On Saturday I went to the Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Marcella Althaus Reid. Once you met Marcella, you never forgot her. She had an incredible impact on so many lives in her short time on this earth. She was so full of life and such an inspiration.
The service was taken by Revd Peter Macdonald at St George’s West church. Marcella and her husband Gordon attended there although, as Peter said, nobody could claim her. She was Methodist, Roman Catholic, Quaker, and more. She loved the Roman Catholic tat of her childhood and her office was festooned with Sacred Hearts and rosaries (of the plastic variety) and gorgeous smells. You didn’t ever sneer at pink plastic rosaries more than once in her presence – “These are treasures to the poor of South America! They may cost you pennies but they are treasures to the poor!”
Lesley Orr and others read out testaments to Marcella throughout the service from people all over the world who had met and loved her. Prof Larry Hurtado spoke on behalf of New College about her work in Feminist Theology, Liberation Theology and Post-colonial Theology. New College choir sang that spiritual which talks of trembling and the name of which I forget.
Cecilia Clegg from New College gave the main homily talking of her life growing up in Argentina and training to be a school teacher. However she was taken by the Methodist church where women could play a role in leadership and went on to study divinity. She went to Scandanavia for a long course and met her husband, Gordon. She spent time in Germany and then came to Scotland, working in Dundee with Paulo Freire and the poor. She did her PhD at St Andrew’s University, firstly with Daphne Hampson doing Feminist Theology but that didn’t work out and she transferred to Liberation Theology.
For a woman lecturer in New College things were never easy. There was (and I sense, still is) prejudice from the ‘old school’. But amongst the students she was incredibly popular. You never forget the sight of that diminutive woman in stilletos and bright nail varnish and seams down the back of her stockings. She spoke with passion and enthusiasm which was incredibly infectious. I remember some boys sniggering at her accent after a lunch session in the pub and she tores strips off them. I can’t remember how many languages she spoke but it was considerably more than those boys.
The poor and marginalised of all societies were her friends. First it was Liberation of the poor, then women, then gay people. She attended the Metropolitan Community Church and we sang her favourite hymn/song from there: ‘When the music fades’. Her first publication was Indecent Theology but in the last years of her life she became incredibly prolific, bringing Queer Theology to the forefront of the world’s theological stage. She ws invited to speak all over the world and it was said that the only time she was nervous was when she heard Jacques Derrida was coming to hear her.
Cecilia Clegg called her a mystic and I have no doubt that is true. As she lay in the hospice she spoke of the curtain she would shortly move through to the other side. She was just four years older than me when she died.
To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.
Rest in peace, Marcella, rest in peace and rise in glory.
PS Forgive me if this is not an accurate remembering of all that I heard on that day.