New Year joke

One day in the Garden of Eden, Eve calls out to God:

“Lord, I have a problem.”

“What’s the problem, Eve?”

“Lord, you’ve created me and provided this beautiful spot, these wonderful animals, and that comedic snake, but I’m just not happy.”

“Why is that, Eve?” came the voice from above.

“Lord, I am lonely. And I’m sick to death of apples.”

“Well, perhaps I have a solution. I shall create a man for you.”

“What’s a man, Lord?”

“Man will be a flawed creature, with aggressive tendencies, an enormous ego and an inability to empathize. All in all, he’ll give you a hard time. But he’ll be bigger, faster, and stronger than you. And while he’ll need your advice to think properly, he’ll be good at fighting, kicking a ball around, hunting fleet-footed ruminants, and not altogether bad in the sack.

“Sounds good to me,” says Eve. “But isn’t there a catch, Lord?”

“Yeah, well, there is one.”

“What’s that, Lord?”

“You’ll have to let him believe that I made him first.”

Women’s voices

I think I picked this book up at the Christian Aid Sale and what a find. I’ve been carrying it around with me for days now, underlining bits and copying down poems and prose too good to forget.

Put together by Michele Guiness it is a series of meditations on women’s lives from birth to death and stopping off at childbirth, motherhood, sexuality and various other places until it gets to maturity and death. Not all the contributors are women but it is all about women and I found so much to ponder.

I feel a Quiet Day coming on for women and the men who love them…

For every woman…

For every woman who is tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong,
there is a man who is tired of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable;

For every woman who is tired of acting dumb,
there is a man who is burdened
with the constant expectation of ‘knowing everything’;

For every woman who is tired of being called ‘an emotional female’,
there is a man who is denied the right to weep and to be gentle;

For every woman who is called unfeminine when she competes,
there is a man for whom competition is the only way
to prove his masculinity;

For every woman who is tired of being a sex object,
there is a man who must worry about his potency;

For every woman who feels ‘tied down’ by her children,
there is a man who is denied the full pleasures of shared parenthood;

For every woman who is denied meaningful employment or equal pay,
there is a man who must bear full financial responsibility for another human being;

For every woman who was not taught the intricacies of an automobile,
there is a man who was not taught the satisfaction of cooking;

For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation,
there is a man who finds the way to freedom has been made a little easier.

Nancy R Smith, Images: Women in Transition

Litany for All Saints

Dear God, creator of women in your own image,
born of a woman in the midst of a world half women,
carried by women to mission fields around the globe,
made known by women to all the children of the earth,
give to the women of our time
the strength to persevere,
the courage to speak out,
the faith to believe in you beyond
all systems and institutions
so that your face on earth may be seen in all its beauty,
so that men and women become whole,
so that the Church may be converted to your will in
everything and in all ways.

We call on the holy women
who went before us,
channels of Your Word
in testaments old and new,
to intercede for us
so that we might be given the grace
to become what they have been
for the honour and glory of God.

Saint Esther, who pleaded against power for the liberation of the people. – Pray for us.
Saint Judith, who routed the plans of men and saved the community,
Saint Deborah, laywoman and judge, who led the people of God,
Saint Elizabeth of Judea, who recognised the value of another woman,
Saint Mary Magdalene, minister of Jesus, first evangelist of the Christ,
Saint Scholastica, who taught her brother Benedict to honour the spirit above the system,
Saint Hildegard, who suffered interdict for the doing of right,
Saint Joan of Arc, who put no law above the law of God,
Saint Clare of Assisi, who confronted the Pope with the image of women as equal,
Saint Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed for all of us the motherhood of God,
Saint Therese of Lisieux, who knew the call to priesthood in herself,
Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom the Pope listened,
Saint Teresa of Avila, who brought women’s gifts to the reform of the Church,
Saint Edith Stein, who brought fearlessness to faith,
Saint Elizabeth Seton, who broke down boundaries between lay women and religious by wedding motherhood and religious life,
Saint Dorothy Day, who led the Church to a new sense of justice.

