Obituary: canon Marlene Phillips

Ven John Barton and others write:

CANON Marlene Parsons was the formidable Diocesan Director of Ordinands (DDO) Birmingham and Dean of Women’s Ministry from 1990 until her retirement in 2004.

She had played an important role in the development of women in ordained ministry and was a member of the Church Ministry Advisory Council (ACCM) working group which in 1990 produced the report. Deacons now. This assessed the effectiveness of women as deacons and helped pave the way for the 1992 General Synod vote that led to the ordination of women to the priesthood.

Marlene and her identical twin sister, Mary, were born in 1943 in Street, Somerset. At 16, she left high school to work at a Church Army Home for Women who had been released from HM Holloway Prison. She later trained at Church Army College, one of the few places that offered women theological training, and was appointed Sister in the Church’s Army in 1966.

In 1976, she was admitted to the office of deaconess and served for 20 years in parishes in the Dioceses of Southwark and Birmingham. His ministry during an interregnum in St John’s, Coulsdon, prompted the churchwardens to write to the Church hours: “This parish is very grateful for the opportunity to have a deaconess as ‘pastor’. He showed us new perspectives on the ministry. We want our experience to be more widely shared. The ordination of women to the priesthood would seem, from the experience of this parish, to be a logical step in the development of the ministry.

Marlene was made a deacon in 1987 and honorary canon of Birmingham Cathedral soon after. When she was ordained a priest in 1994, a group of Spanish Catholic nuns, whom she had met at an ecumenical gathering in Dublin, came to support her. In a God-centered life, she never sought status for herself; disciplined in her prayer life, she has made retreats to Ammerdown and the St Beuno Jesuit Spirituality Center. Others sought her advice and guidance, recognizing her integrity and knowing that she did not shy away from difficult issues and that their confidences would be respected.

Successive Birmingham bishops wanted her to be part of their senior staff. She was appointed Bishop’s Counselor for Lay Ministry and Vice-Principal of the West Midlands (Ecumenical) Ministry Training Course, before becoming Dean of Women’s Ministry and DDO.

Strongly protective of her accusations, she was only aggressive when she believed others were being unfairly criticized. As the only female voice in senior management meetings, she spoke little, but stepped in if she felt her colleagues had crossed the line. Bishop Mark Santer says, “Marlene exerted tremendous influence without ever making noise. I could rely entirely on his judgment and his thoroughness.

Marlene’s encouragement to future ordinands was not unconditional: she didn’t hesitate to present the truth that needed to be heard, even when it meant people would be disappointed. She established good relations with those who could not accept female priests and was keen to increase the number of candidates for BAME, men and women.

One wrote: “Marlene was able to create silences that could instill fear in the bravest of ordinands and possessed a laugh that could dispel even the deepest worries. She possessed a wisdom hard-earned through years of ministry, often practiced in an institution in opposition to her priestly vocation.

Upon retirement, Marlene continued to help in her parish church, until 2015, when her sister passed away; her own health deteriorated and she began to show signs of dementia. In 2019, she moved to Gracewell Care Home, in Edgbaston. There and at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Biringham, she received excellent care and was renowned for her welcoming smile.

She would never have quoted this for herself, but those who knew her remember 2 Timothy 4: 8: “From now on the crown of righteousness is reserved for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day. . , and not only to me, but also to all those who desired his appearance.

Canon Marlene Beatrice Parsons was born on December 20, 1943 and died on October 25.

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