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16 January 2015

A correspondent writes:

THREADED through Pamela Skelton's life were the themes of adventure, creativity, fairness, connection, faith, and family. Together, they produced the colour and energy that sparked change and debate throughout her ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Pam, who died on 7 December, aged 76, was born in Sheffield, with her twin brother, Tommy. Leaving school at 15, she worked as a junior clerk and receptionist while she put herself through college to get her O levels. She moved to Hull, studied to be a teacher, and became involved in the college's amateur dramatics. It was there that she met Arthur, her husband of 52 years. She went on to teach in secondary and primary schools in Hull, Sheffield, and Weaverham, Cheshire. By this time, Pam also had three children, Nicholas, Justin, and Liz.

Her journey into ministry began here. She had always been active in the Church. In Weaverham, she started People Next Door, an ecumenical initiative that brought people of all denominations together to promote understanding and connection. Her involvement in the diocese grew. A range of projects emerged, notably the Weaverham Village Theatre.

After moving to Falkirk in Scotland in 1973, Pam had her fourth child, Jonathan. She volunteered with the Samaritans and the Women's Aid refuge in Denny, and studied New Testament Greek, while at the same time becoming increasingly involved in the Christ Church community.

She continued exploring options for ecumenical connections. Disappointed by the lack of opportunities open to her for ministry, Pam completed the Edinburgh diocesan non-stipendiary-ministry course in 1975. It seemed a small step, but she was the first woman to do so, and, in 1978, she was admitted to the order of deaconess in St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, the first in the Scottish Episcopal Church. For Pam, it marked the beginning of more than 36 memorable years of adventure, struggle, and change in the Church.

Pam recalled that day: "As we processed out, a member of the congregation ran out from his seat and said 'I was not in favour of women until now, but on seeing you I know that this is right for the Church.' I have never forgotten this remark, nor the expectations and responsibility it contained."

From 1982 to 1991, Pam was diocesan Youth Organiser, organising youth camps, and developing initiatives. At the same time, she was appointed as the first ever deaconess to be in charge of a parish, at St Barnabas's, Moredun, in Edinburgh. Over the eight years in ministry at St Barnabas's, she engaged the local community across faiths, many maintaining that without her care and determination the church might not have survived.

In 1978, Pam was a founder of the Group for the Ministry of Women (which later became the Movement for Whole Ministry in the Scottish Episcopal Church). The group supported more women in their desire to have their vocation tested, looking for ways of recognising and affirming the part played by women in the Church. They also continued to challenge the church to be more holistic and inclusive in its concepts and practice.

By 1986, Pam was one of seven women in Edinburgh made deacon. From this foundation, she led the way for herself and a pioneering group of 14 other women to be ordained priest on 17 December 1994. By this time, Pam was Associate Minister at Christ Church, Morningside, and the Anglican Chaplain for the Royal Edinburgh Hospital (1992-2005). She established "The Corner", a drop-in centre for people with mental health issues in partnership with the Eric Liddle Centre.

In 2000, Pam was made an Hon. Canon by Bishop Richard Holloway. She retired in 2005, and continued to exercise ministry, while supporting other women in their fight for equality in the church. She believed that a swing towards a more matriarchal society could bring a new model for priesthood, moving closer, perhaps, to a priesthood of all believers. For her, as for many pioneers, this struggle was costly. Sadly, her health declined over the past few years, but she was able to participate in the celebration of women's ordination which included a procession from Westminster Abbey to St Paul's Cathedral in May last year.

Pam's growing family of children and grandchildren meant the world to her, and she was active and engaged in all their lives. She travelled extensively with Arthur. She deeply loved and was loved deeply by her family. Her spirit and work has influenced many lives individually and institutionally.

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