In memory of the Rev Joyce Mumford
Excerpts from the funeral address given by Rev’d Paddy Allen on 3 October 2012:
I remember my first time as a tutor at a TISEC weekend. Being late I panted into the chapel at Kinnoull and there sitting serenely was this quietly welcoming presence – sat four-square, with a thoroughly motherly air, a placid sense of control and genuine reverence.
I was surprised to discover that she was then training to be a lay reader, as everything about her radiated priest. But she was following what seemed to be the sensible, logical culmination of a life of serving God, a life distinguished academically from the time she won her scholarship to St Hilda’s in Oxford after school, to her career as a much-loved history teacher; soulmate of David in his progress from social work to the priesthood, as they both sought to live out their Christian faith in practical ways, and mother of Claire, Paul, Ruth and Peter.
She had always played a substantial part in church life in the different parishes where David served, particularly committed to issues of justice and peace, not just in theory but in the way that the family lived out their everyday lives. She retired when they came to Brechin, but wanted to do something with her free time; and so it was that she landed up at TISEC. And there it was that she was thoroughly discomfited to realise that actually her call was to the priesthood. All those of us present will remember the huge joy at her deaconing, the beam that radiated from ear to ear, and seemed to engulf her.
She spoke of her sense of utter self-offering as everyone was praying. Her prayer: 'Lord, here I am; this is all there is; take me, use me, let me let your glory through.' This was to be her prayer again and again in her ministry: little did she know as she prayed it first, how it was going to be answered. She identified very strongly with Mary, the mother of Jesus: with Mary’s waiting, her being open, her appalled consent to what God asked, her physical awareness of the changes in her body as her child grew and was born, her unfailing obedience at every stage. The obedience that made it possible for God’s glory to shine through her, even in apparent disaster.
And for Joyce, that was to be the pattern, as tragically soon after that day of joy, she was given the diagnosis of the leukaemia which was in fact to be the badge of her ministry. It was a puzzle – it all seemed so right that she should be ordained, and yet it seemed her ministry was to be cut off before it had begun.
There are two aspects to a priest’s calling. There is first the everyday one, the one that most of us spend most of our time in – the everyday practical service, the grumbling at the computer in the small hours, the words of teaching and preaching, absolving and blessing, the standing at the altar celebrating the redemptive love of Christ in the Eucharist. That’s all there, for everyone to see and judge and hopefully benefit from. Then there is the deep inner call to be Christlike – to be broken, to drink with Christ of the cup that we are given. This is where we are called to be, when it is no longer possible to do. This is where we are called to walk our road to Calvary as Christ walked his, to be passive as Christ was passive at the most profound moment of his ministry, to have something done to us, and accept it with grace, as Christ did. This is where God’s glory can truly begin to shine through. Joyce realised this as she pondered on St Francis of Assisi’s pilgrimage: 'It’s no use walking somewhere if your walking is not your preaching.' And at this point her prayer was ‘to radiate Christ. I pray to be what I have vowed to be, and been given grace to do: to communicate, whether by conversation or just by being, what it is God wants of us.’
She was so deeply aware of all the gifts she had been given throughout her life, the beauty of the world, the joy of using the brain, and of serving, the intense joy of her family, the way they were able to minister to her in those last months, David, her rock and inspiration, and the deep ening, varied relationship with God through Christ. And in joy she was able to say, 'I give it all back to be used.'
WH Vanstone, was once puzzling over his experience of sitting with a very holy Bishop who had been completely incapacitated by a stroke, wondering what was the point of this utter helplessness. Then he realised how it is that the universe is streaming with light in every part, and yet if you are in space, it all looks utterly black. Why? Because light can only become visible when it meets a solid object, light becomes visible only when it can be reflected.
And it is in the meeting of our graceful helplessness and the kindliness of those who serve us that love becomes visible: that the ultimate service we can give is to receive service, that in the grace of that meeting, the glory of God is revealed. Joyce was a priest for much of her life really, but it was as she was ordained that she was finally catapulted into that most profound part of priesthood, where in her suffering the light of Christ was made visible to all.