I would like to invite you to think back to the early ’80’s. It is hard to remember what our world was like then. The world was somewhat dominated by the USSR, the United Soviet Socialist Republic, the Wall still divided Berlin, Apartheid operated in South Africa and Nelson Mandela was still on Robin Island in prison. It was a time of sanctions and boycotts. The boycott was particularly strong in the area of sport and countries were refusing to allow South African teams to play in their countries. Surprisingly one of the first countries to lift the boycott was New Zealand and as you might expect there were big protests when the Springboks flew in to play against the All Blacks.
There were a group of Baptist students protesting at the Airport in Auckland and the Anglican contingent arrives in a procession all dressed up to show their identity. One of the Baptist Students remarks to another with words to the effect “Could you ever imagine wearing that lot”? The other replies “ You won’t but I might”. That student was Catherine, who at the time was going through a difficult patch and time of discernment on her journey.
When Catherine was sharing with me some of her journey, she spoke of those times in her life when she has been conscious of God’s goodness and support. God’s presence was there for her at various crossroad times pointing out the next step on the journey. If someone had said to her in 1981, well in 2009, you will be celebrating 25 years of ordination as an Anglican priest and you will be in England. You will be living alongside an Anglican Religious Community and working as a Chaplain in a Male Prison. I think she would have replied, “You must be joking”.
Neither would she have thought that the Anglican Co Primate of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Archbishop David Moxon would be sending her his greetings, congratulations, best wishes and blessings on this occasion. I saw him last night and he was remarking on how Catherine was very much an early pioneer in New Zealand, particularly in the Church, in the whole realm of ecology, care for the planet and mother earth. Now the world is at last beginning to catch up and we all pray that the upcoming meeting in Copenhagen will make real and solid progress.
Catherine has always been very conscious of God’s love and support and that has enabled her to travel lightly on her journey. Some strong threads have woven their way through her pilgrimage and supported her in her response to God’s ongoing call. The threads have been a strong sustaining spirituality, catholic mysticism and celtic earthiness woven with a love of scripture and all that her time as a Baptist gave her.
She is passionate about matters of Social Justice and caring for the environment. That theme of healing both of people and the environment together with the spirituality thread lead her to be one of the founders of a Retreat Centre in New Zealand, whose focus was “healing the earth”. When that unfortunately had to close through lack of funds, she spent some years working as a Field worker both in an ecumenical setting and as part of the Auckland Cathedral team.
She felt called to return to the UK in 2001 and had the amazing experience of being able to be at St. Nicholas, Sutton, here in Southwark and being able to be part of a team of five women clergy. Bishop Wilfred appointed her to the parish of Tatsfield and Limpsfield Chart, where she spent six happy years. Part of God’s goodness to Catherine has been and is the wonderful people who have been and are part of her life. Catherine would say that God’s timing and nudges on her journey and her meetings with people at just the right time, have been wonderful; exquisite was the word she used.
For those of us who reside in the northern hemisphere it seems strange to have ordinations in Advent, though they were a feature of the past. We need to remember that down south December is coming into the height of summer and holiday time. Advent is a wonderful time for ordinations as being at the beginning of the church’s year it resonates with the beginning of new ministries. It reminds us all of our call to share the good news of our incarnate God.
In the most recent “Tablet” periodical, in the short reflection on the Advent wreath, the Dominican Vivien Boland, talks about our two contrasting experience of time, one circular and the other linear. Scholars tell us that the Greeks were more struck by the first and the Hebrews by the second. The year turns and we come to another spring, another Advent, another Easter, another birthday another anniversary. That last circuit of our birthday or anniversary also remind us how time is linear as our maturing and ageing bodies remind us, none of us are getting any younger.
Both ways of experiencing time enrich us with our experiences of God’s goodness and the continual gift of his grace. As we move through the seasons both in the northern and southern hemisphere, we experience a re-visiting of the path we have trod before. Though each time is different, as our experiences of life and God’s goodness in all the ups and downs, build over the years.
In our liturgical celebrations we remember, we enter into making present now, an event that happened historically in the past. Jesus was born over 2,000 years ago, but as we celebrate Christmas we seek to bring Christ to birth in our lives now. Advent is the season of hope and expectation. I was struck by these words of Boland’s. “The theological virtue of hope means we are forever young no matter what our experience, ever growing towards an eternal future, as we become more and more God’s children”. God’s realm is both a present and a “not yet reality”.
This and every Eucharist is both a re-enactment of that first “Last Supper” and a present reality where we enter into that event and through it give thanks for God’s goodness and receive God’s grace. As the line from the hymn goes: “God is working his purpose out as year succeeds to year”. We are all pilgrims on this journey, thankful of God’s grace and the call to be the means of God’s goodness to others. Catherine has been and is being a means of that goodness.
We give thanks for her and give thanks that God’s ongoing grace, given to all of us, will continue to encourage and sustain us on our journey as we address the task of bringing in God’s realm of peace and justice for all people and a responsible care for this precious gift of our fragile earth both now and in the future.