It jarred, momentarily, as she was reading. It took half a second to realise why.
The lady Methodist minister (this was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity) was purportedly reading the words of the apostle Peter: 'Come to him,' she urged, 'to that living stone, rejected by women and men but in God's sight, chosen and precious...' Come again? Ah, the women! Earlier that very day, as it happened, we encountered 'Friends' where John had written 'Brothers'; not the same thing but all in the same cause.
There are some sisters and brothers who have programmed brain and tongue to re-translate every masculine reference met by the eye, whether it be to human persons or Persons of the Godhead. One such human person, who happened to be male, tied himself in some impressive stylistic knots when conveying John 3:16 to us: 'God loved the world so much that God gave God's only…er…child, that whoever believes in – well anyway, whoever believes...' and so on. It is harder to do off the cuff.
But in Unity Week I fleetingly regretted my absence from the local Methodist HQ at Epiphany. What fun to hear that in the days of Herod the monarch, behold, wise women and men came to Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the one who has been born to rule the Jews?' Never mind the frankincense; a bit of feminine input would add considerable spice to the story. For all we know, Herod even killed the little girls and boys. Or to step back a month, what about the unsung shepherdesses keeping watch over their half of the flock by night?
But we women and men in unity expressed the usual penitence, made the usual resolves, prayed the usual prayers, even sang some of the usual hymns. Away with sectarianism, pride, envy and divisions! All one body we.
The modest contingent from the parish church clearly caught the spirit of the thing. How come (we indignantly asked ourselves over tea in the hall afterwards) no Anglicans were asked to lead? Why, all those up front on the day were nonconformists to a person! We'll get even next year.
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