Tomorrow, on Saturday 15th September 2012, I start ordination training at Ripon College Cuddesdon (also known as the Holy Hill, or the Holy Hogwarts and recently described by Revd Richard Coles as the CofE’s Sandhurst!)
In a box of my mother’s old theology books unearthed from the roof last weekend, among a heavily scribbled on copy of ‘Faith in the Countryside’ and much feminist and liberation theology, I found her ‘working’ copy of the Bible, an NRSV with Apocrypha.
So ended my search for a lighter NRSV to carry for college, having decided I didn’t really want to carry her Annotated Oxford NRSV which weighs in at 3.25lb an may yet be used as a door stop. This one weighs just less than 2.5lbs, but that’s not the only reason I’ll be using it during training.
My mother was a strong character who dominated my childhood, had a dangerous grasp of the English language, and was lethal in her use of a walking stick, wielded from the haven of her folding chair at anyone she wished to speak to – even Bishop’s could not withstand it’s knee numbing impact!
Mum worked hard at Deanery and Diocesan Synods in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a wider use of lay ministry, for a recognition of the difficulties faced by the church in rural communities, and for the ordination of women. Sponsored by the Diocese of Winchester, she studied Pastoral Theology at La Sainte Union in Southampton, though she never completed her degree because she died of cancer in January 1996. She owned the first computer in the family, but thankfully never met the internet, Facebook or Twitter – she’d have loved the idea of harnessing social media to share her faith and viewpoints!
Although we shared our Christian faith, and she’d actually found her faith journey encouraged by my church links at college in Aberystwyth, I didn’t want to follow through on her interests. But as I have deliberately sought to make my own path in faith and ministry, I have been increasingly aware how much all I have been enabled to do results from the work of people like her. And, here I am starting ordination training, wanting to concentrate particularly on (among other things) rural ministry! She will be laughing heartily right now, full of pride and sharing the joke with God!
I’ve never been particularly prone to emotional outbursts, even (or especially) about my mother. However, inside the Bible, among the snippets of paper (for which she was infamous) and quotations written into the blank cover pages, I found her words at her mothers’ funeral, and my words at hers (which I must have placed there shortly after).
I also found and the notes I reprint below. Sixteen years after her death and in light of my own prayers and fears at this point in time, I wanted to share them through my tears and laughter. I suspect that at this particular juncture in the life of people I’m about to meet, and in the history of the Church of England, they may speak to others as well as to myself:
On a blank page at the front of the Bible:
John Chrystostom to Olympias his deacon at Constantinople after his exile in 404:
“When the gale blows, a pilot controls his ship by adjusting the sail, and so steers the vessel safely. You already know this, my dear lady, most beloved of God, so don’t give yourself up to the tyranny of sadness, but be mistress of the storm, which you can do, if you use your reason; the waves are not too powerful for your skill.”
On a thin sheet of paper, in her neatest handwriting, unattributed to anyone else Mum wrote:
I believe in God.
I believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for us. For all of us.
How can we as Christians deny the right of any who are called to serve Christ, to test that call, regardless of gender.
Inside the Bible cover is written a quotation by Henry van Dyke:
He who planteth a tree is a servant of God.
He provideth a kindness for many generations,
And faces which he hath not seen shall bless him.
Finally, on a scrap of paper torn from a notebook, a reminder of my Mother’s sense of humour:
Middle Age is when it takes twice as long to rest and half as long to get tired.
At last, like never before, I can thank God for my Mother, her wisdom, and all that she gave me.