Discovering grace, the generosity of God

Jai’s life story – discovering grace, the generosity of God, becoming a treasurer, the history of money and an encouragement to ‘Cheerful Giving’

I’m here today appealing for funding across all of Stroud Parish Churches – wherever you are. We have had challenges in the past and your response was amazing. Part of the Treasurer’s remit is to look forward and plan ahead and, sadly, my long-term forecast is not all good news.

However, forever the optimist, I am confident that we shall overcome and that I only have to ask for your help and it will come forward in spades!

It is not nice asking for money; no one finds it easy – in fact we universally hate it. I’m no different and find it unpleasant and instantly I thought this would be a huge turn off, but please bear with me.

Questions might be swimming about in your head now about the “worth” or “value” of your giving so, because I am blatantly asking you for money, I thought I should try and soften the blow and try to rationalise the reasons behind those thoughts. With this in mind I would like to tell you a story.

The story is about a woman born in the middle of the last century and how money and her relationship with the church helped shape her life over the last 60 years or so.

Imagine me, aged 2. It is the mid 1950’s in post war Britain, just after rationing had finished. My parents lived in Tetbury but I was actually born in Stroud Maternity Hospital which had opened the year before my arrival. Although I have no absolute knowledge of the financial status of my parents at that time, I do have memories of mum, dad, me and my little sister living in a tiny, privately rented cottage. Back then the custom was for the woman to give up her job when she married and the average working man’s wage was 5 pounds and 8 shillings (or 5 pounds and 8 bob). On the flip side, I guess their outgoings must have been modest because there was no family car and home entertainment was listening to the radio; dad might have gone to the pub for a pint on a Saturday night and a roast dinner was the highlight on a Sunday.
I have to say that Mum & Dad had no religious leanings, so attending a church service wasn’t part of the family routine, however I was christened and I can even remember attending Sunday School for a brief period when I was a little bit older – although I did have an ulterior motive – if you were first to arrive at the church you could ring the bell and, at the end of the session you received a lovely colourful stamp to add to your collection in your attendance book.

In 1964, aged 10, I was the Tetbury carnival butterfly queen – crowned by Don Rogers, the ex-Swindon football player. Our family now lived in a lovely, roomy 3-bed council house. The average wage had risen to £18 week and now we were part of the “age of consumerism”. Prosperity had returned to the country and HP was also available so many mod cons were being introduced into our home. I remember seeing a Hotpoint twin tub washing machine in action; witnessing the larder being abandoned on the arrival of a refrigerator and watching the new 17″ black & white TV. Not only that – dad bought his first family car – a Ford “Pop” so Sundays in the summer were often spent in Stratford Park picnicking with Aunties, Uncles & cousins.

My sister and I were also given pocket money of half a crown a week (2s 6d) (12.5p) and because listening to pop music was a favourite pastime, we usually pooled it to buy a record
equivalent to a CD but now worth much more to collectors!

I had abandoned going to Sunday school, but I can remember in the school holidays going to the local Baptist church and playing games and singing tunes like “I will make you fishers of men” and “The wise man built his house upon the rock” – I loved it, but I was only there to join in the fun.

On 14th September 1974 I married my childhood sweetheart, Michael Carr. It was a very clichéd romance – he was my best friend’s brother. I met him when she invited me to her house for tea after school when I was 15. Five years later we had a full church wedding at St. Mary’s church in Tetbury, it was a lovely occasion and I took my vows very seriously, but I admit the spiritual aspect of church was still lost on me. My wedding outfit cost £43.15, and considering I had a job as an office administrator that paid £15 week, that was almost three weeks wages! Mike was on good money though – he was employed by GCC Highways Department and earnt £33 a week. We figured if we lived with his parents for a year, we could save a deposit to buy our own house. We did just that but as we couldn’t afford a property in Tetbury we had to look further afield.

Finally, we found a “do-er up-er” in Stroud and we purchased 3, Upper Leazes, just off Parliament Street, for the princely sum of £6,000. Not a lot of kerbside appeal to this house but this is where I learnt all things domestic and how to weld a paintbrush. The household budget was very thrifty – I thought kitchen roll was a luxury product – and most of our furniture was second hand. We were both in full time employment– Mike could continue working for the County Council at Junction 13 off the M5 and I found a job at the Stroud Metal Company (which has recently been developed and is now the site of the new Lidl supermarket) as a shorthand typist, paying £24 week. We had arrived in the parish and we lived there for 5 years, but it would still take another house move before I had any inclination to pay a visit to Holy Trinity.

In 1980 Mike & I put the cottage on the market. Its value had more than doubled, so with this added equity and the need for more room to house our growing family, we decided it was time to upsize. We found somewhere just a bit further up the road in Middle Hill, off the Old Bisley Road. Again, the house itself was not a looker from the outside, but the view of the Slad Valley from the window was superb – we had to have it, even though it cost £19,500.

