'A trailblazer, a remarkable minister and mind'
Introducing Violet Hedger - by Molly Boot
In October 1919, Violet Hedger arrived at Regent’s Park College, as the first Baptist woman to be college trained for ordination. At 19 years of age she stood before the interview panel at Regent’s, explaining her desire to become a missionary in Africa. When asked whether she would go to Africa at once if sent by the college, she refused, insisting that she needed to be trained first. Seemingly, the college agreed, and she began her studies.
It was a turbulent time for Regent’s: the building itself had been taken over to house blinded soldiers and sailors, while students were taught and housed between Hackney and New College, and G P Gould’s retirement was looming. A pioneering principal, Gould supported Violet’s application.
Unfortunately, by the time of her arrival, H Wheeler Robinson had succeeded him, and Regent’s became something of a hostile environment. Wheeler Robinson ignored her presence, and required that she pay all her own examination and entrance fees, though it was the custom of the college to cover these for its students (this was rectified by Professor Paul Fiddes during his time as Principal of Regent’s, who presented Violet with a framed cheque). Nonetheless, Violet loved her time at college, and spoke fondly of the support she received from her fellow-students. She was awarded her BD in 1923, and began the difficult search for a pastorate.
Though met with setbacks and suspicion, Violet was ordained in 1926, and began a ministry at Littleover, a struggling church who, before her arrival, had not seen a single baptism in 15 years. Violet’s ministry saw the church revived as her preaching stirred the congregation to take up the great adventure of the Christian life.
Violet’s ministry was adventurous enough without the addition of World War II: in Chatham, her manse was bombed three times, the third time leaving her unconscious, buried for hours and permanently injured. Another time, she conducted a committal during an air raid, among the booming of guns. Undeterred, she would later go on to rebuild Chalk Hill Baptist Church from the rubble of war, all the while enduring with resilience the prejudices of her congregants and colleagues.
In a wonderful article for the Baptist Quarterly1
, Violet recounts all too familiar stories of being accosted by those who questioned her calling.
‘O Paul, Paul, what prejudices are laid to thy charge!’, she exclaims as she writes of those who demanded what right she had to preach, excused themselves from her anniversary tea – on account of the idea that the apostle might have absented himself – and who questioned her presence at fraternals. In the latter case, when asked what Paul would think of her attendance, Violet replied ‘I’m not sure, but I will ask him when I meet him!’
I strongly suggest you acquaint yourself with Violet. She was truly a trailblazer, a remarkable minister and mind, who believed passionately in the God who calls women and men alike to lead others into his presence: and as Violet pointed out ‘The very use of the masculine ‘him’ limits our thought. God is not a man… May there not be something of threat, lovely God, that woman can teach? May not womanhood itself reveal him, who is our Mother?’
At the time of writing, Molly Boot
was a minister-in-training currently studying at Regent’s Park College
This article first appeared in the Spring 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine
1 Baptist Quarterly
10.5 (January 1941), pp 243-253