Examining the life and leadership of Queen Margaret of Scotland reminds me that people born a thousand years ago are fully capable of offering insight to contemporary Christian living.
Margaret (1045 – 1093) was by birth an English Princess, granddaughter of King Edmund Ironside. Following Edmund’s death and centuries of Viking attacks in northwestern Europe, the English people chose the Danish Cnuk as their next king. Edmund’s infant sons were sent to Hungary where they could live under the protection of King Stephen. One of the twins died young, but the other, Edward, was raised in the royal court. He married a cousin of the queen and they had three children, including Margaret, whom we commemorate today.
The family returned to England when Margaret was about ten years old, but it was not an easy time for them. They even attempted to return to Hungary but storms forced the ship to turn around. They docked in Scotland where they were welcomed by King Malcolm. Margaret spent much of her teen years living a fairly cloistered life in Dunfermline, Scotland, where the royal residences were located. She eventually married Malcolm and deeply influenced his life along with that of her adopted country.
As Queen, Margaret supported the Church by both rebuilding monasteries and founding new ones. This permitted the spread of the gospel, the fostering of religious vocations, and the establishment of the Church in the northernmost regions of the world.
Margaret undertook establishing the ecclesiastical customs of England beyond Hadrian’s Wall. Her action brought ecclesiastical unity to the church, so the customs were shared among Scotland, England, France, and Italy. As a result, the universal church began taking on a universal shape.
She also founded schools, hospitals, and orphanages, permitting the Church to expand its charitable reach to underserved areas. Schools shaped the future leaders of the Church. They set the course of Christianity on the British Isles and well beyond the Norman Conquest of 1066. Hospitals cared for the sick and fostered a ministry of healing to people who would have suffered in their illnesses without such care. Orphanages provided a home for homeless children, granting them a sense of security and love. When Margaret established these institutions, she showed the Church in its best light to serve the poor and marginalized and its ability to foster positive change in a broken world.
Margaret’s life came to a tragic end after her husband was killed in 1093. A few days later, she herself passed away. Legend says she died of a broken heart. In the end, Margaret is remembered for her love for God as it was manifested in our love for humankind.
Perhaps one takeaway from Margaret’s example is remembering the ripple effect of our actions. Our acts of charity done diligently, promptly, and frequently may have a lasting impact on the universal church, giving it the energy it needs. No matter what station of life we labor through, we can make a difference. Margaret reminds us to think outside of the box when exploring ways to help others. We need to imagine the impossible as possible. We may believe our effort may make small differences, but we must remind ourselves that the smallest spark can ignite the largest fire.
Another takeaway from the life of Margaret resides in her faith in God. With faith we can tell a mulberry tree to be uprooted and cast it into the sea. We can move mountains. We can feed 5,000 hungry people and we can house the homeless.
I remember the first time The Episcopal Academy’s lower school students packed 10,000 meals for Rise Against Hunger. We had over 400 children from ages 4 to 11 years old contribute to our goal of packing 10,000 meals for hungry members of our community in 2 hours. Critics said that it was impossible to have that many children involved while ensuring they would have a rewarding experience. Nevertheless, we created a plan that we believed would work and prayed to God for patience and guidance.
We put our faith in God and one another that our labor would produce the fruits worthy of God’s glory. As our Pre-K students entered the cafeteria to take their turn packing the meals, we were well off our mark. However, their willingness to enter into the mystery of the process and the trust they put in God inspired a miracle. When their shift was over, we were within the realm of achieving our goal. They left and the 5th graders entered the cafeteria. Motivated by the work of their youngest peers, the fifth-grade students worked quickly and diligently. As a result, we reached our goal. It was wonderful to see the fruits of their labor benefit other people. Also, so much just as Margaret, our faith working through love aligns us with God’s will and the work of the church.