Category Archives: Stories

Mannie cried freedom

Emmanuel Jacob was just 12 when he saw the rallying call on a bridge in Clairwood, Durban. ‘Free Mandela,’ the grafitti said.

‘It started me thinking about something I had never given thought to before,’ said Mannie, now 68.


Mannie grew up in an Asian community in South Africa under apartheid. His was a happy childhood, playing barefoot in a close-knit neighbourhood.

He asked an uncle about the Mandela slogan. ‘Don’t talk about it,’ he was told, ‘don’t mention it to anyone’. Mannie realises now his uncle was protecting him.

Mannie was quick to learn. He noticed how race groups lived in separate communities.

There were queues for different race groups at the post office and library, and they had to use separate public amenities. Brought up in a Methodist family, Mannie wondered, ‘How could people be treated in this way, in a country that claimed to be Christian?’

Mannie became involved in student protests alongside the likes of ‘black consciousness’ leader Steve Biko. ‘We felt we were not being given the freedoms – let alone privileges – that white students had,’ Mannie recalled. For his part in organising a student strike, he was expelled from university in 1972 and spent two nights in prison.

Although he’d studied science, Mannie turned to theology in 1978. He attended the Federal Theological Seminary for the black community, where he met librarian Lynn, and then Rhodes University, Grahamstown. ‘She comes from a white South African background,’ said Mannie, ‘and to work in a township is very brave.’


Growing up, Lynn was aware things were not as they should be. ‘We didn’t have television in the country until 1975 and that makes an incredible difference to how much people know. It was seeing pictures of young children in Soweto that spoke so loudly to me.’

Lynn, who is now 66, added, ‘That’s when I started to find out what was going on. I decided I didn’t want to be a part of a system that divided people’.

Read the rest of this story – including how the couple made their home with us – in the spring 2019 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots. (Photo of Mannie and Lynn in their MMHS home: Clive Price)

Lister’s liturgy for life

His surname sounds almost like a famous Hungarian composer. So maybe it’s expected that MMHS resident and Board member Revd Glynn Lister would be a most musical fellow.

He is a key part of the team behind our 70th anniversary worship resource. Glynn compiled the act of worship and thanksgiving – ‘to produce something simple and accessible’.


Brought up in a Methodist family in Swindon, Glynn became a local preacher just after his 17th birthday. He was studying accountancy but became convinced of ‘a call to ordained ministry’.

He offered as a candidate in 1965 and trained at Didsbury College, Bristol. Glynn married Margaret, a teacher, in 1966. ‘We moved the date to avoid the World Cup final,’ he smiled.

Happy for Methodism to ‘send me wherever’, Glynn took on various roles including chaplain to a hospital and an army camp. He also became a magistrate in 1983.

Glynn retired in 2006 and moved with Margaret into an MMHS property in north-east England. ‘The society was good,’ said Glynn, ‘we found a house and we’ve been extremely happy here ever since.’

He joined the Board in 2016. ‘I hope I understand what is important to residents,’ he said. Retirement brings more opportunities.


Glynn often leads worship on Sundays, is a church treasurer, sings in a male voice choir, plays the bassoon and is a rugby fan. ‘I watch Newcastle Falcons and England home and sometimes away,’ he said.

So how would he advise those writing their own worship material? Glynn’s response paints the picture of a worshipping community. ‘Look for it to be simple and focused,’ he said, ‘with each part adding to the rest and making a whole.’

Designed by Lindisfarne Scriptorium, our 70th anniversary worship resource is still available as a free download here. The full version of Glynn’s story can be found in the Winter 2018 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots. (Photo: Clive Price)

The Book Of Mary

An MMHS resident has published her life story – and she’s giving profits from her book sales to us!

One More Step Along The Golden Thread is Revd Mary Randle’s home-grown, humble and heart-warming account of growing up with a disabled parent, working in prisons and social services and becoming a Methodist minister. Sales have already raised more than £100 for the Society.


