UPDATE: Jean Parker has now written a little bit more of her story (with help from Airlie)
Jean Parker and All Saints in Malvern
I was born in 1931 in Wales where my grandparents lived. My childhood home in Malvern was the first house in Hanley Terrace – just inside the Parish boundary of the Malvern Wells Anglican Church where I was baptised. After that, the family was always associated with All Saints.
Aged five, I started school at the Wyche School and Sunday School at All Saints where the Vicar was the Reverend B.A. Townsend. He always carried a big black brief case inscribed with his initials B.A.T and he wore a long black coat and black hat – all black except for his white dog collar. The children called him “The Bat”! He was very gentle and very kind.
I passed scholarship in 1942 at age 11 and went on to Worcester Girls Grammar School. When I was 13 years old, I was confirmed in All Saints with friends from Wyche School and it was during my preparation for confirmation that I began to think seriously about spiritual things.
My father, aged 41, died suddenly from a severe heart attack after a cricket match and, I moved, with my mother and sister, Margaret, to Worcester to be near relatives. I joined the Worcester Evangelical Church and the Youth for Christ Choir during the Billy Graham Crusade. On May 8th 1947, after a Sunday service with scripture from John 3 verse 16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” I gave my heart to the Lord.
In 1949, I started my nursing career at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham and joined St John’s Church Harbourne. After four years training, I returned to Worcester and became a ward sister at Ronkswood Hospital for a short period in order to spend time with my widowed mother and sister before commencing my midwifery training in London.
On Christmas Day in 1953, the patients in Ronkswood were allowed extra visitors and one very sick lady with a one year old baby who was in my care had her parents and brother down from Yorkshire to visit. Her husband, Geoff, was always the first to visit and this day he brought his wife’s parents and her brother, Ralph, with him. We all had tea together on the ward but only after Geoff and Ralph had served tea to everyone else on the ward. This was the day the Lord brought my beloved Ralph into my life. I saw Ralph every day when he visited his sister in the hospital and then he returned to Yorkshire and I moved to London to commence my midwifery. So began three years of letters – no phones- no emails in those days – just letters and managing to meet one another every six weeks or so.
After completing my midwifery I returned to Worcester because my mother was very ill and went back to nursing at Ronkswood. Ralph and I became engaged in May 1956 and I joined Ralph in Yorkshire working as a sister in a maternity home on the edge of Ilkley Moore. I joined Ralph in the choir at his church St John’s Ben Rhydding in Ilkley. Ralph was very involved with the church – he had been a choir boy all his life, he led the Youth Group , taught in the Sunday school, was the church treasurer and the Sunday School treasurer – all this while studying his accountancy.
On the 15th December 1956 Ralph and I were married in St John’s Ilkley and then lived in a 500 year old cottage in a little village called Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales.
In September 1959, Ralph was appointed Chief Accountant to a big Group of Importers in Kampala, Uganda and he went out to Africa. Three months later, I followed with our first baby, David, aged three months.
Our fascinating life in Africa and our eventual return to Malvern is a story for another time!
Back in January 2020, well before Coronavirus was an issue for the UK, we felt that God gave us Isaiah 54:2-3 as a particular verse for this season…
Enlarge the place of your tent,
stretch your tent curtains wide,
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords,
strengthen your stakes.
For you will spread out to the right and to the left;
your descendants will dispossess nations
and settle in their desolate cities.
As we prayed into this verse, we sensed God saying ‘you drive the tent pegs deep and ‘strengthen your stakes’ and I’ll stretch your tent.’ Not for a minute did we suspect that ‘spreading out to the right and to the left’ would mean within 9 months we would have new friends 10,000 miles away watching our weekly services! But that is exactly what has happened (and this week we’ve also got someone from America joining the Happiness Lab – that really is ‘to the right and to the left!’). For a fortnight ago, I got a lovely email from Airlie in Queensland Australia, explaining how she and her two friends have connected up with us. And here is her follow up email to me explaining more…
Dear Reverend Dave
It was deeply touching and a joy to receive your wonderful and very caring response to my contact with the churches of St Andrew’s and All Saints at Malvern. Here in Queensland, we are always a week behind watching your services and yesterday my English born friend Jean Parker and I very much enjoyed your first sermon on The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – what a marvellous message – I am in the process of sourcing a copy of John Mark Comer’s book.
Our group of three widows who worship together was very moved by your service and inspirational sermon on 18th November offering comfort to your grieving community and our thoughts and prayers have been with you and the Powell family during this tragic time. For me, the service was the answer to many prayers and it has given me immense comfort and encouragement – even more so when replayed.
You ask: “How did we hear about you?”
Now that is quite a story and one in which there was the guiding hand of our Lord. Our parish Church of St Mark at Buderim was offering services on line but not communion- so my friends and I sourced a service from St Mark’s Church at Darling Point in Sydney, New South Wales [a church with which I had youthful and family connections]. The words of the service were not on screen so we printed them beforehand. These services were very beautiful and quite uplifting but I sensed my dear friend, Jean, was not finding them easy to hear or follow as we juggled the written word while watching an IPad screen – so one morning I asked her which of the churches in England had she loved the most and after a long and thoughtful silence she replied “Airlie dear, I think perhaps it was the little church in Wolford in the Cotswolds – our last church in England before we came to Australia” – so I googled Wolford and found the church but there was no online service. Jean had mentioned her childhood in Malvern and her love of the Malvern Hills so I decided to google Anglican Churches in Malvern and up came St Andrew’s and All Saints – so the next Sunday when we met for our little service and Jean asked “Are we going to St Mark’s in Sydney again?” I did not reply but quickly opened your online service. I shall never forget her joy and delight when she saw the Malvern Hills and was pointing to where she lived as a child. Then the service began and she saw the altar in St Andrew’s and said “Oh I know it so well Airlie – so well – I have seen my Ralph beside that altar so many times!”. After the service, Jean told me the story of how, after many years in Uganda, she and her husband returned to England to educate their son and two daughters in Malvern and her husband Ralph became the Reader at St Andrew’s. Praise the Lord, of all the hundreds of Anglican churches in England, He had guided me to one that was filled with precious memories for Jean. When your Traditional Service was held in All Saints Jean and I were in the online congregation. All Saints is a church with which Jean has childhood connections and many happy memories but I shall let her tell you all that herself as I know she is very keen to do so. Suffice for me to offer praise and thanksgiving for the guiding hand of our Lord which has lead us into your inspiring pastoral care at St Andrew’s and All Saints.
The third member of our group is Jane McIntyre – a wonderful Christian lady and true disciple of our Lord. She and I went to Israel together in 2019 – fulfilling lifelong dreams for us both – especially to visit the Sea of Galilee and spend time on and beside the water. Attached please find a photo of the two of us taken in Scotland in July 2019 and one of Jean taken on her birthday in November 2018.
St Mark’s at Buderim has reopened with strict Covid distancing and cleansing measures in place. Jean however lives in an aged care facility which does not, at this stage, allow residents to visit anyone other than family or “approved” friends and certainly does not allow residents to enter a church. Fortunately, Jane and I are “approved” and able to worship with Jean in our homes or in her room and we shall continue to do so until such time as she can return with us to St Mark’s. We have all so enjoyed worshipping with you and Peter at St Andrew’s, I shall be surprised if we do not continue to participate in your online services even after we have returned to St Mark’s.
Thank you for your prayers and your blessings
Our prayers are with you too
What an amazing story and we await to hear more of Jean’s story which we hope will come through from her this week. Does anyone remember Jean and her husband Ralph?
What an amazing thing to be part of the body of Christ!