Mary, mother of Jesus, who heard the call of God and answered,
Mary, mother of Jesus, who drew strength from the woman Elizabeth,
Mary, mother of Jesus, who underwent hardship bearing Christ,
Mary, mother of Jesus, who ministered at Cana,
Mary, mother of Jesus, inspirited at Pentecost,
Mary, mother of Jesus, who turned the Spirit of God into the body and blood of Christ, pray for us. Amen.

Joan Chittister, A Litany of Women for the Church
in The Living Spirit ed by Margaret Hebblethwaite

Queen of the Saints


The True Woman

Son #1 is living with me at the moment and is renowned for his home-made cards. We don’t always understand them, nor can we often put them on display for fear of offence, but it is the thought that counts, right?

Today I was presented with such a masterpiece. I should explain that he is studying English & Scottish Literature and on the theme of duality at the moment. So my card has this pic on the front.


If you can’t make out the poem here it is:

This horrible double-headed monster,
passing, does it not frighten you?
However, o great beast,
your two sides are often one.

Consider this infamous monster,
who not does hear any reason.
you will see that it is woman,
who is an Angel in Church and a devil at home.

It is all to do with a common belief in early modern Europe that women had a double nature, being simultaneously angels and demons. The depiction aslo reveals a second contemporary concern: one’s inability to tell from outer appearances a person’s inner nature. Such concerns were echoed in the period’s witchcraft craze, in which fear of women’s potential power to disrupt peace and order manifested itself in violent attacks against them.

Source: The True Woman. 17th c engraving. In A History of Women: Renaissance and Enlightenment Paradoxes, Davis and Farge.

And it was in purple. Bet you didn’t get one like it! Bless him.

After Lambeth

Off to Haddington today for the After Lambeth conference led by Lissa Smith and her husband Bishop Brian. You know how when people show you their holiday photos and you have to feign interest? Well this time we got to see photos of the Lambeth Conference and they were actually quite interesting. Not half as interesting as +Brian’s first attempts at Powerpoint. Great job really.

I’d already heard +B talking about his experiences so it was great to hear Lissa’s observations on the Spouses Conference. There were tales of fear, prejudice, shock and great courage shown in following their spouses to places of danger. Loved the quote that ‘the man is the head of the family but the woman is the neck, holding it all together’.  We had a look at the Rape of Tamar story which had been one of the bible studies they had used. Wonder why it never comes up in the Lectionary on Sundays?

And we continue to wrestle with the nuances of the moratoria:

  • bishops in same sex relationships
  • blessings of those in same sex relationships
  • cross border incursions

For example, do these include those who are celibate or in civil partnerships?

And a question to consider:

How do these issues (Human Sexuality and Resolution 1.10; the Anglican Covenant’ and the Windsor Process), which our locality invites us to consider in a particular way, appear in the context of the global communion?

We need to listen to:

  • the voice of Scripture
  • the voice of Tradition
  • the values of our locality
  • the voice of our neighbour’s locality

We finished with a panel of people giving their responses and a plenary session. All in all, a good day.

Walsingham bites back

You may remember, dear readers, that a wee while ago I was reminiscing on visits I have made to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Many people made some interesting and supportive comments. Today I received this comment from Fr Dominic:

I found all this very interesting and very one sided. The rant of M/s Ruth seems to ignore the hurt that she and her “ordained” friends have done to the English Church.As an Anglican priest I am expected to be polite to the priestess but she can be as rude and nasty as she likes to me. And I have experienced this at Walsingham. They see Walsingham as the last bastion that they must break into and are doing all they pushing well can to achieve this.

Let me make some comments here, in the open, in response.

Fr Dominic, you say it was one sided. Yes, indeed I gave my thoughts. There is one of me. The fact that many of the comments agreed with my opinion perhaps reflects the views of the majority in our Church. But thank you for offering another side.

You say that M/s Ruth (that’s me) ignores the hurt me and my ‘ordained’ friends have done to the English Church. Let me respond by saying that far from ignoring the hurt felt by those opposed to the ordination of women, I have been instrumental in bringing about dialogue in many places between the two ‘sides’. In fact, many people who were once opposed (and I include myself in that group) have got to know women priests and have come to accept their ministry. By putting the word ‘ordained’ in inverted commas I am presuming that you do not believe we are actually ordained. Do you not hold with the Canons of your Church then? Do you not believe that I was called by God to the priesthood? Did I imagine it? And please believe that I have not been near the ‘English’ Church. I am a Scottish Episcopalian, and proud of it.

