Category Archives: Stories

‘It felt like coming home’

Norman and Jan Hooks found peace with their past – and a future together.

Norman grew up amid fierce religious division in Northern Ireland. Jan had to work through issues from her childhood. Yet they both found healing from each of their own ‘troubles’.


The couple met at Cliff College in 1969. Jan was brought up in Salford as a foster child. She had to cope with all the emotional challenges such a journey can bring. Norman was brought up in Springfield Road, a junction of nationalist and unionist communities that saw much activity during the Troubles.

Norman went to a Methodist church and felt a call to Methodist ministry. Yet he never questioned the divide between Catholic and Protestant. Change came when he met a Catholic priest on a long train journey in the early 70s. ‘Both of us felt a sense of oneness and harmony in our Christian faith,’ said Norman.

Jan and Norman married in 1971. They became involved in the ‘house church’ movement and Norman served as an itinerant speaker.

The couple visited Cliff College on their 25th wedding anniversary in 1996. That marked the start of a journey back to Methodism. Norman sensed a renewal of his early call to Methodist ministry. ‘It felt like coming home,’ he said.


He became a local preacher. The process towards ordination began in 1999 at the Buckingham, Bicester and Brackley Circuit – affectionately known as ‘the 3Bs’. Norman was ordained as a Methodist minister at the turn of the millennium.

Years later on a retirement course, they heard about the work of MMHS. The Society helped the couple find a home near their family on the east coast of England. ‘They’ve been phenomenal,’ Jan said of MMHS.

(Photo of Norman and Jan supplied by the couple. The full version of their story can be found in the Spring 2020 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots)

‘Comedy brought me to church’

Comedy brought Joyce Barrass to church. Her spiritual journey took her from playing in a bomb crater – to teaching in one of the highest cities in the world.

Now an MMHS resident, Joyce was raised in a Methodist family at the Yorkshire mining village of Bolton-on-Dearne. Her father was head porter at the train station.


When she was seven, her father had a stroke. ‘My mum was looking after him,’ said Joyce, ‘so wasn’t able to get to church. I didn’t go to church until they needed somebody to write comedy material for a concert party in the late 70s.’

That took 15-year-old Joyce to Furlong Road Methodist Church. ‘I gradually got the call to mission work,’ she remembered.

Joyce knocked on the door of the former Overseas Mission Department. Their response was to train her and say, ‘How do you feel about Bolivia?’ Joyce’s response: ‘Where’s Bolivia?’ To top it all, she was a type 1 diabetic.

Armed with her O Level Spanish – and a fridge to preserve her insulin – in 1990, Joyce went to Sucre. She became the first UK Methodist mission partner in that region, and one of the first to Bolivia.


Joyce caught amoebic dysentery, an intestinal infection caused by a parasite. Soon after, she developed Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or ME. Even so, Joyce was disappointed when time came to return to the UK in 1992.

She was ordained in 1999. Joyce looked after three churches in Southampton and retired on health grounds in 2007. ‘I didn’t want to retire,’ she said, ‘but by God’s provision, I came here.’ Joyce moved into an MMHS house in Yorkshire (she is pictured above in her back garden at the property). ‘It was a summer evening and I saw what I knew could be home.’

(Photos by Clive Price. The full version of Joyce’s story can be found in the Winter 2019 edition of Roof n Roots. You can read more about Joyce on her own poetry website)

Treasure Island

Childhood on a remote Welsh island prepared Gwenda Watson for a future life of mission. She went from living in one of Britain’s smallest island communities – to helping husband Victor run one of the country’s biggest Methodist churches.


Born in 1930 at the Welsh village of Cwm-y-Glo, ‘valley of coal’, Gwenda contracted polio at just three months. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, her mother became headmistress of the only school on Ynys Enlli, the ‘Island in the Currents’, better known as Bardsey.

They moved to this legendary ‘Island of 20,000 Saints’ situated two miles off the Llŷn Peninsula. While the name sounds magical, Bardsey was without running water, gas or electricity.

‘There were ten houses, a chapel, a school and a lighthouse,’ Gwenda smiled. She remembers it as a special childhood, but wonders how her mother coped, especially when her father died of tuberculosis.

Lighting was by paraffin lamps. Water came from wells. Driftwood was gathered for the fire. ‘But we all had enough,’ Gwenda remembered. She now realises that taxing existence prepared her for mission and church work.

Gwenda continued her education at Llandudno, and went on to study social science at Leeds University. There she met Vic, who was training to be a Methodist minister at nearby Wesley College, Headingley.

They married in 1956. Later that year, Vic was appointed as a missionary to Panama. ‘We had three bags – my clothes, his clothes and the third contained Vic’s books,’ said Gwenda. ‘It was exciting and new.’


Arriving at Colón, they found a huge wooden wreck of a manse: ‘The stewards told us the only reason the house was still standing was because the termites were holding hands’.

The couple worked hard, building up the local Methodist churches which grew in membership. They set up a home for old people and a school. Vic attained the equivalent of a knighthood.

Following various ministry appointments, Vic’s next major mission was to Walworth Methodist Church, London. It was known as Clubland because of its pioneering youth work. (The rest of Gwenda’s story can be found in the Summer 2019 edition of Roof ‘n’ Roots)

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)

Most tragically, Glynn Lister has died from Covid 19. He passed away peacefully in hospital on 7th April, aged 74. He leaves Margaret and their two children Gwyneth and Ewart. A private family funeral has been held, and MMHS hosted an online service of thanksgiving for board and staff members. The Society will forever miss the charming, considerate and creative soul that was Glynn Lister. 

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’)