Glimpsing the Spirit Midwife
Fiona Bennett, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly for 2022 to 2023 and Minister of Augustine United Church, Edinburgh, talks to Laurence Wareing
How would you describe your early life and influences?
I grew up in Aberdeen in a very open-minded and supportive family, who didn’t really have church connection, which I think means I carry less nostalgia and perhaps less rigid baggage to do with church and God. When I was about 13 or 14, I was invited to a party in a Congregational church in Mastrick, a housing scheme in Aberdeen. The church itself was a hall, built to offer community space. It had no fixed pews, and I’d never been in a church like that. But most significantly, it had a female minister, and I’d never met a female minister before.
Marion was a really open, generous-spirited person, with deep faith but who didn’t claim to have all the answers. After that initial party, she picked me up, taking me to church, dropping me home and picking me up again for youth group on a Sunday evening. She did that for about four years.
When it was just the two of us for the last part of the journey, we had some wonderful conversations. I began to understand the legacy that emerged through the Congregational tradition – that the church meeting was the centre of our decisions, and that they’d been ordaining women for a very long time. So it was largely through Marion and that community in Mastrick that I got involved with the church at all.
So from wonderful conversations to a call to ministry, and theology at Edinburgh’s New College – what led you to this journey?
I cannot remember a time when I did not sense God’s presence, who is a creative force of love and hope. Even as child, I sensed that any face I offer to God was only a mask, so my most helpful and enduring images are the back of the head of a midwife already moving on, or a beautiful, powerful, wild flaming spirit, whose love is deeper than space.
I can remember on my 21st birthday having a huge sense of disappointment – a sense I’d reached 21 and didn’t feel that I had significantly changed the world! LOL! I think it tells you quite a lot about my personality (and it’s not that I’m just a complete megalomaniac!) that a sense of purpose is important to me.
I considered doing music professionally and drama was also a big part of my life (storytelling came out of that), but when it was a debate between music and Church, it felt as if Church had a bigger, more strategic purpose which I felt called to be part of through ministry.
In my late teenage years I got involved in quite charismatic groups up in Aberdeen. They were the ones with the energy, doing the teenage stuff, with a real sense of desire to change in the world, but they didn’t think women should be in leadership. I think that started tensions and questions in me which have never gone away, about how as Christians and churches we can use power well. How do we recognise the Spirit’s work beyond our prejudices and limitations? How do we drive for change to liberate and not use power abusively in the process? How do we genuinely hold diversity respectfully and when is inclusion just collusion with prejudice? How did Jesus use power? It wasn’t very institutional, that’s for sure…
This is an extract from an article published in the July/August 2022 edition of Reform