Margaret Cundiff

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MARGARET Joan Cundiff, who was one of the first women to be ordained after the Church of England agreed to them becoming priests, and the first woman ever to be licensed to Christian ministry in Selby Abbey, has died aged 79.

She was also a prolific and well loved author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist both regionally and nationally using her skills as part of her vocation and desire to relate the word of God to everyday life.

Her broadcasts at one time included a weekly Pause for Thought slot on Derek Jamesons’s Radio 2 morning programme in the 1980s when he stood in for Terry Wogan.

As a non-stipendiary priest, the Rev Margaret Cundiff became associate minister at St. James’s Church, Selby, in 1994, following her ordination, until she retired in 2001. But her ministry carried on as she was given permission by the then Archbishop of York, David Hope, to continue officiating in the parish.

Her ministry in Selby originally began soon after she and her family arrived in the town in 1970 and worshipped at St James.

Mrs Cundiff was born in Minehead in Somerset, but moved as a baby to Congleton, in Cheshire with her parents who were in service. Her mother was a housemaid and her father was a chauffeur.

She was educated at Congleton Girls’ School, leaving at 14 to train as a cook. She always had firm views and a strong social conscience and was told by her vicar she should go into politics or religion.

She chose religion, and at 19 studied theology at St Michael’s College, Oxford going on to be a parish worker in Wolverhampton.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post in 1987 she admitted it was a disaster, as she was too young and inexperienced.

But she enjoyed her next job as a youth worker in Nottingham where she spent two years before another complete change.

She went into personnel management with a textile firm in Manchester, Fine Spinners and Doublers, where she also met her husband Peter who worked in the sales office.

It was only after her husband changed his job and they moved to Selby in 1971 that her religious fervour returned.

She did not at first admit that she had trained as a parish worker, but when the vicar fell ill she agreed to help out. In her book, called to be Me, she said she had an experience where she heard a voice telling her “Be filled with the Spirit” so she returned to parish ministry and offered to become a deaconess.

In 1973 she was licensed as a parish worker by Bishop Morris Maddocks becoming the first woman to be licensed in Selby Abbey. Four years later she became a deaconess and in 1987 became one of the first women to be ordained deacon. This was followed by her being ordained as a priest in 1994.

Outside her parish work she had been Anglican advisor to Yorkshire Television in the 1970s and 1980s, was a member of General Synod from 1980 to 1985, a council member of Scargill House, a Christian community in Kettlewell, and was York Diocesan Chaplain to the Mothers’ Union which she had supported since her days in Wolverhampton.

Mrs Cundiff had also been a Bishop’s selector for candidates for ordination training and was a member of the Third Order of Franciscans.

She was an energetic and enthusiastic person – she also found time to write 14 books all inspired by different aspects and periods of her life – who once said “Work is my hobby”.

Although she had been suffering from a form of blood cancer for two years which often sapped her energy, she was still working when she died.

Mrs Cundiff is survived by her husband Peter to whom she was married for 51 years, their son Julian and daughter Alison.