Bishop licenses Ruth Burge-Thomas

Licensing of the Revd. Ruth Burge-Thomas and the Revd. Deborah Matthews


What a splendid and joyous occasion it was. On Monday the 12th of November, the right Reverend Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark, licensed Ruth Burge-Thomas as Parish Priest (Vicar designate) and Deborah Mathews as Priest-in-Charge. As expected, the church was packed to the rafters and there was a distinct sense of history in the making. The Church of the Holy Spirit in Clapham was installing its first ever woman as incumbent. This came in the same month that the voting at Synod placed another barrier in the path of the swelling tide of approval for the ordination of women as Bishops - a result that will be a source of much sadness for many in the parish. There is a note of irony here given that among the many competences that Ruth brings to her ministry are a thorough understanding of the legal process and a gift for mediation. These were two elements that appear to have underperformed at Synod.

 Although Ruth would undoubtedly have felt more comfortable with a simpler licensing ceremony, we were treated to majestic ritual during the service followed by a sumptuous buffet. Both of which were entirely fitting to mark this milestone in the history of the parish. It was not only a momentous occasion for the two priests in question, but also for us parishioners. Ruth and Deborah were presented to the Bishop by the Archdeacon, after which they both reaffirmed their ordination vows:

 “Will you promote unity, peace and love among all Christian people, and especially among those your serve? Will you do all that is within your power to build up the Church which is the body of Christ?”

 “With the help of God, I will”

Could there be a place for Ruth at the heart of the process of that will have to resolve the fallout from the vote at Synod? We have already born witness for some years to her service to us as parishioners in her role as curate. There is no doubt about her formidable talent. Her years as a city professional are certainly ‘on trend’ given the profile of our new Archbishop.

During the service we were presented with heartfelt expressions of love and support for Ruth by the civic guests that were present. The Mayor of Lambeth was eloquent, humble and pleasingly brief which only added to the impact of his thoughtful words and good wishes for Ruth’s ministry. He was followed, most notably, by Julie Hillman, head of Bonneville and Jo Samways, head of Macaulay. Both of them have firsthand experience of Ruth’s talent for pastoral matters and spiritual guidance with her ability to lead people to the understanding that we are all children of God. Moreover, that God loves us with a depth and breadth that knows no bounds. Ruth, we welcome you and pray for your strength and resolution in this new chapter in your life and that of the parish.

Nigel Campbell