Address by the Reverend Prebendary Richard Bewes OBE
at the Funeral of Jean Wilson, St Mark's Church, Layton, Blackpool
January 29th 2013

A Promised Crown

JEAN WILSON

1 Peter 5:4

 

 

I’ll be bringing you my Bible text in a moment, but first…. My long-term friend and colleague Paul Blackham and I – together with Philip Gascoigne – are only too aware of the great privilege that is ours, of ministering in the Name of Christ to you all, who have known and loved Jean Wilson across these many years.

 

Our thoughts reach out to Jean’s brother John, to her life-long friend Marion Shakespeare, to Pat Strange, her co-worker across the decades, to Joyce Dixon her close friend at All Souls (not quite well enough to be with us); to Cynthia who took care of everything at Jean’s bungalow in more recent times – and indeed to all who,at this time of solemnity, mourn the passing from us of someone who left her stamp upon us all.

 

I use the word ‘mourn,’ because I so feel Jean’s passing myself. And yet the word Thanksgiving is there on the front of our service order today, because in the departure of any follower of Christ from this life to the next, there’s always the theme of Christian Confidence that also weaves its way into our thinking.

 

After all, who occupies the very centre of the next life?  Why, it’s Jesus Christ.  All these years Jean has been living – and expending her amazing energies - for HIM, in company with pastors, evangelists, and countless other disciples of Jesus who together make up two point three billion people – that is, the greatest belief-system, whether religious, cultural or political, that the world has ever seen – an international  family that continues to grow worldwide by some 100 thousand new people every day; by no less than 16 hundred new congregations every week.

 

And Christian people around the world have been sending in their tributes for today. You see at the front here this floral tribute from Billy Graham; you read on the back page of our service order a tribute from Billy’s associate of 60 years, there in the USA - Cliff Barrows. He writes: ‘Our Jean has left the land of the dying for the land of the living – and is finally Home.’    My wife Pam and I met with Mr Graham and his friends this last September, and afterwards Pam said to me, “When you meet with people like this, and hear the prayers of a man of God like Cliff Barrows, you wonder, What’s it going to be like when we eventually see JESUS?!’

 

And it’s Jesus that Jean is now with.  So, although, right now, some of you miss her more keenly than you can say, we could hardly want her back; not from where she is, in the presence of Christ!

 

Maybe this is the moment to bring you my text for this afternoon. Here it is, in the first of the New Testament letters of the apostle Peter.  It’s chapter 5, and verse 4; words, that are so apt for Jean Wilson, who – from America to Europe, to Africa and the East – was called by her Christian colleagues and friends  “Queen Jean.” It was Harvey and Marlies Thomas’ idea, on behalf of African Enterprise, to contribute flowers for this service in the shape of a crown – and that gave me my cue for this text.  Here are words that speak of Christ, who will finally appear at the end of time – words addressed specifically to His faithful followers and of course to ‘Queen Jean’: And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive THE CROWN of glory that will never fade away.

 

A promised crown. That stands for a regal Recognition of anyone – not just apostles or prophets; not limited to world preachers like Billy Graham – whose sermon notes Jean has often typed out for him – not just ‘the vicar!’ No; it’s a promised crown to anyone who has been in the service of Jesus Christ, and who has been any kind of serving shepherd, tending to the needs of what Peter calls here ‘God’s flock.’

 

The needs of ‘God’s flock.’  That was the life agenda for God’s servant whose mortal remains are before us here. Nothing seemed too much. Did Jean ever sleep more than 3 or 4 hours in the night? If she wasn’t phoning across the world, she’d be checking the proofs of Decision Magazine, finalizing accounts for the mission work in 10 different African countries, or meeting the early morning arrival at Heathrow of an American, a Ghanaian, a Pakistani or a Jordanian.  I’ve written in one of the church obituaries how that great Christian leader George Hoffman once confided in her, “Jean, I’m hopelessly late finishing the accounts for TEAR Fund!”  “Come on!” said Jean, “Sit down with me George and we’ll get it done together!”

 

To visit Jean in her London office - to try and detect her behind her amazingly laden desk – was one of life’s rich experiences.

 

Nothing was too much. A dear African friend of mine in Zimbabwe, a widower called Orpheus Hove, a one-eyed spirit-filled evangelist with African Enterprise, has sent in his tribute. He says, ‘God had given her a gift of knowledge which was beyond simply human knowledge.  I would meet her in Nairobi, Cairo or Kigali, and she would remember all three months money transactions between my office in Zimbabwe and hers in UK without mixing with all other organization accounts. Brilliant woman of God,’ says Orpheus; ‘personally she had become a sister and a mother - a woman of love and passion for the work of the Lord.’

 

We who worked with her all knew that. At different times we have prayed, laughed and wept in her presence.  

 

So whether it was baby-sitting for Mr and Mrs Billy Graham, liaising with Bridges for Peace, assisting writers like Anne Coomes, setting up bookstalls for 12,000 evangelists in Amsterdam, arranging accommodation for visitor after visitor to London, putting on meals for 150 guests (at which she was an expert), or fixing air flights - which she did for me numbers of times – Jean was affectionately underpinning, administering and supporting Christian work everywhere – and yet deliberately keeping well below the radar.

 

We would see her on a Sunday at All Souls Church where I ministered for 22 years – and nobody sitting near her would for a moment suspect that this nearby worshipper – whose hymn singing was hopelessly out of tune – was just about the greatest and most effective Christian worker that they would ever meet.

 

Yes, to her is accorded from the Christ who will return one day, the crown of glory that will never fade away.  Several times in Scripture this ‘Crown’ is referred to. James 1:13 refers to the Crown of Life, that is to be inherited by believers who endure the hard and testing times of life. 2 Timothy 4:8  refers to The crown of Righteousness – that is, the Crown that confirms to its future wearer that he or she – having accepted the dying sacrifice of Jesus at the Cross - for the forgiveness of every sin they have ever committed – is now in a ‘right’ relationship with God, and will never ever have to face the final judgment of  their sins. Those future wearers of the crown of righteousness, then, don’t fear that final day of judgment at all; they, rather,  are the ones who – as it says in 2 Timothy 4:8 - love and look forward to the appearing of Jesus at the end of time. He’s been their best Friend in life; He’ll be their Welcomer at the end!

 

Whether it’s the crown of Life, the crown of righteousness or – here – the crown of glory – it’s the same prospect…. and the one whom they called ‘Queen Jean’ is a valid inheritor of this crown of glory.

 

The most beautiful thing of sheer ‘Glory’ I ever saw in my life was the Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe. Deeper and wider than any other waterfall in the world – it’s a mile across – I was standing there one day with Jean.  We were on an African Enterprise conference.  There by the Falls we were surrounded by glory – with rainbows all around us! But, typically, Jean wasn’t going to stand there for ever, as I wanted to do!  She was beginning to fidget and look at her watch and finally said,  “Come on; we must go - it’s time for the Budget meeting!”

 

And that was Jean. More important, more attractive - and beautiful - than anything else to her was following and serving Jesus Christ – and supporting so many in country after country who, like her, were looking forward to His final appearing.  Hey, are you one of these people?  Let’s allow Jean’s dedicated and self-effacing adventure with Christ and His people to lift US to be among inheritors of the crown  - looking forward to that Day of his appearing. My goodness, when that happens, it will outshine even the Victoria Falls.

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