is to help and support those around me,” says Suzanne, who was given the role of RNAA chaplain due to her strong background in agriculture and the equine industry.

Greg Smith, chief executive officer for the RNAA explains: “The nature of farming has changed radically over the past 50 years and can, at times, be a very challenging lifestyle for many of our members who give everything to their profession. The RNAA chaplain is therefore a key role which provides support for people when times become tough. Suzanne fulfils this role wonderfully by being an extremely compassionate and helpful companion, capable of giving advice to those in need of guidance.”

Suzanne continues: “There is still a lack of understanding about the issues facing farmers in the 21st century which can cause a sense of isolation for those in rural communities. Processors, retailers and consumers have understandably high expectations, which adds pressure to the farmer to deliver. Farming today is a technically complex business and the financial viability of agricultural enterprises are sometimes very challenging. It is my job, if it’s needed, to support the farmers pastorally, by helping them to deal with the additional strain the fast pace of change brings.”

In addition to meeting the needs of the RNAA members, another duty for the chaplain is to be present at the association’s main events throughout the year, including the Spring Fling (April 9, this year), the Royal Norfolk Show (June 25 and 26) and the Harvest Festival held at Norwich Cathedral (October 12).

Part of a team of cross-denominational chaplains present at the Royal Norfolk Show, Suzanne’s official duties as RNAA chaplain are to support the president, chairman and the show team throughout and also attend the pre-show judges’ and stewards’ dinner, where she will say grace.

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“This may sound straightforward, but traditionally the grace has been of broad appeal, gently witty, current affairs savvy and usually rhyming – I started working on this year’s back in December!” says Suzanne. “I think it’s really important for the chaplain to be a visible presence at the show – wearing a clerical collar gives a wonderful license to smile and speak to all kinds of people, many of whom would never normally come into contact with a ‘vicar’.”

About the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association

The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association (RNAA) is a registered charity which aims to help educate young people and adults, and to bring people and business together through a range of inspiring events to promote a better understanding of food, farming and the countryside. Through the funds it generates, the RNAA annually supports its charitable aims through an extensive educational outreach programme and by making grants and donations to agricultural projects and related organisations around Norfolk. For more information on the RNAA visit