Diva Divine: Reverend Canon Eve Pitts

by Norma Gregory

Reverend Canon Eve Pitts is a passionate preacher and pioneer in church history. She is known for her distinctive crew- cut hairstyle, her sense of humour, honesty in her sermons as well as her passion for music and the arts.

Norma Gregory met with Reverend Pitts at Reverend Pitts’s mother’s home she cherishes in Nottingham, for Mojatu readers to hear her views on the notion of a future (African) female Archbishop of Canterbury; her thoughts on feminine beauty; keeping healthy and her spiritual walk with God.

As the first black woman ordained as a Deacon in the Church of England (C of E) in 1992 and ordained as Reverend Canon Pitts in 1994, now aged 61, Pitts is well-known for her passionate speaking, fearless confidence and unmistakable hairstyle.

Born in May Pen, Jamaica, Reverend Pitts came to Nottingham, aged six. She grew up with love and support from her family and found church leadership her ‘calling’. In 1988, she attended the acclaimed Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, founded in 1828 and studied ecumenical theological education. She saw this as a preparation for her ministerial life in the C of E. She leads her parish at Holy Trinity Church, Birchfield, Birmingham and conducts many weddings and funerals for the BME community in Nottingham.

CHURCH

Do you enjoy being a Reverend Canon?

I love being a Reverend. I feel blessed! I love being able to communicate and use the gifts that God has given to me. I love people and I love being around people. I am passionate about making a difference in the community, to help to bring good changes.

You were the first black female ordained by the C of E. How do you feel about this?

It was challenging being the first black ordinate because I had to struggle against the Church turning me into a ‘trophy’. I had to face issues of racism and sexism, which sadly is rampant in the Church and in society today. I think I got through unscathed through my confidence and refusal to countenance it.

“I couldn’t be anything else than what I am!”

What are you views on the possibility of a black, female Archbishop of Canterbury?

I think we need to be in a position where the Church of England has female bishops first! They are still dragging their feet on the subject. I think this a great shame because we have many other things we need to do and should be doing about the world. As an institution, the Church is privileged enough to be in a position to make radical choices about how we cope with the realities of our world and climate in which we live. At times, the Church is too timid. If the Church cannot be courageous enough to ordain women as priests, I do not see how it will have the courage to face ecological issues, economical or political problems. If the Church is not dealing with smaller issues, how can it respond to the unanswered questions that people ask like, “What is the Church for?”

How would you describe your spiritual walk with God?

Fierce. I don’t find my walk with God easy. I find people who seem to walk through Christianity without difficultly or moments of doubt as bizarre. When the world around us is in such a terrible state, it is very difficult to believe that you can go through a Christian life and not ask, “Where are you God?” I don’t always find being a Christian easy - I make no apology for that. For me, faith doesn't come easy.

You are known for your sense of humour when preaching. Is humour important?

I didn’t even realise I was funny. Increasingly, over the years, people say to me, “Why don’t you go on the stage? Well, I am!” I say. The pulpit is a kind of ‘stage’. I inherited my sense of humour and wit from my father. A sense of humour is a great gift to have, especially in my work. It is a survival strategy and it can help to punctuate difficult situations in life.

What would you advocate to the youth of today?

Self respect. I feel somehow that we have lost something and we need to identify it and get it back. I would encourage our young to read more because there is a depth of ignorance that is intolerable, partly to blame by an education system, which has let us down.

What three things would you change in society?

I think society needs to discover a new depth in spirituality. We need quietness and space to think and to rediscover the meaning of community. In society, there is the culture of, ‘it’s me and me alone’. I think this behaviour and ideology has done terrible harm to us

What are your first thoughts in the morning and last thing at night?

First thing in the morning, I start with silence. I sit quietly and don’t speak to anyone to get in touch with my own heart. This sets me up for the day and allows me to ‘hear’ God. Without this quiet devotion in the morning, I find my day can become dysfunctional. I recite Psalms 51 at night.

BEAUTY AND HEALTH

You wear your very hair short. What sort of comments have you had about your hairstyle?

I have always worn my hair short. I feel beautiful with my hair short. It is a statement of confidence and who I am as a african woman, how I see myself and my place in the world.

What do you do to maintain good health?

I walk a lot and choose not to drive because I like the idea of my feet touching the earth daily. It is how I pray and connect with God through the physical earth. When I abandoned my car ten years ago, that was a deliberate strategy to help me connect with people. I believe that God creates us for health. I ask God to give me health and in return I will do everything I can to make a difference to the community I serve. That’s the deal!

Are you house-proud?

I like where I live to look good as long as I don’t have to become a slave to my home. I like peaceful environments and I don’t like chaos so my homes in Nottingham and Birmingham, they are orderly I think! If your home environment is chaotic then it is highly likely that your life will be chaotic too.

SPIRITUALITY

What is your most treasured possession?

My three children are very precious to me but my most treasured possessions are my books. I love the novels, A Suitable Boy by Vicram Seth, Small Island by Angela Levy, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and any book by Toni Morrison.

I am happiest when I am preaching because it is my gift. I love preaching, as I love words, verbal communication and connecting with human beings.

What three things your congregation do not know about you?

My congregation probably don’t know that I am a very good dancer. As Christians, we feel that we are not allowed to show or admit our sexual nature. I am a very sensual woman and I get annoyed when people want to put me in a box and shut away my sensuality and pretend that I am a one-dimensional human being who is a Christian and nothing more. I am much more that. I am a Christian, yes in all its beauty. I love fashion and beautiful clothes. I enjoy reading and writing poetry as well.

What do you think your legacy will be?

I am not sure I will have one as it is not something I think about. However, I hope I leave a legacy of love, as love is transformative.

Do you have a personal motto?

I can - because God says I can!

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