Mary’s captivating story opens with a shotgun blast that changed her father’s life forever – when he was just a teenager. The gun went off by accident. Mary’s father Jack survived, but his sight didn’t. Yet that didn’t stop him from visualising a future for himself.

He set up his own basket making business. One day, a young woman, Elsie, saw him trying to cross the street. She offered her hand to help Jack avoid the traffic. The two stepped onto a road of romance. They married in 1937.

They started a family, and daughter Mary was dedicated as a baby at a Baptist church. But their nearest Sunday school was at Whittleford Methodist Church. So she went there.

‘Someone said, “What are you going to do?”,’ Mary recalled. ‘Deep down I wanted to do something to care. The idea of working with prisoners came to me. I didn’t even know where the nearest prison was!’

In 1961 she started working at Strangeways, Manchester. ‘People said I wouldn’t last five minutes,’ Mary remembered, ‘but I did!’ She spent seven years in the prison service.


Mary met Eric, who was working for British Leyland. They married in 1968 (the couple are pictured). Sadly, Eric died recently, just as we were putting together the Spring 2018 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots.

How did the title of her book come about? ‘That came at my interview to go into the ministry,’ Mary recalled. ‘I felt like it was God’s initiative and he’d been leading me along this golden thread.’

Copies of One More Step Along The Golden Thread cost £4.50 each. For the full story, see Roof ‘n’ Roots.

The making of Barrie

The family aren’t too far away, the local Methodist church is close, and it’s a nice walk to Pizza Express. Home is down a quiet lane, tucked away from the city roar.

Dragonflies dance on the pond full of ornamental fish in this semi-rural idyll. If you tire of gardening, potter in the shed that houses a model railway.


Is this a dream? No. ‘I’ve never lived anywhere as nice as this,’ Barrie told us. ‘I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather live.’

Revd Barrie Tabraham and wife Joan have been Society residents since June 2010. You may remember his name. He’s written two major books – The Making of Methodism and Brother Charles – the former is one of the most popular resources for those exploring the background of Methodism.

However, it’s not been a smooth ride to their retirement home in Surrey. Barrie had taught history for 12 years, then was a Methodist minister for 24.


But cancer, two heart attacks and a series of surgical operations took their toll. Barrie ended up being signed off work for eight months in 2004. His district chair said to his wife Joan, ‘He should retire, he should stop’.

With reluctance and relief, Barrie was given permission to retire at 61 in 2008. ‘Joan thinks the church saved my life,’ said Barrie. ‘She said if I stayed in work, I’d be dead by now. I probably put in too many hours. My enthusiasm gets the better of me sometimes.’ (You can read Barrie’s full story in the winter 2017 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots. Photos by Clive Price)

Crossing the line

Pat Billsborrow was just eight when she heard the divine voice say, ‘I want you’. She was standing in Durham Cathedral, by the black line where medieval women could not cross. No one else was there.

Growing up, she failed her O Levels. ‘That’s alright,’ her dad told her, ‘you can get married.’ But an education official believed in her, and encouraged her to study through Open University.


In 1979, Pat found herself in religious broadcasting. She produced programmes for Radio Tees on big issues – from conscientious objectors in World War I to persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain.

On one of these weighty radio assignments, a Methodist minister challenged Pat with the question, ‘What are you doing about your call to preach?’ The young journalist wondered, ‘What call to preach is that?’

Her inner eight-year-old child must’ve woken up. Pat was accepted into the Methodist ministry and went to college in 1984. At the same time, husband Bob (pictured with Pat) was made redundant from his job and he went into teaching.


Pat came out of college and had a baptism of fire. She started her ministry in South Tyneside, as the community was suffering the bitter aftermath of the miners’ strike. There were foodbanks and soup kitchens, just like today. ‘It was a time of severe depression,’ Pat recalled. ‘The people were quite downhearted at the time. But they welcomed us.’

