Veronica Zundel has been a columnist for this magazine since 1982. Now, in what she calls her ‘autumn years’, she considers what has changed – or not - for Christian women
‘The phone rang. Would I like to write a regular column? But of course – it’s every journalist’s dream! With complete freedom of subject? The dream rapidly began to turn to a nightmare. What on earth would I write about?’
So began my first ever column in the first ever issue of what was then called Christian Woman. The editor had said that she wanted ‘something like X’s column in Y’ – X being, as far as I remember, the household name that is Adrian Plass, writing in a magazine which has changed name so many times that I forget what it was called then.
Well, I’m not Adrian Plass and in no way could I achieve his level of hilarity. So I went on to speculate on what the ‘average Christian woman’, whoever she might be, would want to read, and equally importantly, what might offend her, given how much some readers enjoy being offended.
I posited a number of models of ‘average Christian woman’ – the ‘total woman’, the ‘political woman’, the ‘submissive woman’ (‘who only speaks when her head is covered’), the pillar of the church – some of which have worn better than others. And the conclusion was, as you might expect, that there was no such thing as the average Christian woman, just as there is no such thing as the average woman in general.
The whole thing was accompanied by a black and white photo of a slim, competent-looking forty-years-younger me with an 80s perm (what was I thinking?). It’s not only the photo that emphasises how much has changed since then.
In my own life I have been through many cycles of depression and recovery, several therapists, nine books which are all now out of print, a challenging marriage, infertility, twenty-four glorious years as a Mennonite, a miraculous birth, the deaths of both parents, and two bouts of breast cancer.
Meanwhile the church has swung between its usual triumphs and disasters, the world has got significantly more frightening, and depressingly, some parts of both church and world have continued to batter away at the same old arguments about the role of women (why are we only ever allowed one role?).
There is no shortage, then, of amusing, important or controversial topics for me to ramble on about, without the necessity to become Adrian Plass (how could there be more than one of him?). That includes of course the usual subjects one is not allowed to talk about at dinner parties: sex, death, money, religion and politics.
All of which are, of course, the most interesting things to talk about. The balance may have changed with age, both mine and that of the magazine; where once I talked more about sex and religion, nowadays when I get together with friends I find the talk invariably turns to death and pensions.
Equally the magazine has grown in its ethnic diversity, and has more about women pursuing fascinating careers and ministries (though I rather miss the old craft and recipe pages, and still think a problem page would be a bonus).
Where are we now?
‘Forty years on’ (to quote Alan Bennett), are we any closer to Christian maturity, to the full stature of Christ, and is the world any closer to the longed-for Kingdom of God? Hard to say, and of course one isn’t meant to measure one’s own progress (me? I’m so much more modest than I was then…).
Some things have improved: more inclusive language and practice, the involvement of the church in social action (sadly more needed than ever), millions worldwide coming out of absolute poverty, though that’s good news that never gets reported.
Other things have definitely gone to the dogs – though why dogs should be the byword for deterioration, I have no idea. Did anyone suspect in 1982 that forty years later there would be more foodbanks in the UK than branches of McDonalds?
I have a secret fantasy to confess: with my editorial experience on another magazine (now sadly defunct) I always rather fancied being the editor of this one. The time has passed, now I’m in the autumn of my years, and perhaps it’s a good thing: being an editor, as I know from experience, is a taxing and often dispiriting task.
Hats off (are you wearing one? You know you can’t speak in church without one) to the clutch of amazing women who have filled that post and had the added burden of having to edit me. If I’m definitely in autumn now, I sincerely hope that the same is not true of the magazine I’ve had the privilege to write for all these years. Here’s to the next forty, and to whoever gets my slot when I gracefully retire.