From Our Minister - September 2021

Updated: Sep 23

Dear Friends,

I guess many people have had simple staycations for their holidays over this last summer. I thought I might talk about my staycation holiday this year & introduce you to all the women I met. Gillian & I were inspired to take a week’s trip to Norfolk by Barbara & Gary from Tolworth. As Tolworth folk know, Barbara & Gary are often in this beautiful part of the UK.


One of the days out was to visit Norwich Cathedral. It was here that I met the first of the women. Julian of Norwich was depicted in a small way in the Cathedral, a statue on the outside by the entrance & a stained glass window. It was not as prominent as one would expect. She was to be found in more prominence at the Church of St Julian where a shrine lay in cell where she spent much time contemplating & writing. The COVID-19 pandemic perhaps explains a recent interest in Julian of Norwich who lived during the times of the medieval Black Death. An English Anchoress & mystic who lived from 1343 - 1416 (ish) she spent much of her time in seclusion. Julian lived in a sealed room attached to this church where she sought to devote herself entirely to prayer & union with God. Her writings have been known & been an inspiration for centuries, unusual for a woman of medieval times. Not a nun, but a lay person, she was the first women to publish in England. Julian of Norwich understood the central message for spiritual life: God is love & it is only if one opens oneself to this love, totally & with total trust, as well as letting it become one's sole guide in life, that all things are transfigured, true peace & true joy found & one is able to radiate that love. “All will be well & all manner of things shall be well”, & “The greatest honour we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love,” are among her famous & beautiful writings.

The meeting with the second women was back in Norwich Cathedral. Born in Swardeston in 1865, Edith Cavell left Norfolk & trained as a nurse from 1895. She was responsible for starting the first professional school of nursing in Belgium in 1907 &, during World War I, nursed soldiers from both sides of the conflict. For nine months she worked with the Belgian & French resistance to shelter well over 200 soldiers from the German occupying forces, helping them escape. She was betrayed & arrested before being executed at 7.00am on Tuesday 12th October 1915. We stood by her sculpture & her grave. Inside the cathedral was a depiction of her life & witness in paintings: fourteen paintings of The Passion of Edith Cavell: The Way of the Cross from artist Brian Whelan. On the night before her death her last words were: “Standing as I do in view of God & eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness for anyone.”


At a museum in Great Yarmouth I came across "The Fisherwomen" - a stunning photographic exhibition documenting the heritage & tradition of women working in the fishing industry. “Women have always played a critical role in the fishing industry: from the very early days they mended nets, gutted fish & baited lines but they also did all the domestic work & raised the children. They even carried their men out to the fishing boats on their backs to stop the fishermen’s feet from getting wet.” They stood on the quayside gutting & packing herring into barrels with great camaraderie. They can be seen walking along the dock arm in arm singing. The work was hard & remains so today, now behind closed doors, yet feeding the nation & providing for their families.


It is not often I meet such a variety of women on holiday. But it got me to thinking again how little women’s stories are told. This is particularly so in the stories we tell from the bible where Jesus has the upmost respect & honour for women. It is also so in the Hebrew tradition where Old Testament stories of women are rarely expounded upon. But see Numbers chapter 27 & read about the brave daughters of Zelophehad. And watch out for the musical! But it was great to see so many stories of the brave, intelligent, spiritual, faithful & dedicated people to inspire me again. God bless,

Roger

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