Chaplain at County Hall and Norfolk coroner’s court, Rev Chris Copsey is a friendly face in troubled times

It's not just bereaved families that the Rev Chris Copsey offers support to during inquests in her role as the coroner's chaplain.

It's also sometimes the reporters who have to cover the inquests for the newspaper.

I'm an old hack when it comes to inquests, but many of our younger reporters really appreciate her friendliness and help.

It's not pleasant for any reporter to have to cover inquests and it can be daunting for young journalists to face bereaved families, many of whom are not too keen on our presence anyway.

Mrs Copsey was assigned to the coroner's court in January 2011, and Norfolk was the first county in the UK to have such a chaplain.

She works alongside Witness Support whenever inquests are held, which can be up to three days a week.

'I feel it's a much needed post,' she said. 'There's a great need for people to have somewhere that is safe. I provide a safe space and a listening ear.

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'This job is about deaths, but also about people's lives and their families.

'I'm there to support, but it's not just for the bereaved families. I'm also there for professional witnesses, who sometimes get overlooked, but maybe need it as much.

'Just listening and being alongside someone is hugely important. People tell me all kinds of stories that help them to relax and to forget the whole procedure for a while. It's also great having such a wonderful coroner for Norfolk in William Armstrong.'

Mrs Copsey, from Castle Acre, west Norfolk, has also been chaplain at County Hall in Norwich for nearly five years, and has made many friends among the 1,300 people – about 70pc of whom are women – who work there.

She is there one and a half days a week and is also a visible presence at carol concerts and armed forces days. She also delivers council prayers at each full meeting before it starts.

'Council prayers have been a contentious issue in places like Devon, but I do it before the full meeting and there's no compulsion to attend, although most councillors do.'

She also works with the Good Work Industrial Mission to support and resource workplace chaplains through networking, training, publication and biennial conferences.

Born in Nottingham she went to school at Bilborough Grammar and then on to teacher training college in Lincolnshire. She met future husband Graham, who was at RAF Cranwell, and they married in 1972.

RAF life took them to many parts of the country and they even spent three years living in Munich. She has been a primary school teacher in Cambridgeshire, Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire, and a supply teacher in Norfolk, where she endured a 'tough' placement at the Larkman Primary School in Norwich in the late 1970s.

She was also once vice-chairman of Castle Acre Parish Council, where she has lived for 21 years. She was a parish councillor for 12 years and chairman of governors in a large infant and nursery school.

Her husband was involved in a serious road accident and was invalided out of the airforce, but has made a second career in the NHS. She was a reader in the Church of England before she went in for ordination training.

'I was a late starter. I was engaged in the Church when our children were small and helped at Sunday school, and it grew from there. I was a reader for eight years, and the calling grew for ordination. I have been ordained now about five-and-a-half years.'

Her calling to vocation came about following lots of prayers.

'I felt God was calling me to move in that direction,' she said.

With Christmas fast approaching, it was a great time to take stock, she said.

'Advent gives you that time. I once called it a pregnant pause. It's a time before Jesus was born. 'Christmas is wonderful, but it can also be a sad time for many people, and quite a lonely time. But it's a wonderful celebration of God's gift of love.'

However, she admitted that it was easy to become sucked into the commercial aspect of the celebration. 'But every time you see a child taking part in a nativity play, you see that sense of wonder and delight.'

She skirted the issue of women bishops in the Church of England and the Churches' stance on gay marriage, but said: 'It's sad that all people see of the Church is arguments over women priests and homosexuality, and sad that we have come to this very embattled state. But with some prayer and thoughts and grace, we can offer that gift of love that is so important.' But she said she was far too old now to be a bishop, even if the general synod had not opposed the idea of women bishops. In her spare time she loves gardening and is a season ticket holder at Leicester Tigers rugby club.

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