Genuine Fake (1986) was a similar examination of the life of the Californian Alan Watts, who oscillated between Anglicanism and Buddhism, and later became renowned in the 1960s for his advocacy of "free love".
Altogether different was Monica Furlong's earlier Puritan's Progress (1975), in which she suggested that John Bunyan is best regarded as an artist - a genius who voiced universal aspiration and need.
Before these biographies, Travelling In (1971), Contemplating Now (1971), and The End of Our Exploring (1973) were concerned with the intersection of prayer and psychology. Her first novel, The Cat's Eye (1976), was about psychological projection; the next, Cousins (1983), concerned a sculptress whose illicit love for a married theologian ended in disappointment but illumination for her.
A later biography, Therese of Lisieux (1987), portrayed the young French saint as severely neurotic but courageous in making the most of her limitations. Wise Child (1987) was a children's novel that made extensive use of mythology - a subject to which she was to become increasingly attracted in her later years - and, in God's a Good Man (1974), she tried her hand at poetry.
Monica Furlong was born at Kenton, near Harrow, on January 17 1930. She attended Harrow County Girls' School, where she showed much academic promise. But she lacked parental encouragement to obtain the university place for which she was more than adequately equipped. Instead she went to a secretarial training college, and her first job was as a secretary to a BBC talks producer.
This did not last long, as her stammer made it impossible for her to deal with the telephone. So Monica Furlong moved to Fleet Street and secretarial posts, first with a group of provincial newspapers, then with Benn Bros publishing group.
During this time she embarked on freelance journalism, and her writing talent was spotted by Bernard Levin, who assured her a regular column on the Spectator.
Greatly influenced by the then vicar of Greenhill, Harrow, Joost de Blank (later a notable Archbishop of Cape Town), Monica Furlong wrote mainly on religious subjects. But in 1961 she moved to the Daily Mail, contributing two or three features a week on a variety of subjects, all of which she approached from an individual, feminine angle and expressed in an engaging style.
This was a demanding assignment which occupied her for the next seven years, and enabled her to support her husband, whom she had married in 1953 and whose health problems precluded regular employment at that time. She also became deeply involved in the religious reforming movement of the 1960s, enjoying the friendship of Bishop John Robinson and of its other leaders, and wrote her first book, With Love to the Church, in 1965.
This was a sharply critical evaluation of much of the current ecclesiastical policy, and at the same time outlined her own vision of a liberal Church open to all, including homosexuals, for whose acceptance by both Church and society she was always an ardent campaigner. Thirty-five years later, a more substantial volume, C of E: the State It's In (2000), brought her analysis up to date, and concluded by suggesting that, instead of worrying about the members it lacks, the Church should instead concentrate on ensuring that the million it does have experience the best quality of Christian life that can be managed. This book won high praise from the former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, who was then on his deathbed.
After spending a few years in Norfolk, Monica Furlong returned to London where, from 1974 to 1978, she was a producer in the BBC's Religious Broadcasting Department. The nuts and bolts of production were not really to her liking, but she was full of ideas, and drew the best from her contributors.
She then returned to full time writing, and for a time also studied Philosophy at University College, London. She also became involved in the formation of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, serving as its Moderator from 1982 to 1985. Her leadership was not to everyone's liking, for she belonged to the movement's radical wing, believing that women would find their place in the priesthood only if they refused to accept the cautious counsel of most of the bishops.
In Dangerous Delight (1991), and Feminine in the Church (edited by her in 1984), Monica Furlong provided more ammunition. Confined to a wheelchair with her leg in plaster, following a walking accident, she was among the demonstrators outside Church House, Westminster, when the General Synod voted for women priests in 1992.
More recently, and until the end of her life, she campaigned vigorously for the appointment of women priests to senior posts in the Church, and for the ending of the system of "Flying Bishops", which enables objectors to women priests to reject the ministry of their own diocesan Bishop if he ordains them.
Bird of Paradise (1995) was a revealing and candid autobiography in which Monica Furlong related her personal experiences to a deeply religious, albeit unconventional, view of life. She then published The Flight of the Kingfisher (1996), an unusual book about Aboriginal spirituality, a subject which had fascinated her during an extended visit to Australia.
The General Theological Seminary, New York, awarded Monica Furlong an Honorary DD in 1986, and Bristol University conferred an Honorary D Litt in 1995.
