Rev Deacon John Penny

John Penny was ordained deacon by Bishop Brian in July 2001 at St Vincent’s. The position enables John to have a career, family and to play an important role in the parish. In this interview, John reflects on his childhood in Coventry, the development of his career in design and the future of the church.

Coventry is a midlands city once synonymous with industry and manufacturing. John’s father was an electric draughtsman, working for Alfred Herbert’s, a large scale machine tool company. This directly influenced John’s thinking and future plans. As a young man he became interested in technical illustration. After completing his A Levels, John’s interest moved from technical illustration and toward graphic design. He decided to study this subject at Lanchester Polytechnic, which is now Coventry University.

Coventry was a city of industry, so John’s teaching was based around hot metal and letter press printing. John’s training was similar to that of a traditional printer, until computer graphic design began to emerge. The 1980’s saw the emergence of the silicon chip, allowing computer graphic design to fully develop.

Coventry has played an important role in John’s life. It is the city he grew up in. World War II directly impacted upon Coventry, with the city bombed heavily during The Blitz. On November 14th 1940, Germany dropped 500 tons of explosives on Coventry, nearly destroying the city. Coventry was the home of Rolls Royce, who located in the city centre and manufactured engines for war planes. The Rolls Royce Merlin engine powered the Spitfire and Hurricane, so the company was an obvious target. After the war, the city was forced to embrace change. Lanchester Polytechnic, where John studied, was formed to help the city recover and progress.

Coventry City Football Club also helped define the city, particularly during the 1970’s. This was not a good decade for English football, with hooligan culture dominant. John remembers seeing Milwall and Leeds United fans “rampaging” through the city centre. While Coventry was traditionally a white, working class city, this began to change. The city became popular with immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, particularly in the post-war decades. Quarters such as Folshill became particularly associated with Asian culture, assuming a similar identity to Manchester’s Rusholme.

John is clearly comfortable with change. He has embraced it in his own life. He realizes graphic designers, like many other creative professionals, do face challenges in the digital age. Young people are now creating their own web sites and publishing their own work at home. He appreciates that “everything is changing.” John feels that “good design is effective communication,” so simplicity is often preferable to complexity. He comments that all media is based upon direct communication.

John points out that St Vincent’s web site exists so the church can communicate with the parish. However, John also appreciates that St Vincent’s parish is a conservative one. The majority of parishioners still rely upon the announcement at mass, the new letter and the parish magazine. However, he hopes this will change, and that the web site will assume a more important position in the parish. For this to happen, the web site should be simple and easy to use.

John sees the Proclamation of the Good News and the teaching of Jesus Christ as the bedrock of the parish. In his view the church stands for clear principles and it does care for people who are in need. John sees Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul as inspirational figures, while he also admires St Francis of Assisi. While John is aware that his interpretation of the church and its role is a traditional one, he also feels it is the truest.

Image taken in June 2006
The crucifix, in St Vincent's garden