Reverend Canon Dr Ellen Loudon
Ellen, or Reverend Canon Dr Ellen Loudon to give her full title, is the Director of Social Justice for the Diocese of Liverpool and Canon Chancellor of Liverpool Cathedral. Ellen is also a graduate of our drama programme, having completed her studies as the polytechnic gained university status in the early 1990s.
So how does a drama graduate go on to become a priest with the Church of England? Well for Ellen religion and attending church was always a part of her life, but when it came to academia, she was very torn when she was at sixth from college as to what she would eventually go on to study.
“I couldn’t decide whether I was going to study theology, archaeology, or drama,” explained Ellen. “My youth leader said maybe you should study drama first, get it over and done with, and also, I really enjoyed drama and that’s the thing I really excelled at in my A-levels. I had a really good sixth form college where it was very creative, it has a really creative environment. When I came up here to look at the drama department it was the same sort of buzz. Really creative, excellent tutors, just a really positive environment. And I think it still is, the drama department still seems like a buzzing place.”
So, in 1987 Ellen moved from Surrey up to Liverpool, ready to take on the adventure of doing a drama degree.
She was a little surprised not to find herself living and studying in the city centre, as at the time many of the Arts and humanities subjects were taught at the C.F. Mott campus, but by her third year she made it into town for the full city experience.
“It was a really good degree, it was a combined honours degree at that point so in the first year we did lots, four or five subjects, and then specialised in the second and third year. Because it was a very creative environment, we were thrown into lots of different genres and workstreams. We were encouraged to not just act, but to also think about directing and how to organise scenes and stage management and publicity. So, we were able to do all of those things.”
The range of skills taught on the programme enabled Ellen and her fellow students to even take shows up to the now infamous Edinburgh Fringe Festival, something she says was a real standout memory from her studies.
“I think one of the biggest highlights was getting enough energy and being robust enough to get to Edinburgh Fringe for two summers. Looking back on it I think it is extraordinary that we were this well organised - given the fact we were drama students and naturally chaotic people! But we actually booked a venue at the Fringe for four weeks and we were able to fill it with shows that were Liverpool John Moores students shows, which was really fantastic. And they sold well. We didn’t make any money but there were about 35 of us living in a two-bedroom flat, we just sort of took it in turns to go to sleep. In 1990/91 it was early doors, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was big but not like it is now, but it was still really exciting.”
And while performing was a huge highlight, Ellen’s own natural desire for social justice was as present as a student as it is today. Ellen explains how a large part of student life was about getting involved in political matters of the day and fighting for the rights of future students.
“We felt as drama students we were at the cutting edge of political conversation and discourse that was difficult to be able to express in other environments really. Students have student loans now, but we were marching to stop student loans, for fees, for all of those things that we were taking for granted but knew that students ahead of us were going to have. They were going to be shouldering a massive amount of debt. I was able to sign-on in the summer between studies, now students get very little support at all, those political campaigns were really important.
“Clause 28, legislation against LGBTQI people at that time was coming into force, and you know as students we were like ‘no that’s not on our watch’. Poll tax, what we take for granted, if students hadn’t of marched that would have been really quite a difficult thing for people to carry that burden. The political campaigns were important.”
“When I came up here to look at the drama department it was the same sort of buzz. Really creative, excellent tutors, just a really positive environment. And I think it still is, the drama department still seems like a buzzing place.”
– Ellen Loudon
Combining her passion for activism with her theatre knowledge, Ellen found a job working for a theatre company in Leeds upon completion of her studies. “The kind of work that we were doing was in youth clubs and schools, encouraging young people to engage in making the world a better place and telling them really good stories, and using art and creativity to do that.”
From there, following another lifelong passion for pop music, Ellen studied with the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Popular Music gaining a master’s and even tried her hand at lecturing herself, before deciding that the path ahead would be with the church.
“I actually started lecturing in drama and popular performance at Edge Hill University and then that took me into postgraduate studies. From my MA I started to study for my PhD in 19th Century popular performance.
“And throughout all that time I was sort of wrestling with faith and calling and really felt like I’d had such a privilege to be able to do all the work that I’d ever wanted to do. It always felt cool to be engaged in drama and creativity and activism and things. And it seems totally logical to me that I would then be called to be a priest in the Church of England, but I recognise that that might not be as logical to other people!”
In 2006 she went forward for training as a priest, adding a fourth degree in theology to her academic exploits, and was ordained at Liverpool Cathedral in 2008, serving in parishes in West Everton and Walton (it was very exciting for an Evertonian to work so close to Goodison Park, Ellen says).
“And then this job came up, which was a really good combination for me of being a Director in the Diocese for Social Justice and engaging in activism, but also being able to have a home and base here in Liverpool as Canon Chancellor and do the same sort of work here for justice and mercy, and those sorts of things, but to do it in a particular location. It’s been a journey! And then being able to do loads of work outside of the church because of having this office and being able to be here. I’ve worked with the Metro Mayor quite a lot, with the voluntary, faith and social enterprise sector. So, it’s really, really exciting work and all from a humble LJMU degree!”
Coming full circle, as LJMU hosts its twice annual graduation ceremonies at the magnificent Liverpool Cathedral, Ellen alongside other cathedral clergy, preside over the ceremonies as thousands of students pick up their honours each year.
“I have to hold back tears every time because it’s so beautiful, celebrating all of that work that people have done, and the tutors, and the faculty, supporting people to get through. People aren’t messing around, this is a commitment that these students will carry for their whole lives financially. And hopefully the degree that they get will give them the opportunities that it gave me to just keep wandering through life making good choices and being an LJMU legend like myself!”