In memory of Doris Walford who died aged 95 on 4th Sept 2011 

My tribute to Doris Walford at her funeral yesterday:

It is a privilege today to be able to pay my respects to Doris Walford.  I am not related to Doris and indeed I have not seen her since Fred’s funeral, but I am here to honour her today because without her and Fred’s intervention in my life I would simply not be the person I am today.

Doris, Fred and their family used to live in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, 3 doors down from me.  At the age of 6 or 7 they invited me to a Sunday School Anniversary service at their church West Leigh Baptist Church.  I am not sure how many churches still celebrate the founding of their sunday schools, but for this particular church it was essentially an opportunity for what we would now call an all age service or family service.

Having grown up in a family that did not go to church, this was a brand new experience for me and opened up a world which I relished the opportunity to enter.  Doris, Fred, Mick and Stephen faithfully offered me a lift to church each Sunday and made it possible for me to begin a journey towards discovering God.

As I got involved in sunday school and Girls Brigade I became more and more familiar with the Jesus story.  I knew the facts but it wasn’t until I was 13, at a joint youth event that God spoke to me and I understood that God loved me, had made me, and I wasn’t an accident.  On that night I understood clearly for the first time that Jesus’ death was not merely a story but a generous act of a loving God who wanted to make a way for me to know him and live the life he created me to live.  In response to Jesus giving his life to me I chose that night to give my life back in return.  And it was on that night that I also sensed God’s call to become a baptist minister.

It was also at these joint youth events that I met my husband Jim.  Together, from the beginning of our adult years, we have tried to respond to God’s call to the poor and marginalised, many of whom are found in Britain’s inner-cities, and from working with the Christian organisation Oasis we went on to work with several inner-city baptist churches in Birmingham and London.  Along the way I eventually fulfilled God’s call and trained for baptist ministry at Spurgeon’s College as did Jim also.  14 years ago we began the adventure of pioneering the work of Urban Expression, an urban mission agency that has inspired almost 100 people to move into some of our most deprived neighbourhoods across 6 cities in the UK and is developing in other countries too and encouraged and released them to create forms of Christian community that make sense to those unlikely to set foot inside a regular church.

Because Fred and Doris invited me to church (without a CRB check I hasten to add!) I have had a gracious faith which has grounded me and shaped me; a love from an eternal father when I have doubted love from elsewhere; through the church I have had a second family who have supported and journeyed with me through my adventures; from my teenage years in the youth group I am privileged to have a solid and faithful group of friends; because of the joint youth work we shared I have a husband who shares my faith and calling whom I am utterly privileged to have and together we have two great children who we were both privileged to baptise together last October.  I am privileged to serve the Christian community in this country and elsewhere seeking to inspire others to take risks and stretch out to those beyond the regular reach of the church because Fred and Doris took the risk and reached out to me.  I know that without them my life would be so completely different and I know that there are so many others whose lives could be changed for the better if we followed in their footsteps and took similar risks.

When I was baptised at the age of 14, Doris and Fred gave me a Bible.  I still have this well used, falling apart, sticker-clad, highlighted, bookmark-filled BIble – evidence of a teenage-hood blessed with encouragements to engage with this life-changing book.  In the front Doris wrote a reference to Colossians 3v1-4 which, at the celebration of 95 years of faithful witness, seems highly appropriate:

‘Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is you life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.’

I am privileged to be one small part of the large legacy left behind by Fred and Doris.   As I talked with her sons yesterday I could see the huge impact they are also having on the lives of others as they seek to serve their communities and as I met Doris and Fred’s grandchildren I am convinced there is much more to be revealed of this legacy in the years to come.