LOOKING back over her prayer journal from the early 1990s, over a decade before she was ordained, the Revd Margot Hodson had written down that she felt a calling to ministry in rural parishes and environmental work. She tells Jo Duckles how that diary entry turned out to be unpredictably prophetic.
Margot tells me about her life over a cup of tea in the vicarage in Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, where she lives with her husband, Martin.
Born in Somerset, Margot grew up in a Christian family and went to a Church school. “I had a sense of God from very early on,” says Margot. The beautiful Somerset surroundings inspired her interest in conservation and her choice of geography as a degree subject. Margot says: “At university, I was invited to a Christian event, Down to Earth and from there I thought more seriously about my faith and became a more committed Christian. I’d had a sense of a call to ministry much earlier than that though, from childhood,” she says.
Today Margot is Rector of Wychert Vale Benefice. Over the last few years, she has overseen the merger of two previous benefices to form Wychert Vale and now leads a team of committed lay people and clergy. “Forming the new benefice was a major task,” she says, “there was a legal part, but the most important aspect was the relationships on the ground. We decided to make a covenant together based on common commitments to one another and three missional purposes: ‘Worshipping God, Serving Community and Sharing Life’. I am thrilled that Bishop Steven’s ‘three Cs’ fit together with these so well”. Wychert is the local building stone and the name is unique to that part of Buckinghamshire. “It reminds us that we need to be built together in Christ,” says Margot. “This feels especially relevant at present as we face 1,000 new houses in Haddenham and significant growth in other villages, including Stone. We are working ecumenically and putting an emphasis on welcome: seeing ways in which we can help new residents find a real home here and become active members of our communities.”
As well as the usual activities to be expected in a busy rural benefice, there is a regular Caféplus+ event reaching out to families in the villages and other ‘Fresh Expressions’ style initiatives. “There are many exciting things happening and there is lots of pastoral need in the area,” says Margot. While parish life is extremely busy, Margot’s passion for the environment sees her spending her spare time and holidays working, together with her husband Martin, to help inspire and empower others to do more to look after the planet. Their partnership works both ways, as Martin, originally a plant biologist, is also an authorised preacher who looks after the Sunday rotas for their busy benefice.
Martin is the operations director for the John Ray Initiative (JRI), the educational branch of the Christian environmental movement. JRI focusses on producing resources and running conferences and courses. His current project is a ground-breaking Christian conference on 17 March looking at issues surrounding transport and sustainability. Martin is also now doing more and more speaking nationally and even internationally. He has had two recent visits to Sweden, including the Växjö Diocese which is twinned with the Oxford Diocese. Martin leads a distance learning course, Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES), which goes more deeply into theology and environmental issues and is based at Ripon College, Cuddesdon. The Hodsons teach international Christian graduates in Berlin each year on a course called Bible and Culture. Margot also does some tutoring in environmental and rural theology for Ripon College Cuddesdon.
On a more local and practical level, when Martin and Margot moved to Haddenham, they found themselves at the start of a new Transition group: “Nationally Transition is about working on sustainability, making communities stronger and more resilient so they can cope with the demands of this century,” says Margot. The group acquired air tightness testing equipment and used this to detect where heat might be leaking from local homes, including their vicarage. This gave them the chance to find easy places to improve insulation and make the building warmer and more heat efficient, especially Margot’s study. And a focus group is exploring the possibility of introducing the Eco Church initiative to the benefice. Eco Church is A Rocha UK’s award scheme for churches who want to be as environmentally friendly as possible.
Several of Margot and Martin’s joint projects have been publications. One is a 28-page Grove booklet entitled An Introduction to Environmental Ethics. Another is BRF’s A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues – an accessible guide to eight contemporary issues, including Bible-based reflections and practical eco-tips.
“Part of what we do is help people look at what they can do positively. If you look at environmental problems you can get depressed but there are ways in which you can respond and know that God is a God of hope. He loves this world and wants to see it cared for so when you get involved in environmental issues you are working with him. From there you can’t help but care for others as part of God’s creation, it all works together.”
When not working as a parish priest and doing her environmental work, Margot enjoys cooking, country walking and visiting her family in Somerset.
In a separate box:
Top Eco Tips:
- Reduce plastics – on the day we met, the top story on BBC News had been ways to reduce consumption of the plastics that are destroying our oceans. “Easy ways are using a plate rather than cling film or a container with a reusable lid when you store food in the fridge,” says Margot. Other ways are buying food with as little unnecessary packaging as possible and opting for reusable shopping bags, rather than plastic carriers.
- Buy local-locally sourced food can cut down on air and road miles and help provide more sustainable local economy.
- Ensure your home is adequately insulated
- Don’t waste food – try and use up any food left in the fridge rather than throwing away leftovers
- If you have a garden, nurture native plants to encourage biodiversity or install a bird nesting box or pipes for masonry bees. If you are in a flat or student room you can ask if your church or even your college, might try swift boxes.