Next, you say that you are expected to be polite to the priestess… Em, you do realise that using the term ‘priestess’ is not polite at all, don’t you? You can’t have it both ways. And as far as I am aware I have never met you and try not to be rude or nasty to any of God’s creatures.

Finally you say that we are trying to break into that last bastion – Walsingham. Did my wee comment indicate a siege mentality? It is interesting that you use the word ‘bastion’. I have always thought of it as a Shrine to Our Lady. Perhaps you are projecting your own images on to that holy place. I am not sure what you mean by ‘are doing all they pushing well can to achieve this’. Please believe that I have not pushed anyone, nor have I said a peep to the Shrine staff.

I shall continue to pray that one day, Fr Dominic, you and I may stand side by side and share in the presiding of the Holy Mysteries at the altar. Until then, I shall hold you in my prayers.

May St Francis, who recognised the value of women’s ministry in St Clare, pray for us all.

Bruce’s sermon

This Sunday I had a break from preaching, and Bruce Jamieson, our local historian, took the lectern between his hands and delivered the following excellent homily:

The last time I brought my granddaughter Eve to Church she went off to the children’s library and came back with three books- the stories of David and Goliath; Daniel in the Lions’ Den and Jonah and the Whale. After I had read them to her, she looked up at me and said “Grumps! There aren’t many girls in these stories.”
Out of the mouths of babes and children.

I said ‘can you see any girls in the church?’ And she pointed to Ruth – our priest in charge- and secondly at the two ladies in the stained glass windows above the altar.

She likes Ruth – she keeps talking about the smiley lady in the church – like the one on television. I think she means the Vicar of Dibley – and I know Ruth is growing tired of the allusion – she has been compared to the Rev. Geraldine Grainger too often for her liking.

But it is the TV comedy series I like best. My favourite character is local squire David Horton, perhaps because like him – I am a somewhat pompous, grumpy, unemotional character who initially had some reservations about having a woman as my spiritual guardian.

I also like the incomprehensible Jim Trott and the straight-talking land worker, Owen. Can you not just hear them discussing this morning’s gospel reading? “Where would you rather be, Jim- in the bright light with the five wise virgins- or in the dark with five foolish virgins?” The reply would be unrepeatable here.

Incidentally, the church used in the filming of the series (“St Barnabas”) was actually the Church of St Mary The Virgin in Weston Turville, near Stoke Mandeville. The Priest-in-Charge is actually a man: Father David Wales, although his Curate and Director of Music is the Revd Susan Fellows. I wonder what she looks like?

I like the Vicar of Dibley too for it’s bite; the fact that it often makes very revealing and salient points. It may seem at first sight like a cosy, inoffensive sitcom, but Dawn French has revealed that as a result of appearing in the show, she has received a huge volume of hate mail: mostly from male clergymen. And the sitcom was ‘extremely political’ when it first aired, as the week it first appeared, in March 1994, was the exact moment when the ordination of women in the Church of England first began.

These were Christian people, using appalling language and telling Miss French where to shove it, basically. I won’t begin to tell you what her mailbag was like the week after her Christmas specials which featured gay priests and a drunken minister falling out of the pulpit and down the altar steps. Can you imagine that- falling down the altar steps! (note from Ruth – I fell down the altar steps last Christmas eve, hit my head off a pillar and had to get 8 staples to put me back together!)

What about Eve’s other two ladies in the stained glass windows above the altar. She looked at them for some time and said: ”I like her best – she has got a little boy”: and she pointed to Saint Margaret on the left of the triptych. Who is she? she asked.

That was a hard one. I mean, I have written widely on the subject of Saint Margaret – I preached a sermon on her once in St Peter’s. I wrote a play about her: starring our own Judy Barker. But how do you make all that information accessible to a four year old?

She was a Queen, I began.

A wicked queen? ventured Eve- whose knowledge of Queens is based on The Little Mermaid; Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.

