OneSpirit faculty member and prolific writer Annie Heppenstall has had many good reviews for her books, which combine a passion for Earth Spirituality and the Divine Feminine with a scholar’s appreciation of the richness of Biblical tradition. But she was particularly pleased by the response of one eminent reviewer for her latest offering, Worship for Lent and Easter: A complete parish programme with all-age and Celtic options.
This book is aimed at a more traditional religious readership than Annie normally writes for. Commissioned by publisher Kevin Mayhew, it is described on his website: “Written with a deep respect of tradition, yet also with a vivid awareness of contemporary concerns, Worship for Lent and Easter will engage all who yearn for fresh inspiration, energy and insight into this most holy of Christian seasons.”
Annie’s engagement with “contemporary concerns” was picked up by Canon David Winter, former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, in a review on the Church Times website. He first issues a “word of caution for those who cherish a slightly more traditional approach”, explaining: “Do not expect to find in these pages God as ‘Father’ or Jesus as ‘Lord’. And start your hunt for the ‘Desert Mothers’. I’m still looking.”
Canon Winter then endorses the book with the maximum five stars, and delivers a surprising recommendation. “The impression of her work is of joyful, inclusive, God-centred worship,” he says, “encompassing people of all ages, backgrounds, lifestyle, and cultural choices. I think she should be invited to join the Liturgical Commission at once.” (Church Times is a subscription-only website, but you can read the review by clicking on the book title link above.)
Over the past 15 years, Annie has published a dozen titles, mainly with Wild Goose, the imprint of the Iona Community. Probably the best known is Reclaiming the Sealskin: Meditations in the Celtic spirit, which has been translated into Norwegian and Dutch. The list includes a monograph on a favourite OneSpirit theme: Be Still And Know That I Am God: A meditation with beads.
But the work she feels expresses her inspiration most fully is The Book of Uncommon Prayer (2015), also commissioned and published by Kevin Mayhew. Its sub-title reads: “Liturgies and Prayers exploring inclusive language and biblical imagery of the Feminine Divine and the natural world.” (More about this in Annie’s blog).
The book uses “feminine and gender neutral language and imagery for the Divine”, suggesting ways to celebrate different times and seasons, personal special days, women’s stages of life (from menarche to menopause), pet burials, loss, home and tree blessings. In keeping with her other books,” says Annie, “it interweaves a sense of the spirituality inherent in the earth, with biblical tradition”.
It is possible to find plenty of words and images in The Bible, she says, that are “free of the patriarchal stereotypes and male-orientated language” often associated with the biblical tradition. “We can explore the Divine as Fire, as Mother, as Rock, as a fountain or the ocean, as Wisdom, the Beloved or Love, and so much more, recognising that all such ideas are metaphors with their own limitations, and in doing so we can still find ourselves within this vast tradition.”
It is also a book that appeals to non-Christians. One reviewer — Madeleine Parkes, a Spiritual Care Practitioner within the NHS in Birmingham — wrote: “This is a profound and rich collection that can be used by Christians and seekers alike, helping us express some of our deepest emotions around loss, death, our bodies, the earth, hope, remorse and hardship, as well as prayers and rituals to help us to celebrate the challenge and joy of being alive by marking the moments that matter.”
Annie writes about ‘How I Serve’ here: