Thursday was International Women’s Day. Today is Mothering Sunday. So let me talk about two women, Dorothy and Hilda.
Dorothy* was born in the 1930s. She worked as a children’s nurse, then married and had several children of her own. Much of the day to day work of keeping the household running and bringing up the children, she did on her own. Her husband worked long hours to provide for the family. And in those days, men didn’t normally get too involved with the childcare.
You’d have thought she’d be busy enough with her own family. But there was something about Dorothy that drew others close. Her home became a magnet for friends of her children, people from her church and visitors from abroad. People would turn up for lunch or to stay for a month at little, if any notice, knowing they would be welcome. So meals had to be stretchable and beds or at least sleeping bags, available. Dorothy befriended young people in care and helped to run a house for teenage mums who didn’t have the support at home. She helped the elderly too – going shopping, giving lifts.
Her family grew, with many grandchildren and Dorothy became the matriarch of a sizeable clan. In all, she was mother not only to her own children and others biologically related to her, but to many, many other people, young and old, who were drawn to her warm, welcoming, open house, her listening ear and her practical advice and help.
Dorothy died a few years ago. But her legacy lives on. It lives on in the warm, welcoming homes of her children and grandchildren. Places where friends and strangers feel they too belong. Places where those who practise the Christian faith mix comfortably with those who don’t, but where it’s normal to talk about the faith. Places where you feel loved, cared for and where you can muck in and be a part of a community.
Hilda lived in the 7th Century. She is famous for founding the Celtic monastery at Whitby. This monastery would have been a cluster of simple houses and a chapel. Here, small groups of men or women who had devoted themselves to God lived together in community. They would follow the monastic way of life with its times for prayer, work, learning, and charitable care.
But others lived there too. Lay people who worked on the land and helped provide the food for the community. Travellers passing through. Some would be Christian, but others might not be.
Hilda ensured that spiritual care was there for everyone in the village. She would provide a listening ear for anyone who needed it, be they monk, farm worker or visitor. Anyone could have their own soul friend to listen and to share with them as they journeyed their Christian faith, or indeed explored it for the first time.
Hilda came from a noble family. Kings and princes sought her advice. But she was also deeply concerned for the ordinary folk. One timid cowherd began to compose poetry and song. Hilda encouraged him to develop his skills and he became perhaps the first English poet whose name we know – Caedmon.
We don’t know that Hilda had any children of her own. She was in her 30s when she took up the religious life, so conceivably could have done. But it was said that “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”. Several of her monks were to become bishops, and the way she formed a community of love and care was in turn followed by others.
Today we heard some words written by Saint Paul to the church in Colossae.
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, meekness and patience. Bear with one another. Forgive each other. Above all, clothe yourselves with love.
Words of wisdom written to help a young church community live together and to build each other up in the Christian faith. But they’re good words of advice to help any family or community group live together. A family like yours or mine. A church community like ours here at St. Mary’s.
Both Dorothy and Hilda fully lived out this advice in their lives. Everyone around them grew and thrived. Through their compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love, they enabled others to reach their full potential. Those whose lives they touched could then do the same.
You don’t have to be a mum to do what Hilda and Dorothy did. We can all share compassion, kindness, patience, forgiveness and love among family, church and community so that all may grow and thrive.
Reader Catherine Burchell