No, I said- she was a good queen who married Malcolm, the King of Scots He was a very rough, cruel man – and she tried to make him nicer.

Why did she marry him, then? asked Eve, disconcertingly.

I explained as simply as I could that she had been travelling in a boat back from Hungary to England when a huge storm blew up. It drove them off course and she was shipwrecked on the shores of Scotland. King Malcolm had her brought to his castle and he fell in love with her because of her gentleness and desire to help poor people and children.

Did she give that little boy his pretty green shoes? She asked, logically.

I wasn’t sure.

It could be one of her own children, I said – for she had eight: six sons and two daughters. Perhaps it’s David who went on to become one of Scotland’s best kings. She brought him up in simplicity and in accordance with six simple precepts:
If children live with hostility,
they learn to fight.
If children live with encouragement,
they learn confidence.
If children live with praise,
they learn to appreciate.
If children live with fairness,
they learn justice.
If children live with acceptance,
they learn to find love in the world.
If children live with God in their hearts they learn to live for ever.
Or maybe, I ventured, it’s one of the nine orphans she had brought to her every morning in the chapel in Edinburgh castle – the one that’s still there- the one depicted in the stained glass; a place of pilgrimage where the poor would be fed with her own hands – where she washed the feet of lepers; where she read to her illiterate husband – perhaps the very words we heard this morning: words to inspire him to rule like Solomon

‘Resplendent and unfading is Wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.’

In addition to her influence with her husband and her sons, Margaret took a direct role in helping the people of Scotland. She devoted time and money to works of charity, assisting the poor, the aged, orphans, and the sick. A mere woman – a medieval, insignificant female who took money out of the royal treasury for her charities? Who prevented a schism between the Roman Church and the Celtic Church, which had been cut off from Rome. Who introduced European culture to Scotland, and did so much more successfully than the forceful introduction in England under the Normans? Who elevated the people among whom it was her destiny to live and eliminated so much barbarism in the land? Who tried to get rid of so many abuses in the Church, calling together hundreds of native clergy and priests her husband acting as interpreter, and addressing them so well and so earnestly that all were charmed with her gracious demeanor and wise counsel and adopted all her suggestions? Who re-founded the monastery on the Island of Iona and built a church in Dunfermline, dedicating it to the Holy Trinity and personally equipping it with all the ornaments that a church requires? Who set up a workshop in her own rooms where artisans produced choir capes, sacerdotal vestments, stoles, and embroidered altar clothes? Who provided rest homes in South Queensferry and free passage by ship across the Queen’s ferry so that pilgrims could visit the shrine of St Andrew? Who liberated many captives taken by her husband in war?

A mere woman? I think not.

And who is the other female character – the lady on the left: the day to Margaret’s night; the moon to her sun; the yin to Margaret’s yang- the contemplative mystic- as opposed to the realistic woman of action?
She is Mildred, the beautiful daughter of King Merewald of Magonset and his wife, St. Ermenburga. She was sent, at an early age, to be educated at Chelles in France, a kind of saintly finishing school for young ladies- the St George’s of the Paris Region.
The headmistress was the grim Etheria- the Abbess of Chelles. She was approached by a male relative who insisted that he wanted to marry the gorgeous Mildred. The abbess tried to persuade her, but Mildred said her mother had sent her there to be taught to give herself to God, not to be married to a mere man. Etheria’s further entreaties fell on deaf ears and in a last desperate effort, the wicked headmistress forced Mildred into a huge oven (as one does) in which she had made a great fire.
Mildred was left at regulo mark 9 for three hours. Eventually, the doors were opened and everyone expected to find little other than bones, burnt to ashes.
Instead, out of the makeshift crematorium, came the young saint: unhurt and radiant with joy and beauty. Was the Abbess moved to wonder and remorse? Not on your Nelly. The chroniclers relate that Mildred was thrown on to the kitchen floor where she was kicked and scratched by the furious Etheria.
Not surprisingly, Mildred had had enough of this boarding school life, this medieval Camp Granada, and wrote to her mother asking to be brought home, forthwith. Further force was added to her plea by enclosing in the secretly sent letter, a blood-stained clump of her own hair – torn from her head by the violence of the abbess.
Mildred was duly brought home and eventually installed as an Abbess herself – in Minster in Thanet – where we see her in the picture. What is she thinking about, I wonder? Perhaps the night when, while she was praying in the chapel, the devil blew out her candle, but an angel appeared and drove him away and re-lit it for her.
Later in life, Mildred developed an extremely painful and debilitating disease but refused to let it stop her work. She fought it uncomplainingly to the end. After her death, many remembered her suffering and her patience and she became an extremely popular saint: one who obviously moved Bishop Walpole – whose wife bore the same name- and after whom this church was first named.
Saint Mildred and St Margaret also inspired another woman – the designer of the stained glass window: Miss Joan Howson, daughter of the Archdeacon of Warrington and Professor of Mediaeval Art in Oxford University. Her work also features in many other churches including St Mary Magdalene in Newark, St Catherine’s in Pettaugh (pronounced Petty), Suffolk and All Saints in High Wycombe- where her window depicts St Bridget; Saint Winifred; St Hilda; Elizabeth Fry; Margaret Beaufort and Mary Slessor. Are you catching her drift- her interest in women of inspiring courage?

