Huge thanks to Rev Canon Julie Bradley, Associate Minister at St Michael’s, Stoke Gifford, for her support for the Synod even from before the beginning. In July 2018, Pam went to chat with Julie about her being a speaker at a Parishioners’ Call gathering in Salisbury alongside Bishop Crispian Hollis. When Julie led Pam out of St Michael’s friendly cottage, coffee shop and into its magnificent state-of-the-art auditorium the seed of Root and Branch Synod was planted as Pam visualised the space full of lively, reforming Catholics. From that first inspirational moment right until now, even through the anxious time of the pandemic, Julie and St Michael’s team could not have been more encouraging, welcoming or hospitable to us. We are so grateful.
Big thank you also to the parishioners at St Nicholas of Tolentino Roman Catholic Church in Easton. All are welcome there. Rev Richard McKay has ministered in the poorest parts of Bristol for nearly fifty years. His parishioners say they see him, day in day out, rising to the challenge he puts to them — to exclude no-one from Christ’s love and care. Traumatised people, whether from inner city Bristol or from war-torn corners of the world arrive at St Nick’s doorstep and the community tries to patch them up with practical care and love, striving to be a ‘field hospital’ church. One of the founders of Root & Branch, Catholic Women’s Ordination, has been privileged to share in this kindly beneficence. We’re blessed to have St Nick's support, friendship - and magnificent music - in our Synod.
Dr James Alison is a Catholic theologian, priest, and author. He has a mission to bring the work of French historian and polymath Rene Girard to a wider public. His books include Faith Beyond Resentment: Fragments Catholic and Gay. He is known for his pastoral outreach in the LGBTQ+ community.
Ruby Almeida was born in Jodhpur, India. She was brought up with an Almeida identity that was both strongly Catholic and Indian from an early age. After moving to England, she attended a Catholic school in Richmond, before embarking on a decades long career in the media industry. Having trained at the National Catholic Radio and Television Centre in North London, she produced documentaries for the Indian Space Organisation and then formed her own video production company, primarily working for clients in the community sector and worked for NGOs and Colleges in India. She worked at London Metropolitan University as Senior Lecturer in Film and Broadcast. Ruby has worked for many years on LGBTQ+ rights. She was Chair of Quest, a pastoral support group for LGBTQ+ Catholics, for eight years and since 2015 is the Co-Chair of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. Ruby set up Rainbow Catholic India and then Bridge and Embrace, the first LGBT groups in India and is on the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council in London. Ruby works for Landings, a programme to support baptised Catholics, who, once distanced from their faith, now wish to return to it.
Rev Sr Victoria Chester N.SSC trained as a lawyer and practiced in the United States and the UK before moving into charity management within the wildlife conservation sector, the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community - and latterly with the RSPCA. Victoria was a lay minister in the Church of England for 20 years before being ordained in 2020 and moving to Wales in 2021 to join the Anglican community of the Society of the Sacred Cross at Tymawr Convent near Monmouth as a Novice.
Bishop Vivienne Faull is the 56th Bishop of Bristol, a city in which she has close family links. After leaving Oxford and teaching with the Church Mission Society in North India, and doing youth work at Shrewsbury House, Everton, she trained for ministry. She began cathedral ministry in 1990 as Chaplain at Gloucester Cathedral where she married her husband Michael, and where she was ordained priest in 1994. In 1994 she moved to become Canon Pastor, and later Vice Provost, at Coventry Cathedral. She became the first woman to lead a Church of England Cathedral as Provost and then Dean of Leicester in 2000, focussing on local areas of deprivation. In 2012, she was appointed Dean of York. She is serving her second term on the English Anglican Roman Catholic committee for ecumenical conversations and was elected as one of the female representatives in the House of Bishops in 2013.
Dr Eleanor Flynn is a medical graduate and associate professor who retired in 2019 from
the University of Melbourne Medical School where she was involved in student selection, curriculum design and teaching for palliative care, communication and ethics. Until 2017 she also worked as a hospital and community Palliative Care specialist. In 2014 she completed a Master of Theology degree on the images accompanying the office of the dead in late medieval books of hours. With
colleagues in Melbourne, she founded Women’s Wisdom in the Church (WWITCH) initially to strongly challenge the bishops on their poor response to the Australian Royal Commission into The Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse. WWITCH is one of the 19 members of the Australian Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (ACCCR), and she has recently become the co-convenor of ACCCR. She is a co-opted board member of the Spiritual Health Association and coteaches a course on death, dying and grief through art and spirituality at the University of Divinity in Australia.
