Honored by Her Majesty
An Anglican priest is to be honored by the Queen for his public service – including starting a menstrual hygiene management charity.
Fr. Francis Gardom, 84, founded the charity Stamens to provide sanitary towels to poor schoolgirls in Kenya who would otherwise miss school during their periods.
He is also a street pastor, patrolling a tough neighborhood of south London with a team of prayers and chocolate! He also reads to the blind in their homes.
Gardom's work has been brought to the attention of the Queen who will bestow on him the traditional gift of ‘Maundy money’ reserved for distinguished service by pensioners.
He will be one of 92 pensioners – one for every year of the Queen’s life – to receive the presentation of symbolic alms on March 29th at Windsor Castle. The ‘money’ consists of small pieces of silver in two, three and fourpence coins - and the ceremony dates all the way back to the year 1210.
Stamens stands for ‘sanitary towels and menstruation’ and was founded on top of a bus in Nairobi when Gardom was attending the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) conference there, accompanied by Anglican priest and social reformer, Margaret Mercy Onyango.
Onyango recently toured London churches with a message that is gaining traction: that girls lose up to 13 percent of their education through lack of adequate provision at such a basic level.
Gardom was already supporting a prison ministry in Zambia by sending small gifts for the purchase of sanitary towels to inmates who were being denied them.
And over the last five years he has personally sent significant monthly sums for the purchase of sanitary pads for Kenyan schoolgirls, who otherwise use rags, leaves, ash or even sand. Infections and insect infestations of the rags abound, and can even lead to death.
"It felt like something manageable and to hand that I could help with," says Gardom, white-haired, and oblivious to the mild taboo about periods that still exists even in UK. "I am an ideas man."
Fr Gardom’s life has been as topsy-turvy as the ceremony he will undergo in Holy Week on the Thursday before Easter. Maundy Thursday is traditionally the day when Christ’s humility in stooping to wash his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper is commemorated.
Fr Gardom is an Old Etonian (of Eton College, attended by heir to the throne Prince William) and was the only child of wealthy parents and grew up in Bayswater in a mansion block built by his father’s firm Hopkins and Gardom near Hyde Park. A family of pioneers they built the Argentine railway system, and there is even a clock tower Torre de Los Ingleses that still stands in capital Buenos Aires which they built in 1916 as a mark of gratitude to Argentina from English settlers.
Yet Gardom has always eschewed privilege, receiving a call to ministry at age 15 during a sermon in Eton College Chapel.
"The sermon was about power, about being empowered to be in the service of God. That changed my life." he said.
In his ministry, he has gone on championing unlikely people and causes including failed asylum seekers and running a ‘Death Café’ for the bereaved and fearful in a Costa café.
For twenty years, while serving as an unpaid curate, he ran a small typesetting and design service as a form of ‘tent-making’ to provide work for disabled and mentally ill people.
Yet he was at first reluctant to accept the Maundy honor.
"In true self-effacing fashion, Fr Francis was slightly reluctant about the honor for his work – he just sees it as part of his Christian vocation." said his priest Fr. Philip Corbett.
Fr Francis Gardom, priest and philanthropist, is acting in a very long continuum of peculiarly English Christianity. ‘Royal Maundy’ is a tradition dating all the way back to King John who in 1210 distributed food and clothing to 13 poor people in memory of Christ’s injunction – mandatum in Latin - to his disciples to "love one another." Thirteen was the number of the disciples, plus it is thought either an angel, or Christ Himself.
On the night before he died Christ took a towel and washed his disciples’ feet, telling them that they should do likewise. The Queen’s Chief Almoner still wears a symbolic linen towel for the distribution.
By 1363 the monarchs were also washing the feet of twelve beggars and did so until 1658, in a power reversal that often stuns republicans. The men were so terribly poor that their feet had to be washed three times before the monarch could handle them.
The monarch was not alone in performing the rituals of the Maundy service according to historian Virginia Cole. Henry III's children assisted him as part of their political and religious training.
Cole’s study of royal children's role in the thirteenth-century Maundy notes that the service had a political purpose as well. Humbling himself by doing the pedilavium, or foot-washing, proclaimed the monarch's greatness. Attendance at a Maundy service became an obligation for all major European ruling houses.
- Note: Menstrual hygiene management is now the subject of a major motion picture Padman set for release on February 9 and starring Bollywood’s Akshay Kumar in the title role of Arunachalam Muruganantham. A social activist from Tamil Nadu, Muruganantham invented a simple machine that could produce cheap sanitary pads, releasing women from millennia of stigma and suffering.