Thought for the Day by Angela Birkin (St Michael’s)
‘I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision’.Acts 26v19
Paul gives the account of his meeting with Christ on the road to Damascus to King Agrippa and declares that as a disciple of Jesus Christ he has been obedient to that heavenly vision despite hardships and setbacks.
Today the Church of England Calendar gives us the opportunity to remember two remarkable Christian women who were ‘not disobedient to the heavenly vision’.
Elizabeth Fry was born Elizabeth Gurney in Norwich in 1780 into a prominent Quaker banking family. She married Joseph Fry, also a Quaker. Elizabeth’s Christian beliefs were always accompanied by a large measure of social concern. She founded a school for girls in East London in 1808, and in 1811 was recognised as a preacher and minister by the Society of Friends.
After a visit to Newgate prison in 1813 where she became aware of the plight of women and children imprisoned in inhuman conditions she campaigned and worked for prison reforms in this country and elsewhere in Europe and founded a society for the care and rehabilitation of released prisoners. She also established night shelters for the homeless of London, established a school of nursing and inspected ships carrying female prisoners to be transported before they sailed from Britain. Elizabeth was depicted on the Bank of England £5 note from 2001 to 2016. She died at Ramsgate in Kent on this day in 1845.
Edith Cavell was born in Norfolk in 1865, the daughter of a vicar. She trained as a nurse and in 1907 became the matron of a large training centre for nurses in Brussels. When the First World War broke out Belgian neutrality was violated by the German armies, and the Brussels nursing school became a Red Cross hospital. Edith decided not to return home and tended both German and Allied injured soldiers whilst secretly assisting British soldiers to escape across the border from Belgium into the Netherlands. In August 1915 Edith was arrested, kept in solitary confinement, and tricked into making a confession to a charge which carried the death penalty.
On the night before her execution she was visited by the Anglican Chaplain in Brussels who gave her Holy Communion and later reported her words,
“I am thankful to have had these ten weeks of quiet to get ready. Now I have had them and have been kindly treated here. I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing as I do, in view of God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.”
Edith Cavell was shot by a firing squad on this day in 1915. After the war ended her body was returned to England and she is buried at Norwich Cathedral. Her statue is in St Martin’s Lane outside the National Portrait Gallery near Trafalgar Square.
May they both rest in peace and rise in glory.