Category Archives: Stories

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.

TAUGHT HISTORY

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.

SAVED LIFE

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.

RADIO ASSIGNMENTS

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.

MINERS’ STRIKE

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.

FED WITH PIPETTE

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.

POULTRY FARM

‘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.

GOLDEN MILE

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.

SUPPORTING CHILDREN

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.

BETTER WORLD

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.

FAMOUS THEATRE

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.

WOMAN PRESIDENT

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.

LIFE PEERAGE

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’)