The Anglican Diocese of Trinidad and Tobago now has its first female dean and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, its first female rector in the appointment of the Very Reverend Shelley-Ann Tenia to both positions.
Tenia, 41, who was appointed earlier this month by Anglican Bishop Claude Berkley, told Newsday yesterday, she did not expect the appointments, but was prepared to get the work done.
Asking people to keep her in their prayers as she goes about her work, she said, “I would like to hear from people how they see the church and the cathedral in particular in the context of their life and the nation.”
The church, she said, “has an important role to play in our civic engagement and in turning the nation around given the current economic and social state of the country.”
As rector, she is the senior priest in charge of the parish. As dean, she represents the church in the wider national landscape and the parish at the diocesan level. She has to ensure that the cathedral serves its purposes for pilgrimage, spiritual formation, helping people discover their spirituality, being a space for tourists, and for civic engagement and national service.
As dean, she will also chair the Cathedral Chapter, a group of senior clergy made up of canons and archdeacons, who advise the bishop on matters of spirituality, theology, administration and the likes.
Yesterday was Tenia’s first day on the job after returning from a two-week orientation period at St Michael the Archangel Church in Barbados. She led the morning worship and Eucharist at 6.15 am. When Newsday first saw her during the morning hours, she was meeting with her staff. She then met the cathedral’s caretaker and the rector’s warden separately, then went to the intensive care unit of the Port of Spain General Hospital to anoint a patient. All this was done during the morning.
Asked about her objectives, she said, “To keep building on what we have achieved since 1823 when the cathedral started. My work is to continue that. Even if I find something good, it is for me to now make it better.”
When she leaves, she said she too should be a better person.
Tenia takes over from Reverend Carl Williams who was interim rector. The diocese had been without a dean for the past four years.
On being a woman to hold both senior positions, she said, “I am no fool. I am aware of the historicity of the moment. I am aware of how many would see this in the context of the church, in the life of women around the region, particularly being in traditional patriarchal spaces, such as administrative and decision-making levels.”
She understands the issue of the cracking of the “stained glass ceiling” and it being a bit of a breakthrough for women but, she said, “I am not allowing myself to get distracted by that because the work needs to get done. It is hard work. It is going to take time, arduous, but it is going to be good.” The church has seven women priests and six women deacons.
As rector for the head church of the Anglican diocese in TT, Tenia said, “I am very comfortable with the responsibility. I just spent five years in preparation for this at the Holy Saviour Parish in Curepe.”
Tenia was installed as rector of Holy Saviour in 2014 and was installed as priest in charge there in December 2012.
Prior to that, she was a priest at All Saints Parish around the Queen’s Park Savannah from February 2008 to November 2012. “When I moved from All Saints, I was an assistant curate,” she said
Tenia was ordained a deacon at Holy Trinity in May, 2005 and was placed at St John’s Church in Barbados for six months. On her return she was placed at Holy Trinity where she remained until the end of January 2008. She was ordained a priest at the cathedral in October 2006.
Tenia, who holds a bachelor of science degree in psychology and human services counselling and a masters degree in divinity from Virginia Theological Seminary, USA, was born and raised in San Fernando. “I am a proud southerner”, she said.