13 March 1936 – 9 August 2016
Marie Isaacs was born in London, one of four children of Albert Edward Isaacs and Elizabeth Isaacs. The former was a Polish Jew, the latter an Irish Catholic and this combination, which Marie thought of as a ‘splendid mix’, accustomed her to vigorous debate on religious matters from girlhood up.
Although raised a Catholic, Marie began attending on a regular basis in her teenage years. She went on to become only the fourth woman to be ordained in our union. The first ordination of a woman had taken place in 1922, and there had been a 20 year gap come Marie’s own in 1962.
Marie was the first female applicant to Regent’s Park College in Oxford. Although accepted as a candidate for ministry, she could neither live nor dine on the college premises. Required to be off-site by 19:00, when she was forced to work late, Marie made the window of the (gents’) toilets her means of exit.
Marie had what would nowadays be called a bi-vocational call to pastoral ministry and theological scholarship. A doctoral thesis on concepts of spirit in the period of the New Testament church led to a special focus on the letters Hebrews and James. At Heythrop, the Jesuit training college in London, Marie eventually rose to become head of the department of New Testament studies, a remarkable position for anyone who happened to be female, working-class, or of Baptist subscription, let alone for Marie, who combined the three.
For Marie, the call to ministry was bound up with the duty to play one’s part in society. “It’s either politics or the church” was how Marie recalled the feeling that eventually led to a lifelong career in the latter. Early years in ministry were spent as chaplain at Birmingham University, where Marie was treasured for her efforts to make Christian faith relevant to contemporary world issues, for her uninhibited participation in lively and serious discussion, and for her availability and sincerity as a pastoral counsellor.
Marie’s later decades in ministry were associated above all with Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead, London. Over the course of four decades Marie was successively a member, an assistant pastor, then sole minister of Heath Street, and finally after her retirement again a member of the congregation. The congregation valued Marie for her great gift in creating a sense of worship, and for a preaching ministry characterised by her strong faith in the goodness and the love of God.