Norfolk minister's Christmas message of hope
A compassionate Norfolk minister has a message of hope for those people whose lives run into problems at Christmas. Mike Wiltshire reports.
“Yes, Christmas can be a scary time,” says Rev Margaret Whitaker, who is aware that there are more family break-ups – and suicides – at Christmas than at any other time of the year.
Whilst training for the Christian ministry in her 50s, Margaret’s own life was transformed 20 years ago while working at Hebron House, Norwich – the intensely supportive community for women in recovery from drug and alcohol problems, as well as abuse.
The caring experience at Hebron House was foundational in Margaret’s future ministry, giving her insights into the deep needs in many lives. Margaret has never forgotten “the God-led transformations where broken lives were so changed,” when former residents were able to move and be trained to help others.
The experience “confirmed my calling into ministry,” says Margaret. “We learned how to ‘drop the mask,’ to be real with ourselves, real with God, and with others.”
Now Margaret’s life is changing again, since she will be 70 next year and retiring as Rector of Horsford, Felthorpe and Hevingham. Margaret is “very excited” about her vision to open a retreat house at Ludham – “a space for anyone who wants to know more of what God has to show them.”
Margaret was born in Edinburgh with a Godly heritage – her Christian grandmother, Maggie, was a missionary who worked in West Africa with the famous Mary Slessor, (1848-1915), the pioneering Scottish missionary who not only helped to spread the “good news” of Jesus Christ, but also promoted the rights of women and children.
Margaret is a strong women of faith, although she admits that in younger years she was curious about the occult but came to see the dangers “and the fact that the occult is counterfeit and untrue.” The unsettling experience, however, has given her wisdom is helping people who stray into this area in their search for answers.
Today, Margaret’s faith is “firmly rooted in the truth of the Bible, and in prayer,” amidst a very busy schedule in the local community. Margaret loves being involved in the Bible Society’s popular ‘Open the Book’ story-telling project with primary school children. In the UK, more than 10,000 people present stories using drama, mime, costume and audience participation.
Margaret also loves working with the “Prayer Spaces In Schools” projects that enable children and young people to explore faith and spirituality from a broadly Christian perspective in a safe and creative and way.
Amidst her busy days, Margaret, now a grandmother with a grandson in university, also manages to have lunch out every Thursday with her husband, Michael, who is a partner in a boatyard company.
As Christmas approaches, Margaret longs to see more people realise that “Jesus is the reason for the season.”
Many people, she adds, have “a very foggy idea about who Jesus is . . . but to make that discovery is to experience the reality of God’s redeeming love - the greatest gift of all.”
Pictured above is Rev Margaret Whitaker.