Sunday, 16 March 2014

Pause In Lent #2

A Pause in Lent Floss

Now here’s an interesting question for you –do you know who this bride is – pictured here at her wedding in 1920?If I told you her maiden name was Margaret Eadie Holmes, would that help? My father heard her speak at a meeting once, and was very impressed. Religion and politics were the two themes running through her life.

mum and dads wedding

Rejecting her parents' agnosticism, as a girl of seven she became an Episcopalian, attending church alone and finding religion a ‘great comfort’ Her family moved to London in 1911 when her father became an MP. She left school early because the headmistress made the girls pray against disestablishment- but she nevertheless developed a passion for learning.  She followed her father's Liberalism and by the age of twelve was a feminist.

Margaret and her mother were non-militant suffragists.  She took a secretarial course, worked in the new Ministry of Labour, and was confirmed an Anglican. After the war her parents refused her request to study for a theology in Oxford, and she considered becoming a nun. Instead, on 17 November 1920 she married another Liberal MP. She had four children, one died at birth, the other in WW2. Like many keen Christians, she was fascinated by and sympathetic to Judaism, she believed passionately in local church autonomy and the right of women to be ordained, to preach and lead churches. She left the Anglicans and joined the Congregationalists. In 1946, she persuaded her husband, by now “Air Secretary” in the government, to appoint her friend Elsie Chamberlain, a Congregational Minister, to be the first female RAF Chaplain.

Clearly a very gifted and passionate woman – I have so much respect for her. She died in 1991. And last Friday, her 2nd son, Anthony Neil Wedgwood Benn, died at the age of 89. RIP Tony.


Yes, Margaret was the mother of Tony Benn, veteran Labour MP. In his speeches and his writings, he often spoke of his mother, and her profound influence on him.

She taught him that the stories in the Bible were based around the struggle between the prophets and the kings and that he ought in his life to support the prophets over the kings, who had power, as the prophets taught righteousness which was more important. And he did… he certainly did. Here’s a selection of Benn quotes

  • If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people.
  • This idea that politics is all about charisma and spin is rubbish. It is trust that matters
  • Some of the jam we thought was for tomorrow, we've already eaten
  • A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world.
  • It is wholly wrong to blame Marx for what was done in his name, as it is to blame Jesus for what was done in his

But this Lenten Pause is not about Tony Benn – it is about Margaret, the woman who did so much to shape his thinking – without her passionate example of commitment to her faith, I doubt he would have become the man he was, or achieved a fraction of what he did, dare to bemaking such a significant impact on the political life of this country. Another Benn quote “I have had the advantage of a radical Christian upbringing”. He called the autobiography of his early years “Dare to Be A Daniel” – a line from the children’s hymn his mother taught him in the nursery

Standing by a purpose true, Heeding God’s command,
Honour them, the faithful few! All hail to Daniel’s band!
Many mighty men are lost, Daring not to stand,
Who for God had been a host, by joining Daniel’s band.

Many giants, great and tall, stalking through the land,
Headlong to the earth would fall, if met by Daniel’s band.

Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone!
Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known

And I am challenged by this. I am a parent, an aunt, a teacher, and I’m involved in working with young people. Many of you who read this blog are also in one or more of those roles. What kind of role models are we providing? Are we passing on good and important values to the next generations? Even if they do not always agree with us, do our children know what we believe, and why? Do we demonstrate consistency, and practise what we preach? 

God give us grace to be concerned more for righteousness than for the exercise of power, and to pass on such values to the young, as Margaret did.


  1. Thanks for this piece - Margaret was born in my home town of Paisley in 1897 so I was aware of her story. Inspiring woman....And a big thank you for your blog, as it inspires me!

    Lesley H in Livingston.

    Lesley H in Livingston.

    1. Thanks Lesley for your comments- I should love to visit Paisley sometime. I'm fascinated by the history of textiles there [and the JP Coats family and that HUGE Baptist church!] but I had not realised it was Margaret#'s birthplace.

  2. This is a cute video "to the babies" about setting an example (at the end). Great post!

    1. I liked the line "Everybody has got somebody younger than them- and kids learn by watching you" Thanks PP!!

  3. Interesting post Angela thank you. The Christian tradition was a significant part of my childhood too. And whilst I no longer adhere to any particular faith I am coming to a greater and greater recognition that many of the values that were formed as a result of biblical teaching are still held dear by me today.

  4. Wow - that's fantastic, Ang! I just remember my parents' reasonably disparaging comments about Tony Benn all the way through the 80s, so to be honest I am discovering the wider truth about him and his background only now. Dare to be a Daniel... thank you!

  5. I thought the Tony Benn's mother (or perhaps it was his paternal grandmother ) had some link with the Countesss of Huntingdon's Connexion..........or did I imagine that?

  6. This is a beautiful pause. Yes, we must pass on the right values for righteousness , not the sense that power is the most important factor! Thank you for your lovely insights as always x

  7. I'm ashamed that both Margaret and Tony are unfamiliar to me. They both sound like my cup of tea!

    I was struck by your comment that many Christians are fascinated by Judaism, because I certainly am. I did a lot of reading on Judaism last fall and felt very drawn to many Jewish practices.

    Fascinating post--thanks, Ang!


  8. A thoughtful post and an encouragement to us mothers who are quietly going about raising our children in the Christian way.


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