Sunday, 13 April 2014

Maude Royden and Leading Women

Reflection for the 3rd Cohort of the 'Leading Women' Course

One of the most memorable days I have spent was in the Women’s Library, handling some lever arch files which contained press cuttings, letters and documents making up the archive of Maude Royden.  Here I was handling, almost holy things, in the form of flimsy and delicate writings one of the leading women of the past.

That moment was profoundly moving for me as I read letters of encouragement Maude had received from her mother, as Maude herself would have read them.  Letters that revealed the vulnerability and humanity of a woman trying to be who God called her to be.  At that time Maude had been banned from preaching in the Church of England, and the Evening Standard had published letters giving all opinions, many not kind, on the current controversy in London as to whether she could give the 3 hour address in a church on Good Friday.   In the end she did – but not in church, rather the Church Hall and so many people came to hear her they could not get in!

Maude herself writes ‘ Learn to hold loosely to all that is not eternal.’

Despite the feelings around her and the current state of her church – in 1919 the church had confirmed the rights of women as voting members on Church Councils, but was still hotly debating the issue of speaking in churches, Maude’s dependency upon God was vital.  She realised that from an eternal perspective, like probably one of her own heroines Mother Julian, all would be well.  

However, Maude also saw the importance of her own ministry and the steps she was taking to further women’s cause. ‘Here is the great discover that awaits us’, she wrote ,’ life is all a piece we are not someday going to be, we are already’

Fast forward almost a hundred years, and who amongst us has not got stressed or hung up about issues relating to the Church in our own day.  Yet that too is set in an eternal context, as we play our particular part in the journey of salvation history, a journey of liberation and joy.

Our small step as leading women is also significant, as we take our places now within churches and cathedrals, bishop’s staff teams and boards and committees; as we freely preach of God’s love on Good Friday.   It may be challenging, or even painful but together is all a piece which is as much about us being who we are called to be now as in the future.

At the beginning of our particular journey together it is helpful to reflect upon those who have gone before, to acknowledge our place and see its value as God sees it.  I am not sure what Maude would say to each of us tonight, but God’s word says ‘ I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline’. 

There never has been a motto for this Leading Women course – but that seems to me like quite a good one as we venture together.

Fast forward another 100 years and I wonder who might be going through our archives?   those fragments of us, which reveal our own vulnerability, determination and humanity. Whoever it may be, may it be our corporate and individual hope and prayer, that the ministry of women today will continue to be seen in the light of eternity and our leadership and lives held up as very real examples to all who follow of holy things.