Pat was invited in 1994 to lead the ecumenical Church of Reconciliation in Scunthorpe. All-age worship, out-of-school club and parenting classes were among the services offered to an estate of 7,500 residents.

In 1998 the couple moved to Birkenhead for a ‘priority appointment’. As well as leading churches, Pat started working with the Wirral Methodist Housing Association – valuable experience for when she later joined the MMHS board. (You can read Pat’s full story in the summer 2017 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots, and you can read all about her and Bob’s Diamond Wedding celebration here. Photos: Clive Price)

Nev the Rev is a time lord

nev the rev story pic 1 - 1Dr Who returns to the nation’s TV screens this spring. But the housing society already has its own ‘time lord’ in Revd Neville Pugh. However, Peter Capaldi needn’t worry. Nev’s powers are strictly making grandfather clocks.

Stepping through the side door of his garage in North Wales is like entering the Tardis. But the doctor’s time machine is replaced by knotted wood, sawdust and the roar of power tools. This is where ‘Nev the Rev’ – as he’s affectionately known – creates his clocks.


Nev’s clockmaking started when he was a minister in Yorkshire. He was visiting a church member whose husband was a joiner and undertaker. Nev noticed the house was filled with clocks at different stages of development.

‘I thought to myself, “Oh I’d like to make one of those!”’ he recalled.

After reading about clockmaking, Nev needed to build one. A visitor to the manse saw the result and asked Nev to make her one, too. He borrowed £300 to buy a machine that trims wooden boards. ‘Every time I made a clock I’d buy a machine, so it made it a little bit easier,’ said Nev.

Time wasn’t always on his side. Nev was born in 1937 at Kingsley near Frodsham, Cheshire. Deprived of oxygen, baby Nev appeared lifeless and had to be fed with a pipette.


‘I had an impediment of speech as a boy,’ he remembered. ‘Only my elder brother could understand me. So at school he was the interpreter.’

Nev became a Christian at seven on a mission in Kelsall Methodist Church led by Cliff College neville 8 - 1evangelist Tom Butler. ‘Gradually my speech improved,’ Nev recalled.

On leaving school, he went through a series of jobs from working on a poultry farm to running a contract cleaning business. All that changed when he heard famous missionary Gladys Aylward speak at Cliff College in 1954. ‘I said to the Lord, “I’ll do anything for you,”’ Nev recalled. (You can read Nev’s full story in the Spring 2017 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots)

Joy to the world

joy-murphy-for-website-1For the cost of a cup of coffee, bucketfuls of hope have been poured out for hundreds of children in Kenya – thanks to Joy Murphy’s family. But the road to Africa has been a rocky one for them.


Joy lives in a Housing Society property at Aylesbury. It’s a big, beautiful bungalow with a generous, landscaped garden. It became home for her and her now late husband in 2011. ‘I just love living here,’ said Joy.

Born in Hull, Joy was evacuated to Blackpool during World War II. She grew up by the Golden Mile from age two. At 17, she went to Manchester to start nursing.

‘My mum – who was a single parent – and my younger brother and sister, emigrated to Australia,’ Joy recalled. ‘I wouldn’t go because I wanted to finish my training.’

She finished her training, was a staff nurse for a year and then went out to Australia. ‘But in the meantime, I’d met Bill,’ Joy remembered. Bill was training to become a Methodist minister. After Joy’s move to Australia, they communicated by airmail – and one phone call. Finally, they married in England on 14th September 1963. Joy carried on nursing, part-time. Soon they started a family. Their first home was in Basingstoke, where their first two children were born.


