November 15th: Hilda of Whitby, Transferred

Sam Magill is a member of the choir, the Bishop’s Committee, and chairs the Stewardship Committee. Sam is also a leadership coach. The sermon for St. Hilda’s Day, transferred, was based on the below manuscript. The gospel text for the day was Matthew 19.27-29.

The significance of stewardship

Following Jesus is fundamentally challenging. It is contrary to the world we live in. 

Bishop Greg Rickel – in his recent sermon on stewardship said that we live in an ownership culture. 

No greater contrast exists between our culture and that of Hilda of Whitby, in whose community everything belonged to the community as a whole AND people, to quote the Gospel, left their own houses, brothers, sisters or father or mother or children or fields – in order to devote their lives to work and worship in common. 

The story of Hilda provides stark contrast to how we do things today. 

She was born in 614 a princess in NorthUmberland and grew up after her father  was poisoned in a political rivalry, in Kind Edwin’s court. Now every hill and valley of those days seemed to have a king and eventually Edwin was killed by a neighboring king.  Regardless of the size of the king’s territory, to live at court was very different from living outside. Clearly, a relative life of privilege. Various events occurred and Hilda was about to join her sister at an abbey in Gaul / France. But at age 33 she decided to answer a call from Bishop Aiden of Lindisfarne. Lindisfarne is located just a ways south of Edinburg. Aiden, you may remember, was an Irish monk who came from Iona. 

So, it is no accident that we are using the Scottish – Celtic prayers today. 

In 657 Hilda became founding abbess of Whitby Abbey – located on the English east coast south of Lindisfarne. 

Drawing from Wikipedia (apologies for only one source, but the passage has tons for footnotes and references, I want to read directly from the text:

Archaeological evidence shows that her monastery was in the Celtic style, with its members living in small houses, each for two or three people. (Sounds like tiny houses) The tradition in double monasteries, such as Whitby, was that men and women lived separately but worshipped together in church.

Bede (key historian of Hilda’s life) states that the original ideals of monasticism were maintained strictly in Hilda’s abbey. All property and goods were held in common; Christian virtues were exercised, especially peace and charity. Everyone had to study the Bible and do good works.

How’s that sitting with you? We think wearing a mask outside our home is restrictive! But I suspect no one ordered people to live at the abbey – Hilda and, I presume her followers, were answering a call to Christ. 

Bede describes Hilda as a woman of great energy, who was a skilled administrator and teacher. As a landowner she had many in her employ to care for sheep and cattle, farming, and woodcutting. She gained such a reputation for wisdom that kings and princes sought her advice.

However, [and I think this is instruction directly to us] she also had a concern for ordinary folk such as Cædmon. (If Zoe Clare was here, we’d get correct pronunciation.] He was a herder at the monastery, who was inspired in a dream to sing verses in praise of God. Hilda recognized his gift and encouraged him to develop it. Bede writes, “All who knew her called her mother because of her outstanding devotion and grace”.

Here is the poem or hymn he heard in his sleep:

Modern English translation

Now [we] must honour the guardian of heaven,
the might of the architect, and his purpose
the work of the father of glory
as he, the eternal lord, established the beginning of wonders;
he first created for the children of men
heaven as a roof, the holy creator
Then the guardian of mankind,
the eternal lord, afterwards appointed the middle earth,
the lands for men, the Lord almighty.

The point of this is that Hilda was a leader who listened to the people – the common people. 

Hilda is considered one of the patron saints of learning and culture, including poetry, due to her patronage of Cædmon.

Let’s see what her life adds up to for us. 

First, her impact on the world. 

  •  St. Hilda is the patron saint of the National Cathedral School for Girls in Washington, D.C.
  • Schools founded in her name exist in the US, Canada, Australia, Singapore, India and Jamaica! 

The consistent thread is charity, study, worship and service. 

What parts of her instruction – indeed,  the Gospel’s instruction – might we draw on? 

What if we truly accepted and lived that nothing belongs to us? What good might appear in the world if we lived this way? What conflicts resolved? What peace and charity might abound? 

[Some one said, “but that’s communism!” I think not. In every case I know of, communism has been perpetrated by dictators of one sort or another, not people of devotion and prayer and charity. The rulers might get worshiped in a way, but God not.]

We have called our community, the church at the crossroads- following the Celtic tradition of build churches where roads meet, and people travel. People were welcomed. Some stayed and became part of the community – bakers, herders and so on. Some became central figures in the center of the community – study and worship. 

Could we become that even more than we are already? 

It depends. As we move forward in our renewed pledging of our resources, what is the call we are answering? Each one of us – young and not so young. Bishop Rickel reminds us that we actually do not own anything. All things come of thee o lord, and of thine own have we given thee. 

What part of God’s gifts shall we return to the Lord, to the work Hilda guides us to? 

I urge this: in prayer and conversation with God, consider what percentage of income you will return to God. God gives us that choice! In the Bishop’s case, he and his wife give 15% total – 3 of that to groups outside the church. The rest to the church. 

As we move through the coming weeks, we will be invited to reflect on our lives and on what we are called to do to support the life of this outpost of civilization called Saint Hilda Saint Patrick’s. We are a long way from the Abby of Hilda – but her gifts or justice, prudence and strength are also our strengths and through our common efforts the church here are the crossroads will long endure.

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