- 1930 - Born
Ruth Hudgins was born and raised on a farm in southeastern Ontario in the small community of Selby, near Cobourg. Her parents, Percy and Agnes (Price) both had Methodist roots and joined the United Church at Union. Ruth grew up in the church and a dream of church work emerged when she was in high school. But circumstances took her, at least initially, in another direction. She worked in the business world, Confederation Life in Toronto and Ontario Hydro in Cobourg before she caught that dream and headed to the United Church Training School in 1957 at the age of 27.
Upon graduation in 1959 Ruth’s first professional ministry position was at Trinity United Church, North Bay, where she worked for three years. She feels she was lucky to start her career with Rev. R.B. Hallett, a supportive co-worker. He and the congregation were able to encourage and support her providing the degree of confidence she needed. Ruth was Director of Christian Education in a very large Sunday School. These were the post war days of the baby boom and church attendance was a priority for many young families. She was resource person for children’s programs like Messengers, Explorers, Tyros, and CGlT and involved in Vacation School. As the young Lay Worker, Ruth was active with Young People, started an early Sunday morning Youth Breakfast Club and attended some weekend camps. At the Presbytery level she helped with the organizing of the Presbytery Girls’ Camp.
At the conclusion of her ministry in North Bay, Ruth was designated a Deaconess in Kingston, at the Annual Meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference, May 30, 1962.
For the next six years Ruth worked at First United Church, Waterloo, Ontario, as Director of Christian Education, being engaged in most of the same responsibilities as in North Bay. There was again a large Sunday School, Vacation School and an always struggling Youth Group, this time with University students. In addition she was Presbytery Youth Counsellor. While working in Waterloo Ruth was able to gain much from the fellowship with other Hamilton Conference members of the Association of Professional Church Workers. This ecumenical organization brought together Anglican and United Church women workers, those who were Deaconesses, those employed as Women Workers by the Woman’s Missionary Society and lay women who worked for the church without particular categorization. During her time in Waterloo, she was a delegate to the General Council that was held at First United, her only opportunity to serve the church in this capacity.
Amazing as it seems given how low the salaries for Deaconesses were, Ruth was able to take a self funded sabbatical year in 1970, travelling around the world. As she explains, “I am so grateful that my friend Gale Kay decided to travel with me almost to Australia and Millie Cle came to Sidney and travelled home with me. I will never forget the many Canadian Missionaries and others who shared their homes and offered hospitality to us.”
Returning to Canada Ruth accepted a position at St. Lambert United Church in St. Lambert, Quebec, near Montreal. Here, she began to live into her Deaconess title more and interpreted it in wider terms than Director of Christian Education. This was possible because of her own growing abilities and confidence within the context of changes in the understanding of ministry, particularly ministry for women. In this church she did more visiting with Seniors for example, and found she had competency for this pastoral role. The political and cultural changes among anglophone and francophone Quebecers at the time meant that a lot of people were in stressful situations, uncertain about their future. Ruth worked with many families in grief as people were transferred out of the province, or made the choice to leave for English Canada. Ruth became a member of an active Ecumenical Ministerial Association, a rich experience, and another sign that her work was seen and valued as ministry.
Some of her treasured memories from the St. Lambert Quebec years though are from her work in Christian Education. There was camping with Junior Girls at Cedar Lodge in the Eastern Townships, working with great Co Directors, Leaders and enthusiastic girls. With strong lay leaders her role in the camps was co-directing Bible Study. She really enjoyed camping and gained much spiritual upbuilding for herself and saw it in others. Ruth also recalls working with St. Lambert youth in preparing and sharing Early Easter Services and involvement in dramas.
But when that position ended after 8 years of service in 1979, Ruth found herself between jobs and returned to Selby, and to her roots. Her mother was aging and needed support, but Ruth reflects, “I suppose being unemployed was the greatest challenge of my career, that and accepting the role of staying [in Selby] so that Mother could remain in her own home”. After several months, she found and accepted part time employment as Administrative Assistant at Trinity United Church in nearby Napanee. After losing a great deal of self-confidence during this traumatic experience, she helped organize an ecumenical celebration for the 200th Anniversary of the Sunday School which turned out to be a great event, surpassing the expectations of all the planning committee. Ruth realized that she could continue to provide service, even if it wasn’t in the way she had imagined. Another highlight of which Ruth remains proud is helping to establish an Amnesty International group, which is still active more than 30 years later.
In 1984, Ruth married Clark Simpson, a farmer. She was now rooted to the land in a way that meant moving to take a ministry position was impossible and she recognized that her ministry was to be found in the work she had before her. She left her role as Administrative Assistant in 1988 and after her mother died in 1989, she devoted herself to many volunteer projects. She became active in the United Church Women, delivered meals on wheels, took her share of committee responsibilities at the church and developed a visiting ministry with Seniors, building on the skill and interest she had discovered in St. Lambert. (Picture of Ruth in 2003)
At age 81 Ruth writes, “I am fairly well, I’ll go to the Church Council meeting tonight … I keep active with swimming and walking and my garden. …I attended Chautauqua with 3 younger friends, where I went 30 years ago, south of Lake Erie. We stayed at the Fenton Memorial Deaconess Home (Methodist). I thought a banner there by the Methodist Deaconesses and Home Missionaries said what really mattered:I serve neither for gratitude or reward, But from gratitude My reward is that I may serve.
This biography was written by Caryn Douglas based on a biography first published in the Historic Newsletter of the Association of Professional Church Workers, 1988, and from correspondence with Ruth in 2012. April 2013