A Collect for St. Hilda
O God of peace, by whose grace the abbess Hilda was endowed with Gifts of justice, prudence, and strength to rule as a wise mother over the nuns and monks of her household, and to become a trusted and reconciling friend to leaders of the Church: Give us the grace to respect and love our fellow Christians with whom we disagree, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Depending on what lectionary you consult, and what part of the Communion you belong to, you will find that the abbess St Hilda is celebrated on a November 17,18, or 19. So whichever day you like best, you can celebrate her Feast day. But why celebrate her?
Born in Northumbria, Hilda is one of the great Celtic Saints. According to the historian the Venerable Bede, she became a nun under the direction of St. Aidan in 647. She founded several monasteries, the last being at Whitby, which became a centre of learning producing several bishops. During her time, early Celtic traditions were being pressed aside with the arrival of Roman customs. While Hilda preferred Celtic customs over Roman ones, she would work to bring peace among Christians her day, in the belief that it would be more desirable for the Christian Church to be a unified people around issues like when yo celebrate Easter. I can imagine that it would have been a tough time for many people.We are led to believe that Hilda used her gentle and moderating influence to help her people accept change. She was a great teacher who offered her gifts of teaching to commoner and to king alike. One such commoner, Cædmon was a shepherd at the abbey of Whitby who was given a gift of putting word to song in a dream. Hilda gave him great encouragement. Consequently this earliest of Anglo-Saxon poets became well known, most especially for Caedmon’s hymn:
Now let me praise the keeper of Heaven’s kingdom,
the might of the Creator, and his thought,
the work of the Father of glory, how each of wonders
the Eternal Lord established in the beginning.
He first created for the sons of men
Heaven as a roof, the holy Creator,
then Middle-earth the keeper of mankind,
the Eternal Lord, afterwards made,
the earth for men, the Almighty Lord
All that to say that Hilda is a great saint of the church whose life was a gift to the world and I believe that she has much to teach us yet today. Her legacy is perhaps best summed up in the collect above. She is referred to as a ‘trusted and reconciling friend.’ She understood that even in disagreement the people of God were called to a rich expression of grace. I imagine her to be a great Mother who brought priest, kings, and commoners together and help them either resolve their differences, or at the very least to accept their differences and move on in a spirit of love and compassion with one another – even in disagreement.
The epistle appointed for the Feast of St. Hilda of Whitby is Ephesians 4: 1-6
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
It would serve us well to remember in this world with so much difference and so much diversity, that God calls us to bear with one another in love. God calls us to be unified with even those who are different than us and even those with whom we disagree. We are called to, like Hilda, make every effort to maintain the unity of the spirit. My prayer is that we all strive to be more like Hilda. She reminds us that we gain so much more when we share a common life. It is to accept that what Archbishop a Tutu says is so very true – “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
May God ‘give us the grace to respect and love our fellow Christians with whom we disagree, that our common life may be enriched and your gracious will be done, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.’