Years – and several different church appointments – later, a huge off-road vehicle smashed into their car. Joy had whiplash and bruised ribs, Bill had concussion and rib fractures, but their daughter Corinne suffered a severe head injury. Recovery was extremely gradual. Corinne never returned to her legal secretary career. ‘She’s very focused,’ said Joy. ‘If she sets her mind to something, that’s what she’s going to do. It was a bit like that with starting the charity.’

joy-murphy-gardenCompelled by a ‘vision’ of Kenyan children calling for help, 23-year-old Corinne went to a local bank with just £2.56. She told the bank manager her story. With that modest amount, he opened a charity account for her. That was in 1995.

Today, Karibuni Children raises £200,000 a year to support 14 projects for children in poverty. ‘We didn’t go looking for projects, they came looking for us,’ said Joy. (Read the full article in the Winter 2016 edition of ‘Roof “N” Roots’)

The media world, my parish

The media world was his parish. Society tenant Eric Blennerhassett was ordained as a Methodist minister – but swapped pulpit for production studios. TV and radio became his ‘district’ for more than 20 years.


Born in 1921, Eric was brought up in a Methodist home at Erdington, Birmingham. Imaginative teachers showed Eric the power of storytelling. ‘To see a Shakespeare play brought to life on the stage instead of on the page was a revelation,’ he said.

‘I decided that was going to be the life for me. I’d like to be an actor.’ But soon he was to play a role in the much bigger theatre of war.

Eric’s father was president of The Birmingham Jewellers’ Association. Guest speaker at their annual dinner in 1938 was Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain – who’d just met Adolf Hitler at Munich. In a private conversation, Eric’s dad asked the PM what he thought of the Führer. ‘He’s a mad dog!’ was Chamberlain’s response.

‘Within a week or two, my brother and I had joined the Territorial Army,’ Eric recalled. Eric rose to the rank of captain and met his future wife Babs. When war ended, Eric changed his plans from plays to pastoring. He wanted to help build a better world.


When the BBC needed Methodists to join its ecumenical religious broadcasting team, Eric was appointed. After his many years in broadcasting, Eric returned to lead churches in Winchester and Southsea.

When he retired, Eric and Babs moved into an MMHS property at Chichester in 1989. They watched plays at the city’s famous Festival Theatre. ‘The housing society take over from what the Church would normally do,’ Eric said of MMHS, ‘and I’m grateful.’

Sadly, Babs died in spring this year. ‘All the people who’d known her well and worked with her, sent me messages,’ said Eric. (Read the full article in the Autumn 2016 edition of ‘Roof “N” Roots’)

‘It’s all been a gift’

Born and bred amid the coal and iron fields of wartime Derbyshire, young Kathleen Fountain played darts at the miner’s welfare. In the future she’d face much more challenging targets amid the clipped lawns and carpeted corridors of Westminster.

Kathleen came from the village of Calow. When she later became a peer of the realm, she took her title from that place.


Brought up in a Methodist family, she decided to serve the Church in 1961. ‘The only way for a woman to be involved in full-time work in the Methodist Church was through the deaconess order,’ Kathleen explained.

She worked in Rochdale, where she met her future husband, research engineer Ian Richardson. She was in a celibate order, so had to resign to marry Ian. They moved to Yorkshire and had three children – all girls. But Kathleen felt again ‘the pull’ to the Church. She became a lay worker for a church in Hertfordshire. ‘While I was there, the Methodist ministry was opened to women,’ she remembered. ‘It was the next logical step for me. In 1976 I was accepted as a minister.’

It was nearly 20 years later when she was nominated for the lead role at Conference. Kathleen became first woman President in 1992. In 1995 she became Moderator of the Free Church Council.


Kathleen was still serving as moderator when she was given the life peerage. As she retired from church leadership, the Society found her a place in North London. ‘I couldn’t have done it without them,’ Kathleen said of MMHS.

Sadly, Ian died in 2008. Kathleen had planned to move back up north after her husband’s passing. But at 78, she’s decided to stay put.

Kathleen looks back with gratitude. ‘It’s been a fascinating life,’ she said. ‘It’s all been a gift.’ (Read the full article in the Summer 2016 edition of ‘Roof “N” Roots’)