Joan Howson became an expert in restoring medieval glass, especially that destroyed during the Second World War – perhaps most famously several in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey.

Another esoteric woman, do I hear you say – a reclusive spinster- earnest and holy- don’t you believe it! For Joan Howson spent the First World War nursing in a hospital on the Western Front; she then set up house with her life-long partner Caroline Townshend- who helped her install this window. During World Wear Two, having been bombed out of her own house in Putney, she moved to a large house in North Wales which she ran as a home for children evacuated from Fulham and Liverpool.

She was by all accounts an interesting and charming lady- an expert on the glass work in Chartres Cathedral where she conducted many tours. She died in 1964, aged 79.

I am inspired by her. I am inspired by Margaret and Mildred – I look up at them often during my time in church – as I look at the figure of the crucifed Christ – and the inspiration of a new Jerusalem depicted in the background. I can often relate what is happening around me in church to their inspiration. Like today’s reading of the wise virgins. And I ask myself: How prepared were Margaret and Mildred to serve their master?”

And how prepared am I – how prepared are you? How much are we willing to endure to serve him? How much oil is in my lamp: now- not yesterday – not tomorrow, but today? Can I rely on others to lend me some oil – can they be prepared on my behalf: can others do the praying for me. I don’t think so – if I have got the parable correct. Preparedness is not transferable.

And if I read the words of the Letter to the Thessalonians correctly, I will meet Margaret and Mildred one day. If I am prepared enough.

I have no doubt that Margaret and Mildred are there ahead of me: that many women sit on the right hand of God. That women have been prepared for many centuries- prepared to serve; prepared to suffer; prepared to succeed. And long may they continue to do so. For who am I to criticise the desire of women today to become even more involved in the administration of the church – in the spreading of his word? Have women not always been involved- have they not always inspired? Have they not always been prepared?

My church is all inclusive. It is not handicapped by cultural, social or gender prejudice. I would like to think that that also is the church left to us by Christ himself. To whom was he talking at the Last Supper when he said “Do this in remembrance of me?”

A chosen few? Jews? Whites? His disciples? Women ? – Lesbian stained glass artists?
When Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last supper- and I don’t want to go in to the debate about whether women were present there or not, when he declared his desire to remain present in his community for all time to come, asking that we give thanks through the sacramental signs of bread and wine – did he not mean to include his mother, or the early deacons like Phoebe and Prisca and Aquila and Evodia and Ludmila and Saint Margaret – and Saint Mildred – and Clare of Assissi and Joan of Arc and Teresa of Avila and Elizabeth Fry and Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Slessor and Gladys Aylward and Joan Howson and Ludmila Javorova; and Dawn French and Ruth.
All baptised in Christ – all have put on Christ: all have become Christ: all are open to all sacraments.
The Christian church in which I believe, is one body – made up of separate individuals each bringing his or her own unique talents to provide for the well-being of the whole community.