Dr Martha Heizer is an educationalist and psychologist at the University of Innsbruck whose special interest is in Feminist Theology. She was co-founder of the Austrian Kirchenvolks-Begehren, the initiative which led to the establishment of We Are Church and has been Chair of We are Church - Austria since 2014. She and her husband received notice of excommunication from the church from the Archdiocese of Innsbruck, also in 2014.
Soline Humbert Vatinel is a life-long advocate for equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church. She cofounded Brothers And Sisters in Christ (BASIC) in Ireland in 1993 to open all ministries to women and was spokesperson for Women's Ordination Worldwide first international Conference in Dublin in 2001. She has an M.Phil in Ecumenics and is an accredited spiritual director.
Prof Emerita Ursula King is a German theologian and scholar of religion specialising in gender and religion, feminist theology and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Apart from multiple visiting appointments at Universities including in India, Cambridge and Oslo, she was professor of Theology and Religious Studies at Bristol University, then President of Catherine of Siena College at Roehampton University. A Roman Catholic, she signed the Catholic Scholars Declaration on Authority in the Church stating ‘Catholic women need to be able to hold positions of authority in the church authority.’
Bishop Declan Lang was appointed bishop to the Roman Catholic Clifton diocese of Bristol in 2001. He has worked on such diverse projects as Clerical Appraisal, Adult Religious Education and Parish direction planning. On the ecumenical front, he is Co-Chair of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee and also Co-Chair for the Roman Catholic and United Reform Church dialogue in England. He is Chairman of Somerset Churches Together. Within the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales he is also Chair of the Department of International Affairs.
Prof Mary McAleese was elected the eighth President of Ireland in 1997, becoming the second female President of Ireland and the first woman in the world to succeed another as President. Since 2019 she has been Chancellor of Trinity College Dublin, where in 1975 she was appointed to the post of Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology. After retiring from political life, she gained a licentiate and doctorate in Canon Law. When a young Mary McAleese told a priest she planned to become a lawyer, the priest dismissed the idea: she knew no one in the law and she was female. The reality of what she went on to achieve - despite those obstacles and despite a sectarian attack that forced her family to flee their home is remarkable. In her recent book Here’s the Story: A memoir of family, war, peace and politics she traces that astonishing arc: from the tight streets of north Belfast, to a professorship in Dublin while still in her twenties, behind-the-scenes work on the peace process, and two terms as President of Ireland. She writes of her encounters with prime ministers, popes and royalty with the same easy candour and intimacy with which she describes her childhood. And her account of the latest act in her remarkable career - quietly pursuing a doctorate, and loudly opposing the misogyny she perceives in the Catholic Church – has been inspiring to many.
Kate McElwee MA is Executive Director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, the oldest and largest organisation working to ordain women as deacons, priests, and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church. WOC is a grassroots-driven movement that promotes activism, dialogue, and prayerful witness to call for women’s full equality in the Church. Kate has an M.A. in International Human Rights from SOAS (London) and is also a member of the leadership circle of Women’s Ordination Worldwide
Rev Richard McKay is a Roman Catholic priest from Scotland. Richard has worked in the Bristol diocese for 49 years, most of that time in very impoverished parts of Bristol. At St Nicholas of Tolentino, where he is parish priest, there are more than 60 nationalities represented. The community is known for its active inclusivity. A major part of Richard’s pastoral work is in support of those seeking safe asylum and refuge in this country. When women were first ordained as priests in the Church of England in 1994 Richard spoke robustly and publicly for the same to happen in the Roman Catholic Church - and he has continued to do so. He finds the reality of oppression and poverty the source for theology and mission.