The courage displayed during her final illness was no less great than that which had characterised her whole life. She is survived by a son and a daughter.
|Monica Furlong, writer and campaigner: born Kenton, Middlesex 17 January 1930; Moderator, Movement for the Ordination of Women 1982-85; married 1953 William Knights (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1977); died Umberleigh, Devon 14 January 2003.|
There are not many wise people in the world, and Monica Furlong was without doubt a wise woman. Her books (novels, biographies, travel, children's books and religious books), as well as her journalism and her leadership as Moderator of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, enabled her both to reflect the experience and learning of a key generation in the second half of the 20th century, but also to communicate it to a wide public.
A bright grammar-school girl with no particular religious upbringing, born in Kenton, Middlesex, in 1930, she took a secretarial course since her family did not expect a girl to go to university. After secretarial jobs she was in demand as a journalist, writing for The Spectator (for Bernard Levin), The Guardian and the Daily Mail, where she was on the staff for several years, and in more recent times for The Tablet. From 1974 to 1978 she was a Producer in the Religious Department of the BBC.
When a young secretary she was drawn to the Church of England and through her local vicar Joost de Blank, later Bishop of Stepney and then Archbishop of Cape Town, she learnt an Anglo-Catholic form of religion. Among the most painful experiences of her life was her divorce after 24 years of difficult marriage – in those days seen as a terrible failure and disgrace for a Christian. She did not allow this to drive her away, however, but worked tirelessly to promote a truthful church where all are accepted.
Her work as a journalist (on both secular and religious affairs) brought her into contact with most of the events and issues of church life; while her books, beginning with With Love to the Church (1965), mainly reflected her understanding of prayer and spirituality, from John Bunyan (Puritan's Progress, 1975) to the Trappist monk Thomas Merton (Merton: a biography, 1980), the guru Alan Watts ("Genuine Fake": a biography of Alan Watts, 1986, reissued as Zen Effects, 2001) and finally Thérèse of Lisieux (Thérèse of Lisieux, 1987).
Furlong stood in the proud Anglican tradition of women theologians and writers such as Dorothy Sayers and Rose Macaulay. She shared with them a depth of catholic practice and original theological insight, a critical love for the Church and willingness to challenge it, as well as a private life which did not conform to everything the hierarchy wanted to regard as respectable. But their fame eluded her, as she found it difficult to produce a regular and consistent series of novels which would gradually have built up a committed body of readers and laid the foundations for best-sellerdom.
The great challenge to the Church in her later years was the campaign for the ordination of women to the priesthood. Everything Furlong did was founded on theological understanding, but her outstanding ability was to work on several fronts at once: her leadership of the St Hilda Community (which worshipped in the East End of London on Sunday evenings) gave women a vision of what could be done in leading worship; people who thought that worship was impossible unless a (male) priest celebrated the eucharist for them, not only saw that the sky did not fall if a woman priest (from the United States) was the celebrant, but more importantly that, if the men continued to control the eucharist and keep it within their own power, then there were many other ways in which Christians could worship God.
Meanwhile her knowledge of the media, and her ability to think strategically, made her a brilliant and courageous politician. She knew how to present the cause to the media, and how to avoid being silenced by the authorities in the Church. Her strength, and refusal to be daunted, is the chief memory of those who worked with her. She understood the feminist claims and though she loved men, collectively and as individuals, she would not allow herself to become dependent on their approval, but knew that women too had much to offer and the Church, and society, needed to hear them.
Monica Furlong regretted that she had never been able to go to university, and that the need to earn her living as a writer had not allowed her time to do a full-scale degree later; but she was delighted to be given two honorary doctorates – by Bristol University and the General Theological Seminary of New York. She had countless admirers, and many friends of all kinds throughout the world, whose lives she touched and influenced, and in her work as a counsellor she could combine sympathy and challenge. When she settled in Penge, in south-east London, she found herself editing the parish magazine and greatly amused her friends as she suffered all the usual frustrations of parish life.
As she faced the approach of death she said that she felt she had done the things that she needed to do in her life, and there was nothing unfinished; except only that she was desperately sad to leave her grandchildren when they were small, and would never see them grow up or be able to contribute to their growth and understanding; her children's books (such as Wise Child, 1987) may mediate some of this to them when they are older.
In her last year she was still campaigning for the abolition of the Act of Synod which continues to hedge the ordination of women as priests about with huge privileges for those who object to it; and she was delighted at the appointment of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.
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