I'm taking a funeral this afternoon. It is for the lady who was the oldest member of our church.
I first met Lilian in 1983 when I came to be the pastor here. I was 24 years old and Lilian was 65. She was, even then, one of the older generation.
In 1983 Lilian had recently retired from the civil service but was active in the retirement fellowship. She used to get about in a little red car that she carried on driving until her eyesight became too poor to do so safely. She and her friend Ann Mathews would be there Sunday morning and Sunday evening without fail for many years. When I came here, Lilian was the church treasurer, a task she had fulfilled very well, but from which she stepped down shortly after. Her full involvement in church life continued for many years after that and it was only bit by bit that she eventually came to the stage where she could no longer join us at our meetings.
Lilian's parents lived in Salusbury Road, Kilburn. When Lilian was due to be born, however, her mother went home to West Wratting, Cambridgeshire, to her parents and that's where Lily was born. Her father was a taxi driver and owned his own business. Following the death of his first wife, Lily Bucknell, he remarried and had two children in addition to the son John (Jack) born to his first wife, Lilian (named for that first wife) and Albert (called George). Lilian once told me of a day trip they all made to Paris. They wanted to see the Eiffel Tower but it was a little further away than expected. Apparently her brother decided to make his own way there but the rest of the family did not know and so they spent the rest of the day looking for him and never did get to see the Eiffel Tower!
Being born in 1918, at the end of the first world war, Lilian's earlier years were lived through difficult and demanding times. One has the impression of a happy family life but with some pressures. Lilian was an exceptionally bright girl and went to Kingsbury Girls Grammar where in June 1934 she passed with a credit in 5 of the 13 subjects and gained a distinction in mathematics and then matriculated in 1935 from the University of London. She would have loved to have gone on to study for a degree at university and become a school teacher of Mathematics, but financial necessities meant that it was not possible. Lilian left school at 16 and began to work for the locally based Abbey National Building Society. She went on to take her civil service examinations and by the time she was 20 was happily living with her parents at 92 Gladstone Park Gardens, Cricklewood and working in London.
It was on the 25th August that everything took a dramatic turn with a confidential letter at work. The year 1939 and, as we now all know, war was about to come again. The immediate upshot for Lilian was a sudden transfer from the familiar sights of London to unknown Tetbury. The government had decided to place a number of civil servants outside London for reasons of safety and security. I remember her telling me how when she finally arrived at her billet, after a long day travelling, her landlady Mrs Constable, said to her and her friend “Come on in, you must be starved”. Lilian assumed this was a reference to being hungry but in that part of the world being starved meant being cold!
About a year later Lilian then moved to Worcester and it was while she was here that she really came into the orbit of Christian people through her friends Elsie and Mary. That first Christmas it wasn't possible to go home to mum and dad and so, through Elsie, she was invited to spend it in Malvern, in the home of the St John family, well known through the missionary and writer Patricia St John.
It was during the war that Lilian first came to trust in Christ for herself. She saw that as conscientious as she undoubtedly was she was a sinner and she needed to trust in Jesus Christ for forgiveness and strength to do right. This she continued to do from her twenties into her thirties and forties and on into her eighties and nineties by God's grace. On the 24th January 1943, she was baptised, which was one of her first acts of obedience we can be sure.
Eventually, she was able to move back to Cricklewood permanently. While cutting the garden hedge she spoke to a neighbour who invited her to come along to Willesden Green Baptist Church and that is where she was a member for the next 20 years. During that time she grew as a Christian, benefiting not only from the evangelical preaching of the Word but from evening lectures at the newly started London Bible College on Marylebone Road and with thousands of others hearing Billy Graham preaching in White City and elsewhere. She became aware of the British Evangelical Council (now Affinity) and at an early point became a personal member.
I am not sure exactly why she left Willesden Green but there was a difficulty and so she decided to begin to come to us here in Childs Hill. At that time John Pretlove was the minister. John later moved to America but she continued to keep in touch with him. I guess it was he who introduced her to the RSV Bible, which she always used as her preferred version. Lilian became a Sunday School teacher and a deacon and served the church in many other ways. She was a great asset.
As I say, she was treasurer when I came but resigned from that fairly early on. This was partly because she then became very much involved in the establishing of Spring Court, where she was to live for the next nearly 25 years. The development was originally undertaken by the Baptist Men's Association and Lilian was one of our church members appointed to the committee that worked to establish it. It must have been a great moment to see the place up and running after all the planning. She sold her Gladstone Park Gardens home and moved there to become one of the first residents. For most of her time there she was very much involved in the daily life of the community serving on various committees. It was my joy for some years to meet with her and other residents once a fortnight. I particularly remember her prayers. Lilian was a woman who knew how to pray. She had no stock phrases but would genuinely shut herself in with God and make her requests known.
Eventually even this came to an end. For a while she was pretty much confined to her room with a sore on her leg caused by the diabetes she had had for some time. Eventually she was hospitalised and an amputation was recommended. Those were tough days but she came through them and was able to move into the home in Wembley, next door to Doris, Elsie's sister, who she had known so many years. That was slightly frustrating in that even though Doris was next door they could seldom meet. Then sadly Doris went to be with the Lord on 11th January 2013.
This last year of life was not easy. Lilian kept quite bright almost to the end. I last saw her five days before she died. She was rather sleepy and not up to any real conversation. When I met with her, we always prayed and read the Bible. On this occasion I read just one verse. I read it because it was Christmas and because it seemed appropriate. It was 2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. That's the verse I plan to expound under the headings
1. Realise what the Lord Jesus did for Lilian
2. Realise what that meant for her and what it can mean for you
It is easy to say nice things about Lilian. There is a lot to say. There is the example of her faith. All through her life people in this country were turning away from the faith and crying it down. Not her though. She continued to believe all the way through by God's grace. With her faith came service to God. She continued to serve as long as she could. Then there was her patience and orderliness. Our strengths are often our weaknesses. Lilian liked to go to be quite late and if she then woke up late she could be in a bit of fluster as she would still have to go through her morning routine before going out. God is a God of order, however, and she is an example to us there. I could also mention her kindness and friendliness. She was very formal. I remember when I was first married. I sensed an awkwardness from Lilian about speaking to Eleri. It then dawned on me. I had not formally introduced her to Lilian. Once that was done it was nothing but friendliness. I remember too how at Spring Court she would lean over backwards to keep the peace and to be friendly to all. What a good example she has left us.