'Immense contribution' - book honour for Myra Blyth
Recognising the contribution she has made to Baptist and ecumenical life in the areas of theology, worship and restorative justice, Myra Blyth has become the first female British Baptist minister to receive a festschrift – a set of essays in her honour
Reconciling Rites seeks to take an important theme in Myra's life and thought — reconciliation — and explore it both in terms of church worship (preaching, baptism eucharist, reading the Bible, prayer, liturgy), life (spirituality, charity, friendship) and the world of sport. Contributors include friends, colleagues and former students.
Myra was presented with the festschrift at the recent Regent’s Park College chapel service which brought the academic term to an end. Myra, who retires this summer having been a tutor and chaplain at the college since 2004, expressed her surprise and delight at its presentation.
‘When I opened the parcel and saw the book I was speechless! I never imagined receiving such a gift and still can’t quite believe it. To have dear friends and colleagues from across the years collaborate together around the themes of liturgy, justice and ecumenism which have shaped my studies and my ministry gives me such joy.
‘In a world where hatred and inhumanity is increasingly normalised I hope that this book will help inspire its readers to discover the importance in faith and in daily life of restorative justice values and practices.’
Myra trained for ministry in the late 1970s at the college. From Regent’s she went on to a unique ministry in local and national and international roles — associate minister, Sutton Baptist Church; Youth Officer, British Council of Churches; Executive Director, World Council of Churches; Deputy General Secretary, Baptist Union of Great Britain; and Chaplain and Tutor in Theology and Ecumenism, Regent’s Park College, Oxford.
In these different roles she has often been the first female, or one of the first, and so part of a wave of ministers through the 1980s leading the way for others. In addition, she co-edited Gathering for Worship with Chris Ellis, the service book for the Baptist community; more recently she played a key role in the creation of Pentecost People, the resource to help churches experience multicultural worship and prayer.
Regent’s Principal Rob Ellis led a tribute to Myra at the end of the chapel service, which was conducted on Zoom.
He said, ‘It was a great pleasure to be able to present Myra Blyth with the volume Reconciling Rites at her final chapel service as Chaplain recently. Myra has made an immense contribution to the life of the College, transforming our pastoral and welfare provision in a time of constant change and many demands.
‘At the same time, her teaching in worship and ecumenics, and her modelling of ministry practices for students, has been outstanding. Her own research into Christian understandings of restorative justice has been creative and has stimulated both academic debate and local projects. It has been unfortunate that Myra's last term in post has been under lockdown, but her final sequence of chapel services streamed live online has both showed us an unexpected facility with tech and been a wonderful celebration of women in Oxford through a selection of fine speakers.
‘Myra herself has been an important figure for many women in ministry - showing how it's possible to negotiate a predominantly male space with integrity, vision, humour, and quiet determination. Alongside all this, she has been a wonderful colleague and those who remain in College will miss her wisdom, wit, and scattiness immensely!’
Those contributing to Reconciling Rites are friends include Paul Fiddes, Rob Ellis, Paul Goodliff, Sian Murray-Williams, Helen Dare, Matthew Mills, Keith Clements, Deborah Rooke, Michael Taylor and co-editors Beth Allison-Glenny, Anthony Clarke and Andy Goodliff. The foreword is written by June Osborne, Bishop of Llandaff, Church in Wales.
Beth said, 'Myra’s ministry has been one which has constantly broken new ground: she was one of the generation of women in ministry who normalised women’s ministries. Myra has done this serving in the local church, in Baptist structures, in international ecumenical structures and in academia. Many of us have had the privilege of being led by her as Deputy General Secretary or in her role as chaplain at Regent’s.
'The book title seeks to honour two areas of her work: Rite and Reconciliation. Worship led by Myra has a distinctive, vibrant holiness and joy to it; something she has formed in her students and resourced us with in the book Gathering for Worship. She has also brought to her ministry a determination to see restoration and justice, with her academic commitment to reconciliation being born out in her practice.
'Our Union has been enriched by her wise and graceful ministry, so this is offered as a small token of our thanks.'
Former General Secretary David Coffey worked alongside Myra. He said of the book:
‘A rich anthology in honour of a unique exemplar of the theme of this festschrift. Myra Blyth has demonstrated amply her gifting to build creative altars out of stones over which others might stumble and has accomplished this in the most challenging terrains. Baptists are proud to claim Myra as a cradle child of our own tradition, but in truth Myra’s life is an ecumenical doxology sourced from many rivers. Her generous heart enables her to move with ease between all Christian traditions.
‘As a curator of worship, she accepts the challenge of reconciling diversity in a worshipping community with the creative provision of good liturgy. The value of these essays is the congruence of stimulating theological reflections with the life and ministry of an experienced theological practitioner and I warmly commend this feast of good things.’