Joanna Moorhead was deputy editor of the Catholic Herald 30 years ago and around the same time joined a Catholic feminist group. As a freelance journalist she has written for the major UK newspapers, especially the Guardian and the Observer, as well as writing books. The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington was recently Book of the Week on BBC R4. Joanna is Arts Editor of The Tablet, in which last year she wrote an article calling for a synod “that starts with women …….”
Myra Poole SND was a convert to Catholicism in her 20s and has been a sister of Notre Dame de Namur for over 60 years. She served as a teacher and head teacher in Northampton and Southwark until her mid 50s when she resigned to focus upon Feminist Theology and Spirituality, and in particular the role of women in the Catholic Church. She and Lala Winkley started the movement Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO) in 1993, following the vote for women priests in the Anglican Church. She is author of Prayer, Protest, Power: The Spirituality of Julie Billiart Today, and co-author with Dorothea McEwan of Women’s Ordination: A Catalyst for Change in the Roman Catholic Church. Her most recent book, written with Pippa Bonner, is Awakening – Catholic Women’s Ordination From the Public Square developing a theology of the piazza. She emphasises the connection between the poverty of women and girls caused by institutional misogyny.
Derek Reeve is a co-founder of A Call To Action (ACTA). He found faith in the Church of England and after passing through extreme Anglo-Catholicism was received into the Roman Communion at the age of 15. He served his National Service as Nurse in the RAF before being accepted for training for the priesthood. This included being sent to Saint Sulpice seminary in Paris where they were experiencing the renewal that was happening in the French church at the time. This prepared him for the second Vatican Council. As as parish priest of a small urban parish in Portsmouth city he sought to implement the findings of the Council and to create a community where the people of the parish directed and controlled everything, even to paying him a monthly salary. He was there for 37 years. He honestly believes this was because the bishop did not want him to do the same sort of thing anywhere else. When he retired everything they had created together as a community was demolished as the parish was subsumed into its original mother parish. He does not preside at Mass apart from a small group of ACTA people who meet twice a month and it is the daily prayer of the Church which sustains him, together with the friend with whom he lives and his dog. About Root and Branch he says ‘you give me hope.’
Root & Branch Core Team - all volunteers
Colm Holmes is Chair of We Are Church International.
Francis Hunter is a late comer to the core team. A committed Catholic, the Church has been a huge part of his life, from excellent education for his 4 children, to incredible support when he lost his son Robert to Cystic Fibrosis. Sadly, he believes the current position of the Church on many issues is toxic and has resulted in his family rejecting it. The Root and Branch Synod presents a wonderful opportunity to encourage much needed change so future generations can benefit from the many things the Church does so well.
Maggie Mathews is another late-comer to the group. She’s a journalist who worked as a producer in BBC Current Affairs for the best part of 25 years. In 1994 she produced a documentary following some of the first women to be ordained as priests within the Church of England, at Bristol Cathedral. She remembers how the Anglican Bishop of Bristol, Barry Rogerson actively empowered some of those women as they prepared. The footage filmed at Bristol Cathedral that day went to news broadcasters around the world, reporting on the breaking of a centuries-old tradition. Maggie now asks her sisters and brothers in faith: In 2021, does it seem good to you to exclude women from any ministry in the Church?
Penelope Middelboe has a long career in film-making and script editing, and was CEO of large youth charity, Shakespeare Schools Foundation. She left in 2014 to write with her second husband Jon Rosebank, an historian. This has turned into a podcast HistoryCafe.org focussed on how and why we believe misleading narratives about important historical events. Brought up Catholic by her mother, she felt unable to bring her own children up as Catholics because she disagreed with too much of what was being said in her parish church. She is therefore immensely grateful that the combination of pandemic-lockdown and the internet has utterly transformed the ability of reform-minded Catholics to meet and support, explore and learn and pray together.
Pamela Perry joined the Church in 1962 after seeing God in the work of Abbé Pierre with the homeless of Paris. Life includes teaching, writing, running a business, chairing a property company and volunteering for CAFOD, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Make Poverty History and with refugees. Co-founded Parishioners’ Call which encourages discussion within parishes. Now a grandmother living in Salisbury with a loving husband.
Kerry Poole is a retired English teacher who has been involved in leading music in parishes for most of her life. Having believed she was part of a silent minority lamenting the injustices of the Catholic Church, she was thrilled to find Root and Branch and to take her place among the vociferous growing majority who are now actively working for much-needed reform.
