Monday, November 19, 2007

Hilda and ecumenism

Today the church remembers with gratitude Hilda of Whitby. When I set out to write about her during ordination training, I was disappointed that there was relatively little material to draw on, beyond the pages of Bede.
After all, as Abbess of a “Double monastery” of monks and nuns living together she is a real inspiration for women called to leadership in today’s church, today’s world, and it was heartening to read that in the Celtic church the belief was
"there resides in women an element of holiness and prophecy, so that men do not scorn to ask their advice nor lightly disregard their replies”’

[Aside:I love the idea of a double monastery…of a group of women living, 2 or 3 to a hut, in one part of the foundation with men in another and all uniting in daily worship. It seems to be a kind of ecclesiastical version of my dream existence for couples, each living in a tower of a gate house, with living rooms over the arch, to be visited when company is welcome!]

However, back to Hilda. Though her leadership of the community at Whitby brought her respect and renown in her day, she might now be almost forgotten were it not for the Synod that she hosted, to decide the course of English Christianity. The decision to follow the Roman calendar, and Roman practice generally was not without some cost – Aidan and his monks withdrew to Lindisfarne and their influence waned – but it seems to have been brought about with remarkably little resentment. Oswiu, the Northumbrian king who had ordered the synod, produced a succinct rationale for clarifying the situation of the English church
it behooved those who serve one God to observe the same rule of life, and as they all expect the same kingdom in heaven, so they ought not to differ in the celebration of the Divine mysteries”
Having spent yesterday evening at our annual Charlton Kings Churches Songs of Praise, I can only agree.
Perhaps Hilda and all those who through the ages have been prepared to make some painful concessions for the sake of the gospel will pray for us as we continue to tie ourselves in knots and hurt one another both within and across denominations.

Meanwhile, Bede has a lovely legend of the time before Hilda's birth when her mother
[Breguswith] fancied in a dream that she was seeking [her husband] most carefully, and could find no sign of him anywhere; but after having used all her industry to seek him, she found a most precious jewel under her garment, which……..cast such a light as spread itself throughout all Britain; which dream was brought to pass in her daughter…whose life was a bright example to all who desired to live well.”

The legend is reflected in the Common Worship Collect for today

Eternal God
Who made the abbess Hilda to shine like a jewel in our land
and through her holiness and leadership blessed your Church with new life and unity:
Help us, like her, to yearn for the gospel of Christ
and to reconcile those who are divided;
through him who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and forever.


Jane Durham said...

As someone who is PiC of St Hilda's I'm facinated by her (something outwith my tradition completly!) & am about to take an assembly at our local CP school about what we can learn from her for today! the OHP website has some useful infromation particularly the quote from Bede about her abilities & skills. Incidentlly I've also enjoyed your child friendly posts recently, sounds akin to the CPAS vision for the church today.

Caroline Too said...

I tend to go for her Saxon rather than roman name of Hild.

just a little detail, Aidan was dead by the time of the Synod of Whitby, the Celtic Bishop of Lindisfarne was Colman and he left there and went back to Ireland.

Hild hung on in England and helped smooth the shift to Roman ways but apparently didn't easily forgive Wilfred who had led the Roman contingent at Whitby.

I think that what I love about Hild, was her ability to live simply and yet influence both the great and mighty as well as serving the lowest in society. I would love to be able to do that but fear that I'm too attracted to the attractive.