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Last week I was the guest speaker at “Holy Ground”, an informal Sunday afternoon service at Huddersfield Parish Church. I planned my talk some weeks beforehand, and chose to speak about Exodus 1 and 2. It tells of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, trying to suppress the Israelites by killing their baby boys. It’s the story of five brave women, two of whom are midwives who courageously stand up to Pharaoh.
As someone who enjoys football, rock music and post-dystopian fiction in my spare time, I was surprised during the covid lockdown to find myself becoming a fan of “Call the Midwife”. The latest series ended last weekend and my wife and I will have to find something else to watch on Sunday evenings.
Also during lockdown, I began listening to the brilliant podcast “The Rest is History”, presented by Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook. My son recommended it to me and I recommend it to you. By chance, I recently listened to a fascinating episode that looked at the history of childbirth, with the author Sara Read.
Meanwhile, I am currently reading “Going to Church in Medieval England”, a book by Nicholas Orme, recommended to me by Mark Vasey-Saunders who most of you will remember. It includes a section about midwives and child bearing!
So what did I learn from this chance confluence of experiences? Amongst other surprises, I learned that in medieval times, due to high infant mortality rates, babies were baptised as soon as possible and were often brought to the church on the day they were born – not by the parents but by the midwife, while the mother remained at home.
Perhaps you knew that already, but more surprisingly, I learned that childbirth was often a community affair in those days. The whole village came to the birth and gathered to watch! (Fun fact: the word “gossip” derives from the Old English godsibb, from God and sibb, the term for a godparent who would perhaps chatter idly while they waited for the birth. Shakespeare was the first to use the word as a verb, meaning speculative chatter.)
Most interesting of all was that the midwife was appointed by the bishop, and her first duty on arrival was not to call for towels and hot water but to lead the gathering in a prayer for safe delivery.
This was particularly interesting for me, as someone who believes that vocation is for everyone and that each of us should live our lives at work, home and leisure “as unto the Lord”. “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17.
Blessings in Christ
Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Vocations
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