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News > Old Aylesburian Profiles > Will Adam (Paterson '88)

Will Adam (Paterson '88)

Will shares stories of his time at AGS, his travels, and how he became the Director of Unity, Faith and Order and Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.
Dr. Will Adam with Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury
Dr. Will Adam with Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury

Dr Will Adam was in Paterson and studied Spanish, Politics, and Economics at A-Level, although in hindsight he claims that was a mistake! “I found politics very hard and whilst economics was fascinating, I didn’t necessarily have the aptitude. I have spent over thirty years saying, ‘I should have done English’” Will said. John Brown, Director of Music, described Will in his Year 11 report as ‘histrionic and over vociferous at times’. “Those who were at school with me will probably say that that sums it up nicely.” Will was ordained in 1994 and was the youngest cleric in the Church of England at the time. He is now the Director of Unity, Faith and Order and Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion.

His memories of the school are more of people than places and he made many great friends at AGS and feels he has benefitted enormously from his education here. He has managed to keep in touch with a number of his school friends and social media, along with our OA Community, has enabled him to connect with others. “I had a couple of close friends from primary school, Neil Paterson and Patrick Ryan. We went to AGS together on our first day in 1982 and, I think, probably went together on our last day in 1988.”

Will felt the most striking change to experience during his school years was the rise of the computer. When he first arrived at AGS there was a single classroom with a handful of big computers on the ground floor of the Tower Block, today known as Classics 1. “It was here that I first saw a modem; an old-fashioned telephone receiver stuck into some sort of box which enabled a computer to turn on a kettle.” Will said. When time came for Will to leave AGS, the computer block was fully functional with rows of computers linked together by a server. “We weren’t yet in the age of the internet, but, looking back, the speed of development was breath-taking.”

“There were a number of teachers whose influence is still with me.” Will is still in touch with Tim Hancock who was his tutor for the majority of his time at school. Also, Arthur Taylor’s legacy in History still remains with him. Will and Arthur once took adjacent funerals in Amersham Crematorium and it was a joy for them to meet again, despite the strange circumstances. “For those who might remember him blowing a bugle in the library to shut people up, I’m afraid that that is down to me.” Will shared that it was him and his friend Richard Bracewell (Paterson ‘88) who bought the bugle for Mr. Taylor as a gift!

The teacher that Will had for the longest was John Hunt, Head of Spanish, who died tragically young. His enthusiasm for Spanish rubbed off on Will and lead to him studying the language. Much later, Will’s daughter and John’s granddaughters were founding members of the girls’ choir at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. “Interestingly, a number of teachers from my time have ended up in holy orders like me. I served in the Diocese of Oxford with Nick Gandy, who had taught biology, and two of my maths teachers ended up ordained – Helen Chantry and Dr Robin Grayson.”

Joel Barrie, fellow OA, long serving teacher, and Head of Football at the school was in the same year as Will and here is a lovely anecdote from a time they went travelling together:

“His interest in football doesn’t seem to have waned even if, back then, there was no association football at the school. Joel and I went interrailing together a year after leaving school and on one day, whilst staying in a youth hostel somewhere in central Italy we split up to go on different pilgrimages for a day or two: I went to Assisi to the holy sites relating to St Francis and St Clare and he went to Milan to watch Inter play Juventus!”

The first inklings of a calling to the priesthood came to Will during the summer between the lower and upper sixth. By the end of school, “it had become a bit of a thing and I began to be nicknamed ‘Will The Vicar’” he said.

Will wanted to read law at university but he didn’t make the offers due to undesirable A level results. With thanks to KD Smith (Headmaster 1967-92), Will received a place to read a combined course in the Arts Faculty at Manchester University. He studied theology and social anthropology in his first year but then transferred to just theology in his second. “To be honest I was very fortunate to go to such a good university and, finally, found an academic subject at which I was quite good.” Will went on to train for ordination at Cambridge and spent a semester studying in the World Council of Churches’ graduate school programme in Geneva. Though, Will never left the idea of law behind and in his 30’s went on to study for his masters and a doctorate in law and religion at Cardiff University – Dr Adam.

Since being ordained in 1994, Will returned to Buckinghamshire to curate in Beaconsfield. Since then, he has worked in parishes in West Oxfordshire, Cambridge, and in North London. He now lives in rural West Sussex with his wife who is the Rector of a parish and eight churches.

In his current role as Director of Unity, Faith and Order and Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Dr Adam spends lots of time abroad, visiting and engaging with other churches. He frequently visits places such as Rome and Istanbul. “The department of Unity, Faith and Order co-ordinates the Anglican Communion’s relationships with other Christian churches as we seek greater unity in a divided Christianity. We also have a consultative role in the areas of Christian doctrine, liturgy and church law around the Communion.” Will said.

Will only began this combination of roles recently, in March 2021, before this he spent four years working with the Archbishop of Canterbury as his Ecumenical Adviser and continues to support the Archbishop in his ecumenical relationships around the world. “I have, since student days, had a deep interest in and love for the Church in all its rich diversity. Division and disagreement between Christian brothers and sisters is a source of great pain and we would do a better job of preaching a gospel of reconciliation if we were reconciled one with another. “

Will shared with us how much he has travelled with the Church and how the pandemic has impacted him. “Pre-pandemic I travelled a great deal. I have been with the Archbishop to places as diverse as Jerusalem, Rome, Serbia, Russia and India. I have also been to meetings and conferences in Latin America, Europe, Africa and the Middle and Far East. Nothing in the Antipodes yet, though. Travel is exciting and interesting but being away from home is tough. And the glamour is short lived when you are sitting, delayed, in Doha airport in the middle of the night crying into your gin and tonic and wishing you were home. Post-pandemic I think travel will reduce. Online meetings cannot wholly replace face-to-face encounter, but they can save time, money and carbon emissions and should do so.”

Will finds it hard to put his finger on one highlight of his career thus far but he loves the unpredictable excitement of a big church event in India. He also enjoys meeting interesting people - Patriarchs and Popes, President Obama and the Prince of Wales have all come across his radar in the last couple of years. However, “at the same time the seemingly glamourous is not more important. Sometimes the quieter encounter can have the most lasting effect.” Will added.

Dr Adam advises to listen before you speak, it’s still a temptation for him to do the opposite. Furthermore, based on his own experience, he says to take the subjects in which you are likely to get the highest marks. “There are few university courses that require particular subjects but your options are kept open the better you do.”

Looking to the future, there are some big events coming up in the next few years, with the Lambeth Conference bringing together all the bishops of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury in summer 2022. There is a meeting of the Primates in spring 2022 and of the Anglican Consultative Council in spring 2023. “In terms of the future beyond that, who knows. I don’t suppose I would have known five years ago what I am doing now but I am sure that God will guide me to where I go next.”

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