Mary Ring has led an ordinary and uneventful life as a mother, grandmother and teacher. Her earliest memories recall her brothers being petted and praised as altar boys by the sacristan nuns, whilst girls were taught obedience and self-sacrifice. She works for a healthy, safe and welcoming Church, where deep institutional damage to its own members - not only women - is addressed and redressed. She currently serves on the Leadership Circle of Women’s Ordination Worldwide.
Katharine Salmon is a Theology teacher and lecturer in Sheffield, Yorkshire. She was involved in the campaign for women priests and women bishops in the Anglican Church, and is a long-time campaigner for women's ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. She has served on the Boards of Women's Ordination Worldwide and Catholic Women's Ordination. She writes and conducts liturgies for life events.
Rhiannon Parry Thompson is a former National Childbirth Trust Trustee and Honorary Secretary. She’s an active environmentalist: a Green trade union branch rep and a member of Catholic Concern for Animals. She has a strong commitment to interfaith relations and is the Catholic Church representative on her local Christian Aid Committee. She has an interest in regional and indigenous languages and cultures and is a Welsh and Cornish languages learner. She is a university and an adult education teacher.
Mary Varley is a recent recruit to the core team and a former social worker who is appalled by the extent to which the abuse of power is endemic in the worldwide institutional church.
She is deeply ashamed to be part of a church where the betrayal of children, young people and adults violates everything that Jesus teaches us. She joined Root and Branch to work for the transformation of structures and culture to make the church a place of safety for all.
Sue Williamson is a retired prison and university tutor. Her specialism has been working with those who struggle with basic literacy skills in schools and prisons and with those who have neurodiversity issues at university. Sue felt called to priesthood in her teens, being heavily influenced by radical theological friends and Therese of Lisieux who also felt called to priesthood. Her particular interest is in feminist theology, participative liturgy and in the theology of the Eucharist, and her spirituality is now focused around the Lay Fraternities of Charles de Foucauld. She has been an editor of All Year Round, an ecumenical worship publication funded by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, is a founder member of Catholic Women’s Ordination (CWO) and their delegate for Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW). Having attended various national and international Women's Synods, she believes strongly in synodality and in working ecumenically. She welcomes the way in which Root and Branch has opened so many avenues to so many who feel on the fringes of the Church.
And our huge thanks to all those who’ve donated so generously since we began our Journey of Discernment back in October 2020, and to all our families for supporting us.
Particular thanks to Penelope’s husband Jon Rosebank, also to Geoffrey Thompson and Tony Ring and to the few core team members who feel too humble to be on this programme.
We wouldn’t have managed to get this hybrid Root & Branch Synod off the ground without our technical wizard:
Peter Agius has a life-long connection to the Benedictines of Downside and Worth Abbeys, and a family connection going back to the monks in Ramsgate in 1870. In the 1970s he discovered the Worth Abbey Lay Community and at the same time started a near 50-year friendship with Mary Ring. He was a resident in the community 1976-77, leaving to settle in Havant after marrying in the Abbey Church. Then he rediscovered the Lay Community in the 90s before it became the Lay Community of St Benedict (LCSB) in 2003. A career in electronics and software, coupled with being webmaster for the LCSB for 8 years, has taken an unexpected direction through lockdown as he helped develop an ecumenical and inclusive on-line saying of the Divine Office for the LCSB, which now sees many members meeting four times a day on-line for prayer. He is now Administrator for the LCSB and currently balancing that role with IT Management of the Synod. After 40 years in electronics he is looking forward to taking the message of St Benedict to the world and working in conference and website management in his twilight years.
Designer Valentina Ring, website manager Vanessa Labrie, video editor Annie Edwards. Jade Strain’s assistance with Mailchimp and Jillian Dempsey’s eye on accounting have also been invaluable. Nikki Gwatkin at the Holiday Inn, Filton, has been supportive throughout.
Finally thank you to the many, many people (far more than we realise we’re told) who have been praying for us. We will continue to need your prayers as we take The Bristol Text forward and as Root & Branch continues to reach out, to listen and to grow. It’s been a privilege.