Millennium Experience August 1999

HOLIDAY TIME! Tom, Joe and I are off to the Med. for a little archaeology and some serious fun.

'In the Steps of Priscilla'! It's a marvellous package arranged for us by Wimintravel, a wonderful little co-operative based in Wimbledon. We are to visit all the sites in Southern Italy associated with the Women Priests and Apostles of the second and third centuries, culminating with a concelebrated Eucharist in the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, actually under the famous fresco!! With visiting lecturers like Peter Stanford and Professor Giorgio Otranto, it's like a dream come true! And we will be holding an all-night prayer vigil at the very place on the Vicus Papissa where Pope Joan gave birth to her child and died. (I expect Joe will sing some of the hit songs from the show and get a fair amount of press attention.)

I should tell you that all this is very important for me. In the company of the like-minded I will be recovering some of our history in preparation for the Millennium celebration. Holidays, after all, should broaden the mind.

I confess that when I was younger (and before I met Derek) I was a bit of a Shirley Valentine - off to the Aegean for a month every year with a towel, a bottle of sun-tan lotion and an impulse to get my leg under. But priesthood and the Movement has changed all that. Now (will you believe it!) I look back with horror on the predatory Dimitrioses and Stavroses who posed along the quay-side waiting for the next boat of woman-flesh in from the Piraeus. It seems a world away.

I can see now how I was allowing myself to be used by a male-dominated international conspiracy of travel agents to perpetuate age-old patterns of patriarchal dominance. I read Germaine Geer; and I saw through them all. Dr Greer, I said to myself, would never have been exhilarated, as I had been exhilarated, by a motor-bike ride on a wild coastal road, as pillion to a bit of rough Greek trade.

Well, there will be nothing like that on this trip; just visits to sites of feminist interest and exciting evenings of imaginative exegesis, huddled round our Bibles and our copies of 'In Memory of Her'.

After the holiday, with batteries recharged, I will be in the thick of it again. The entry forms for the World Circle-Dancing Championships, which are being jointly sponsored by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Company and Affirming Inclusion, have already started to come in.

The Anglican Women's Caucus of Alice Springs, are all set to perform native Australian rituals around a spectacular mock-up of Ayres Rock, and a thirty strong group of Ecumenical Canadian Women will be performing a Christianised version of the ancient Inuit snow-stroking ceremony. In a powerful reaffirmation of the sisterhood created by the Lambeth Conference's spouses' programme, a multi-ethic Consortium of Spouses will express in dance the concern felt throughout the Communion about global warming and the destruction of the rain forest - led by Eileen herself!

No such gathering, I am sure you will agree, would be complete without a Celtic contribution, and so our sisters from Wales will be dancing a cycle of ancient Druidic prayers for the environment.

From South Africa comes a dance of penitence by white middle-class women priests, asking forgiveness and understanding from their black sisters; and from Zimbabwe comes a colourful tribal celebration of the works of Rider Haggard.

Garnering in all these marvellous contributions to our Millennium Experience has been truly humbling.

And how we agonised about who were to be the judges!! I needed advice and wise counsel from both Jeffrey and Colin, I can tell you! But now I can proudly announce that we have secured the services of two truly national figures (and regular contributors to 'Thought for the Day') who together represent the values for which we all stand. The Revd Angela Tilby and Sister Lavinia Byrne have kindly postponed a joint lecture tour in Southern California to be with us on the great day.

Of course it is not too late for the rest of you to enter the Championships! Applications are open to any parochial, diocesan or provincial women's group (and to ecumenical partnerships) provided that they feel they have a dance contribution to make to the world-wide theological colloquium in which we are all engaged.

So come on, you women's groups out there! Engage! What we need is sincerity and ideological commitment. Talent is completely superfluous! What we have found, over the years, is that training - in any sphere - dulls that essential radical fervour. People get the reactionary idea that they should only do things they are good at; and only contribute to debates about which they know something. But we would never have got where we are today if that had been our attitude!! So my word to you is: JOIN IN!!! Our vocation, after all, is to be 'Fools for Christ's Sake'.

I promised you, I know, news of our Millennium Programme here at Southwark Cathedral. But I think I have to confess to a little local difficulty. Though we pride ourselves, as you know, on being the Mother Church of Affirming Inclusion - an outpost of Presiding Bishop Griswold in an otherwise wicked world - things have not been going smoothly. Frankly, we wanted Rowan and we got Tom. That's the long and the short of it; and that's our problem. In he comes, ruffling the feathers of our Archdeacons (and we have a lot of Archdeacons!) and generally trying to change things. In a radical, forward-looking diocese like this I have to tell you that change does not go down well.

So we don't have a Millennium Programme any longer. The Rainbow Alliance Evensong for the Disabled has had to be abandoned, and the 'Lesbians for an Inclusive Priesthood' Eucharist is as though it had never been. Instead, I expect, we are going to be saddled with boring celebrations of 'the diocesan family' (which usually means a load of fellow-travelling reactionaries who are compliant on women priests, but who are not up to speed on the rest of the agenda). I don't know what he was like in Leicester; but he had better remember that he is not in the sticks now!

And finally my thanks must go to Ms A.J. of Heckmondwike for enclosing the two lovely photographs, and pointing out the striking resemblance between Nigel McCulloch, the Missionary Bishop of Wakefield, and sexy rugby super-rat Will Carling! Yes, they're both really hunky, A.J.; but I know who I want under my fridge magnet - give me Soul every time!!

April Heavisides is Archbishops' Chaplain to the Millennium Experience, a job which she shares with Sr Immaculata, ISRL. She is a Canon of Southwark.

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