WATCH pays tribute to the life of Una Kroll who has recently died at the age of 91. Una was one of those campaigners for Women’s ordination who kept the flame alight during the difficult years when the church simply failed to understand what women were offering. Her prophetic shout from the gallery of Church House in 1978 ‘We asked for Bread and you gave us a stone’ became, for many of us who joined the struggle in later year, a rallying cry. Those like Una who raised their voices and called for justice towards women in the church and the wider world are important foremothers. The church has at long last changed its legislation; now comes the long task of changing the culture. If there are watch members out there with memories of Una that you would like to share please send them in and we can honour her memory.
Hearing of the death of Una Kroll was a mixture of sadness for ourselves and her family, and joy and thanksgiving for all she gave to so many, in particular to the long-waged campaign for women to be ordained as priests in the Church of England. Una was one of the early campaigners, and tributes to her all speak of her as courageous, inspirational, resilient, and a visionary prophet, who encouraged countless other women and men to share her vision of a church where the men and women could serve equally in all parts of the church, and believe it was possible to achieve it.
Una had known her vocation was to priesthood from the age of twenty, but she was not able to be ordained priest until 1997, when the Church of Wales finally ordained women. But this did not prevent her responding to her vocation in many different ways at different times of her life: as a trained doctor who was also a member of a missionary order of nuns, as a GP in deprived areas of London and Sussex; a one of the first women to train on the new part time Southwark ordination course, though unlike the men on the course, Una remained in the laity on completing the course and was licensed as a Deaconess; and then later as a solitary contemplative, living under vows and offering ministry in the local parish and spiritual guidance and direction to many who have much to thank her for.
WATCH, and all those who have campaigned for and value the ordained ministry of the Church of England being open to women and men, have particular reason to be thankful to Una, who was both a pioneer and prophet in the campaign to achieve this. The Christian Parity Group, (called by another early member called it “a circle of healthy indignant Christians”) and of which she was a founder member, was an ecumenical group which recognised that if Christians were to try to bring equality for women into the different parts of our society, they also needed the church to live out this belief in the basic equality and value of all. In the 1970s this group was involved in campaigning for the introduction of the Sex Discrimination Act, and at the same time seeking to bring about similar changes in the Church and support those women who knew that their vocation was to ordained priesthood.
Una was always a campaigner who was prepared to challenge the church and its structures “I do not ever think we shall slip this through without controversy” she wrote in 1975, but it was the moment in 1978, when General Synod voted against bringing forward legislation to start the process of ordaining women to the priesthood, that Una is remembered for by thousands. Into the silence of Church House came the clear call from the gallery:
“We asked for bread and you gave us a stone”
In those few words, Una gave voice to the feelings of rejection, anguish, and anger and challenge that many felt at that time – and have been such a familiar feelings to so many in MOW and then WATCH on so many other occasions since. She gave a voice to those whose voice was once again being silenced.
Una continued to challenge MOW, and later, WATCH in the campaigns to achieve “parity” for women in all orders of ordained ministry: she also continued to pray for the long campaign and those involved as her life focused more and more on prayer.
There will be many tributes paid to Una. WATCH gives great thanks for Una, for her vision, her hope, her persistence, her continued challenges to us as well as others, her encouragement and her prayer. It seemed very fitting that she died on the Feast of the Epiphany – the day when Christians celebrate the grace of God being shared throughout the world without barrier or boundary.
A selection of some of the many tributes to Una:
Dear friends. Una was my spiritual director for 35 years and I visited her two days ago.
I took blue hyacinth plants. Una was sleeping. I began singing ‘When I needed a neighbour
you were there, you were there, when I needed a neighbour you were there.’ Una’s eyes opened, she smiled and tried to hum with me. She couldn’t get the words or all the notes, but the notes she managed were in tune. Two lovely district nurses came in to attend to Una, and asked me to keep singing, so I did…Abide with me, Jesus loves me, and When I needed a Neighbour. Una looked luminous, serene.
The nurses helped me adjust her pillow. I kissed her good-bye. I was honoured to see her. Her death on Epiphany morning is truly heavenly.
Carrie Pemberton wrote:
It is with deep sadness and a thankful heart I record the passing of this wise and determined champion of ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ in the following of Christ and its implications and possibilities for a full and flourishing life. I have known Una for the last fifteen years and been supported by her through a number of trials, tribulations and exasperations. Her passing into glory was rightly accompanied by others who honoured her firebrand nature – for authenticity and equality. We have had in our midst a prophetic voice and a generous companion to those bruised in their pilgrimage. I note two books which will continue to speak and deserve a place in your kindle reader to hold your feet to the fire of transformation and spiritual honesty.
Forgive and Live, and Bread not Stones
Many people’s lives are crippled, or at least hampered, by what other people have done to them, or what they have done to other people. Only by finding a way to be free of the past, can we live fully. The Christian belief is that we do this by forgiveness, and by the death of Jesus on the cross. Forgive and Live discusses the how and why of forgiveness, seeking to help the reader understand the meaning of the death of Jesus and how it helps us to forget and live. The book is created around six chapters to facilitate Lenten study and reflection.
Bread not Stones – her final reflective memoir takes as its point of departure her intervention in 1978 at the Church of England’s General Synod when its members turned down a proposal to prepare legislation to ordain women to the priesthood. (Building on the work for equality which had been underway across Government) Quoting from Matthew 7:9, she shouted from the gallery “We asked you for bread and you gave us a stone”
Rev’d Dr Una Kroll, MD, was a doctor and an Anglican priest before taking a place in the pews as a disenfranchised woman in the Catholic Church – where women cannot be ordained. She was much sought after spiritual adviser and extremely generous with her time supporting women and men wrestling with issues of sexual and gender based abuses and discriminatory practices in the churches.
Across her life she was a devoted campaigner for gender equality in the church beingone of the first group of women to be ordained priests in the Church in Wales (by the then Bishop of Monmouth Rowan Williams). She had become a deaconess in the Church of England in 1970 and was deeply involved in the political horse trading which accompanied legislation around the Equal Pay act (sex discrimination legislation) and how this would impact on religious bodies – in particular the Church of England as the Established Church) She is the author of several books including Trees of Life: The Prayer of Intercession and its Cost and latterly her final book in which she reflected on the process and inescapability of death She lived for many years as an Anglican Anchorite in Monmouth and latterly in Lancashire. Top of Form.
Epiphany’s Grace for Una Kroll – Elaine Dando
It would have to be a day like today when you finally left;
Hanging on to life with grim determination for weeks
You let go on the most Epiphanic day of the year.
For the shining, bright revelation at the heart of things
Is what you were about.
Never mind the hazards of the journey
Nor the many demons that blocked your pathway
You would go stomping forth into the cold night
Like the tough babushka you held inside:
Those diminutive, White Russian ancestors
Who trekked miles across the icy steppe.
There was the Italian firebrand in you, too
A deadly yet wonderful mix of fire and ice.
How you were crafted out of pain and rejection!
Half starved, and beaten you developed your determination
To live and give and celebrate a life so dearly graced.
As a Russian doll, commentators will show each of your faces inside another
That the world knew and sometimes loved.
But that will only be the half of it:
So little is known of what you and your creator cooked up
Under the dark sky, the stars and whispering treeline.
They will take an eternity to unfold.