by Cecilia Dickson
My first encounter with Christianity came at a very early age. I was very damaged at birth and not expected to live, so was given emergency Baptism.
My earliest recollection is of the (CofE) parish Sunday school. I remember having little stools to sit on and of the walls being covered with posters showing Our Lord dressed like a present day Arab, and with lambs everywhere. I cannot remember the names of the teachers or anything about what they taught.
I must have been very young because I was only three-and-a-half when war broke out and after this I was sent to the Baptist Sunday School because it was only across the road from my home, whereas the parish church was further away, and because of the war more difficult to get to.
The Baptists really did teach from the Bible and we knew all the stories and morality. I won several prizes for scriptural knowledge. Somehow or other I returned to the parish church, where my mother sang in the choir, because I was confirmed at the age of 14 years.
I left home to train as a nurse, which took me to Cambridge which although only about thirty miles from my home town, seemed like the ends of the earth. The general outlook at the hospital was evangelical protestant, and I attended rallies and even met Billy Graham, who was the man at the time. However, the hospital and the place where I lived was in the parish of Little St. Mary’s, an Anglo-catholic parish, and nearby was St. Benet’s which was looked after by Franciscans.
I thus learned that there was another side to the Church of England, from that which I had been accustomed. Such churches were much more to the liking of my husband, who was a Scottish Episcopalian, and found much of the Church of England out of line with his upbringing.
We moved to York, which seemed like an ecclesiastical desert. In spite of there being the Minster, it was difficult to find a church with the worship and teaching which accorded with that at Little St. Mary’s, and for my husband with that of the Scottish church.
We joined an extreme Anglo-catholic parish. Although this was not the parish in which we lived, it was actually the nearest Anglican church. During this time I just coasted along. We attended Mass regularly, had our children baptized, and took part in the social life of the parish; but it seemed the best of a bad job. Many things did not seem quite right, although I would be hard put to say exactly what was wrong.
My next stage came when I was invited to go to Lourdes as a nurse on a Jumbulance. Jumbulances are “Jumbo Ambulances”. They were designed by the Across Trust to take very sick and disabled people, who cannot travel by any other means, to Lourdes and other places.
They are built on a coach chassis and have ambulance-style beds for eight sick people; a kitchen like the galley in an air liner; toilets; and accommodation for the staff, which consists of two drivers, a chaplain, a doctor, nurses and other helpers.
The sick are called ‘unable’ and the staff ‘able’. We travelled by road to Dover, crossed the Channel by ferry, and then by road again to Lourdes. The journey took two days, and when we got to Lourdes we all lived in one common room, curtained off to give a little privacy. We had all our meals in common.
We took part in all the devotions of the Shrine, visits to the Grotto, the International Mass, the Blessing of the sick, etc.; and also found time for excursions and to have fun in the various bars in the town. The sick were our first concern and went everywhere with us, or rather we went with them.
This was the heyday of the changes in the Roman church which came with Vatican 2. The whole atmosphere was so very friendly. Not only was our party a family, but everybody behaved as part of the family. (I recall my great shock some time later to see on the TV, a priest, whom I knew as ‘Fr. Tom’, concelebrating with the Pope. – He was an Archbishop.) If I ever had what our Evangelical brethren call a conversion experience, I had this at Lourdes.
I returned from Lourdes a very different person. The church became much more real.
At home our parish priest did not seem to approve of the changes in Rome and tended to keep things as they had formerly been. Nevertheless I became much more involved. I got myself elected to the P.C.C. and hoped to work for the unity of Christendom. Reunion of the churches of England and of Rome seemed to first step in this. I attended Roman masses, which seemed much more ‘user friendly’ than the very formal High Mass in our parish church. All this was not very popular with other Anglicans where I lived.
Now my husband had always been very keen about the Orthodox Church. Where he was dissatisfied with the CofE it was not where it differed from the church of Rome, but where it differed from the Orthodox Church. He had joined an organization called the Anglo-Orthodox Society, and I tagged along to its meetings. We took our holidays in various parts of Greece. The attraction for my husband was not the sunshine, or the antiquities, but the opportunity to attend the Liturgy. I thought that he was a bit ‘barmy’, but tagged along. I could not understand a word. I could not even follow the shape of the service.
I was quite scandalized the first time I attended the Liturgy, confusing the Antidoron with Holy Communion, and thinking how very irreverent they were. Even worse than some of my Roman friends! In 1991 he persuaded me to accompany him on a pilgrimage to Iona which had been organized by the Anglican & Eastern Churches Association.
This was a joint Anglican/Orthodox venture. The Orthodox leader was Bishop Kallistos Ware. Although the official Anglican leader was a bishop from somewhere in the south, the Scots Episcopal church had insisted on sending the Bishop of Moray, Bishop George Sessford, who soon showed himself to be the real leader.
We had the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom one day, and at Bishop George’s insistence the Scottish Liturgy on the other. That is to say the Anglican input was not ‘1662’, Series 3, the English Missal, or anything else. Only the Scottish Liturgy.
We also had various talks about St. Columba and the history of the Scottish church and other topics, besides devotional addresses from our three bishops. Most of the Orthodox people were Cypriots, but many were British, as was Bishop Kallistos himself. Once again, I returned from this pilgrimage a changed person. Orthodoxy was authentic Christianity. Reunion with the Orthodox church became a must.
On our return from Iona, the church political scene immediately became bogged down with the proposal in the Church of England to ordain women, against the warnings of most of the rest of Christendom.
The idea of a woman being against this obviously politically correct idea scandalised many of my friends. They thought that I must be a bit mad. We fought as best we could against this, but it was like the French resistance to the German invasion of 1940. Fifth columnists abounded. Many people seemed to bury their heads in the sand and say ‘it will never happen’. – It did happen. I joined Forward in Faith and helped to organize resistance locally.
This organization proved to be as effective as the Maginot Line had been for the French. Now I realize that several of its members sincerely believe themselves to be a kind of Maquis, but they are fatally flawed by remaining in communion with the ‘church of England’, whereas the important thing is to be in communion with ‘The Church of God’.
I count myself fortunate in that I have now been Chrismated and am part of an Orthodox Community, which worships only 45 miles from my home. Life is not without its problems. It is difficult to play as full a part in the life of the parish as I would like. The main thing which I find difficult is the Kalendar. My family and friends are celebrating Easter when we are still in the midst of Lent. 2001 and the implementation of the Aleppo conference cannot come too quickly for me.
Nevertheless, this is the field where the treasure is hidden. Even if there are a few weeds, this field has the true treasure.