Reflections by: Cressida Pryor
(photo shared with permission)
It is with some trepidation that I write this piece as I am aware you have not heard from me before.
Two and a half years ago my aunt Olivia stayed with me and my husband in this small Cotswold town of Winchcombe. She was on her annual ‘crop circle’ visit to England and en route to stay with Celia near Glastonbury for the Goddess Festival.
A few days with us allowed a breathing space between the rigours of London, the excitement of the metropolis, and the west country demands of leading ceremonies and being a ‘living legend’. I suggested a stroll along the winding terrace of weaver’s cottages that form the extended high street to St Peter’s, our C of E parish church. Olivia agreed with alacrity and we walked up to the honey coloured church, built, unusually in Britain, in one go, in the late 1400s.
Once inside Olivia immediately slipped away and sat in a pew near the altar. Although this was Sunday afternoon the church was eerily silent, the worn flag stones warm in late summer’s filtered sunlight. She knelt, head bent and supported on her clasped hands, for several minutes. The church’s quiet absorbed all of our thoughts until we were walking once more back to our Victorian semi, tea and cake.
We entered the house and before the kettle was on, Olivia turned to me and asked; ’Would you take the FOI over?’...my evident surprise prompted her further revelation; ’I asked for guidance in the church and this is what I was told: ask Cressida’. I considered for a moment, trusted my positive gut response and gave an affirmative answer. Olivia, breathed out with obvious relief saying; ‘Oh good! Now I can die...’ Her laugh masked our protestations of ongoing life that such a comment usually elicits.
A few days later we held a small ceremony with Celia Thomas in Glastonbury to mark my succession.
Since then I have extended my spiritual and theological development through studying with the One Spirit Interfaith Foundation and have been ordained an Interfaith Minister. I am now too a member of the Unitarian Church and feel very at home in this liberal and supportive congregation who whilst acknowledging Jesus as a prophet and great teacher also recognise the inherent divine grace within us all, not just in the ‘other’; be it male or female. I feel there is still a huge need to honour and express the feminine aspect of divine spirit in the world. The need for compassion; peace and reconciliation; creativity and containment. The FOI’s ethos and manifesto of interreligious acceptance and tolerance are still desperately important as we witness the horrors evident in the continued strife in the Middle East, central Africa and other of the world’s hot spots.
And here I am writing a short piece for Isian News following Olivia’s passing; aware of issues facing the FOI I could not have imagined that warm July afternoon in 2011.
I have found the privilege of serving the FOI as its steward at times both rewarding and surprising. The issues that have emerged so far; some of which Olivia was involved with too, included the need to set up a code of ethics, consider members use of pseudonyms and the dangers that could arise with this, and more recently where does the FOI stand in terms of being a religious body registering marriage solemnisers? Also the possibility of fine tuning the liturgy to make it relevant and usable for today’s needs. All this and we have not yet had Olivia’s London memorial service.
I am really excited as my two worlds collide with the latter. January 26th sees a London gathering to honour and celebrate Olivia’s spiritual life and legacy. We are expecting 50 to 60 guests hosted in the Kensington Unitarian church. A wonderful space I feel she would have enjoyed and approved of. Caroline Wise and I are putting together a memorial book of ‘Olivia’ memories that will eventually live in Huntington’s temple. If you feel moved to do so please email short anecdotes or memories of Olivia that can be printed off and included in the book. Thank you.
I like to work through consensus and know the huge benefits of ‘group wisdom’ but also the perils of vacillation and dither, so hope to steer a path aided by meditation and prayer that achieves the best possible result for the FOI’s continued health.
Olivia leaves a huge legacy; it is my honour to serve it’s expression to meet 21st century needs.
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