1 Corinthians 12, verse 25:

May there be no discord in that body, but pray that that all members may have the same care for one another. Amen.

Window in St Peter's

Angel and me

Finally finished Angel and Me by Sara Maitland. I started it ages ago but it became my bedtime book and that is the one in which I only manage a few pages – sometimes just a few lines – before my eyelids become too heavy to continue. It was recommended by a friend who had gone back to read it a second time, and now I can see why.

It was the ideal bedtime reading because it contained short stories, some of which were originally written for radio. It was fun to imagine whose voice might have read them: Miriam Margolyes et al. And they were all about women – women of the bible, saints, sinners and angels. Of Sarah, Martha, Mary Mag, Pilate’s wife, Lady Godiva, Radegund, Mary Fisher, Margaret Clitheroe, Perpetua and Felicity, and the guardian angel.

These women came alive for me and confirmed my love of story-telling. Maybe one day I shall do a series of ‘Jackanory’ sermons…

Ora pro nobis

I have come to the conclusion that I have a love/hate relationship with the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham. The first time I visited was about 10 years ago on a parish trip and I served at the altar when we said Mass in the Holy House. It was a very special moment and one I can still remember vividly. I also remember being moved to tears as my friend Shena and I climbed up the steps after sprinkling at the well and stood before the Annunciation chapel with its beautiful altar. I remember adoring the relic of the True Cross and Grahame seeing the thigh-bone of St Vincent. I remember nuns bustling about the paths in the garden, greeting us with smiles and welcome. I remember fondly, and with some amusement, the Ascension chapel with two brown, plaster feet dangling from the clouds painted on the ceiling.

Then, a few years later, going back on another parish retreat and finding it just as evocative. I remember being moved at the Slipper Chapel and lighting many candles for friends in need. There is also some dim memory of a fiasco with the bells at mass and more laughter later on the bus when the sun danced for Shena and I.

Last year I went again with two priest friends after Easter. Oh how different it was to be there and find so many male priests bustling around and to watch a woman priest being shunned by some prickly ordinands at a dinner table. No female voices heard at any of the little altars. We stopped going to many of the services offered, not wanting to watch concelebrations where we were not welcome to practice our priestly ministry. Oh, we enjoyed the quiet and our own private moments in the Holy House and in the garden. But the atmosphere was oppressive and I thought I wouldn’t go back again.

And now I have returned from another Walsingham experience. An experience of mixed emotions – of prejudice and love. This time I was allowed to stay in the College with the other clergy but I’m afraid that was the only concession made. Reactions to my dog collar ranged from observing whiplash as some tried to turn their heads and not catch my eye; hearing that some folk were upset because there was to be a ‘priestess’ on the pilgrimage; snivelling through a eucharist where my friends and others concelebrated while I stood at the back with a comforting arm round my shoulder; and being handed prayer requests from ten people because they had been told to hand them to any priest and wanted to affirm my presence; and hearing that some of the pilgrims had questioned the Shrine Warden as to why one of their priests was not allowed to do anything and getting a waffled reply that it would stop the Anglo-Catholics coming.

It occurred to me as I listened and prayed that God can call Mary; can call the Lady Richeldis to build the shrine that would become one of the most popular places of pilgrimage; can call men to be priests in God’s church… but it would seem that God can’t call me. Or any other women. And it was strange to be caught up in arguements that just don’t exist up here in Scotland any more – or at least only in one or two places. Even my own home congregation, some of whom struggle with where I am now, have asked me to preach and preside at the mass and have never stopped speaking to me. It was like stepping back in time. And not in a good way.

However, it was not all doom and gloom. There was lots of shopping and the purchase of two icons of St Columba, much tat and two beautiful little statues. There was much laughter in The Bull and with my own little flock. There was meeting new friends and clergy and sharing of stories. There was little sleep because of a large snoring priest in the room below and very noisy plumbing. There was much attention seeking by all and sundry. And there was the purchase of a giant image of Our Lady of Walsingham for the Scottish pilgrimage and a journey home with her on the train wrapped up in bubble wrap.

Prayers and petitions were offered, many tears were shed in sorrow and in joy. And Our Lady watched it all. I wonder what she makes of it all?