50 Years of Women: Zillah Martin

Zillah Martin (née Warren) studied at St John’s College, attending John’s Hall from 1973-76 and Cranmer Hall from 1976-77. Here she reflects on her time at Durham and her life since.

Graduating in 1976 having read Theology, I was fortunate to study for an MA in Systematic Theology under the supervision of Professor Stephen Sykes, which was to be one of the most enriching years of my life.  It has underpinned much of what I have done in subsequent years, even though the immediate effect was to make me reconsider my vocation to lay ministry within the Anglican Church, and I left Cranmer Hall to begin another period of discernment.  Educated in a Catholic school, my spiritual roots were complex and I felt a pull to rediscover them.  After some weeks preparing to be received into the Catholic church I received a phone call from an old college friend, Nick Martin (John’s 1971-74) who had been preparing for ordination at Cuddesdon College and CDSP in Berkeley, USA.  Now back on home turf and in his first curacy at Wolvercote he got back in touch, one of his first questions being “are you married yet?” I answered “No!”, we arranged to meet up on his next day off, and by four o’ clock in the afternoon of that day we had decided to marry.  I had the somewhat tricky task of informing the parish priest who was giving me instruction that I was about to marry an Anglican curate, and that I felt unable to face the additional difficulties of being a clergy wife of a different denomination. 

Zillah at her MA Graduation in 1977.

We were to live in several varied and interesting parishes after our time in Oxford, moving first to Happisburgh on the east coast of Norfolk, and then on to Blakeney before coming down to Totnes in Devon.  I worked for the Bishop of Norwich’s Communications Officer and was also a tutor for Readers in the Diocese.  Once in Devon we both were appointed tutors on the South West Ministerial Training Course in addition to our lives in the parish.  I also began working for a local firm of funeral directors, a job which I found constantly challenging and rewarding. 

The loose ends left dangling back in 1978 hadn’t been ignored over the intervening years, and I was drawn to re-examine my Catholic leanings, with the result that I was received into the Catholic Church in Advent 2001.  I was almost immediately asked to be involved with heading up the programme in the parish for people wanting to explore the faith and was also involved more widely as a member of the Diocesan Catechetical Team. Whilst in Totnes I took up an appointment as administrator for the Diocesan Tribunal where I worked for several years, and was also given the opportunity to lead the diocesan retreat for the Catholic Women’s League, which I greatly enjoyed.

Zillah and a fellow Johnian outside Cruddas.

In 2005 Nick wanted to venture outside parish ministry and accepted the challenge of becoming at first Co-ordinating, and then Managing Chaplain at HMP Channings Wood, an area of work he had been interested in since his days as a curate in Oxford when he had been chaplain to a Detention Centre in Kidlington.  We became aware that there was a need for additional Catholic staffing both there and at HMP Dartmoor, and I was mandated by the Diocese of Plymouth as one of the Catholic chaplains in both establishments.  I was involved both in generic duties and also ran groups, often using music and exploring the use of silence and quiet reflection to offer those in our care something in addition to the usual diet of liturgy and teaching.  I frequently had cause to be grateful to the thoroughness of Durham’s theological training when facing the often-unexpected questions that prison inmates throw up: I enjoyed ransacking my memory to come up with something that might satisfy one of my group members intent on a bit of mischief, or simply pointing out where his experience differed from what might be expected.  I recall one such chap interrupting my opening salvo during a Lent session in Dartmoor saying simply “We don’t do ‘hope’, Miss!” 

A recent picture of Zillah.

Now retired and living on the edge of Dartmoor we are blessed to be near both our daughter and son and their spouses.  Nick is helping out at his local church during an interregnum, and I am enjoying the opportunity to sit rather more lightly than I have done to church based life.  Perhaps I could be described as having gone feral, but if I have it is with joy in my heart and an openness to what comes through grace.  Thank you, Durham, for providing such an inspiring background to a life I have loved living.

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