Unfortunately, our timing was a bit off because inflation became a huge problem and the interest rate on our mortgage climbed to 16% and Mike was the only wage earner; in fact the whole of the UK went into recession and there was a constant fear of unemployment. It was a difficult time.

However, we could always rely on the bank of Mum and Dad for a holiday. They would book a caravan by the coast and invite us to join them – with no fees attached.

Conversely by the end of the 80’s there was an economic boom and things began to get a lot better for us; Mike was promoted to Supervisor and his pay increased to £170 week and I had an evening job cleaning the offices of the Stroud Building Society which brought in another £16 a week. It was at this time my attention first turned to Holy Trinity church. Somebody had told me that in Trinity Rooms there was a Sunday school, so I started to drop the kids off there every Sunday morning for a couple of hours and, very important to me at the time, it was F.O.C. free of charge!

The 1980’s and 90’s seems to be a time of dodgy hairstyles and fashion choices for me, but it was also when I made the decision to return to office work and started bookkeeping, my pay being £75 a week. Mike’s career was also going from strength to strength and in that same year he was appointed as Site Agent to manage a major highways project in the area, the Ebley Bypass. This was a salaried position which also came with a company car, a Ford Orion. We were a happy, financially secure family with enough disposable income to allow ourselves the odd luxury purchase and we even managed to take our first foreign holiday.

It was also around this time I met some people who greatly changed my attitude towards religion; Rosemary Trim and Marion Tuck being amongst them. Their friendly, gentle and encouraging behaviour towards me and my daughters sparked my interest in church life. I was invited to join in with some of the Sunday school projects and to come to the monthly Family Service in church. My curiosity aroused I decided to take further steps to discover this new faith and attended confirmation classes and, on 5th July 1990, with June Parkin as my sponsor I was confirmed. I have never looked back. The fellowship, peace and contentment I feel by coming to Holy Trinity are priceless.

In 1993 the Rev. Tom Merry asked if I would become Treasurer. What an eye opener! Of course, I knew about bookkeeping, but there were new phrases and words I’d never come across before. What was a Covenant; a Legacy; an alter requisite and what is this huge amount we are asked to pay called “The Common Fund” The Common Fund, later labelled as “Quota” is of course what we now know as our Parish Share. I had no idea before I was appointed Treasurer that this obligation even existed but now, all these years later; I fully understand why we pay this amount to the Diocese. Parish Share is a phrase that can make us groan and a common question asked is why do we have to pay this unwelcome drain on our resources? Well, we really shouldn’t view it so harshly – it is a request from the Diocese to pool our wealth and to see ourselves as part of a bigger picture.

So, you might be thinking, why is Jai telling us this story? Well, it’s because I wanted you to know a bit about my background. I’ve lived a fairly ordinary life, but ordinary is good. When I hear of others and their less ordinary lives, it usually means they have faced challenges or suffered trauma or distress that is hard to believe can be overcome. I may not have had huge upsets in my journey in life, but I have had experience of being left with just a few pence in my purse before the next pay day; I’ve felt overwhelmed at work and the strain that goes with that and there’s been a few other curve balls delivered to me along the way that have brought uncertainty and worries, so I do understand that, depending on where we all are along the road, there are milestones that dictate our finances and how freely, or not, we can utilise them.

Mike and I lived in Middle Hill for 22 years but after our daughters left home we moved to the Gannicox estate where we have spent the last 19 years. Our family has extended into the next generation and we now find ourselves the head of the bank of Mum & Dad, but we rejoice in the fact that we are able to afford it. My life has been blessed and I think, even when I didn’t know it, God was holding me in the palm of his hand and had a plan for me. Who knows what the future will bring, but I am now at a stage in life where I can exercise generosity in donating both my time and money into the things I care about and I do it joyfully.

Across the parishes in Stroud Parish Churches – we are roughly 35% down on what is needed for 3 full time posts and all the other things we pay for to support our local community and church communities.

Across the parishes in Stroud Parish Churches – we are roughly 35% down on what is needed for 3 full time posts and all the other things we pay for to support our local community and church communities. That’s roughly £800 a week we need to find, so I’m asking the question “Can you rise to the occasion once again and help please?”

I believe that our perception of money needs to be re-evaluated or re-booted – to use a popular 21st century term. We can get stuck in the past when we think of the spending power of money. Take £20 for example – in 1950 it was almost a month’s pay; but by 1960 it had diminished to a week’s wage. Over the decades 20 quid has de-valued so much that it can now be earnt in hours, or minutes for the very fortunate.

In the 1970’s a meal in the Berni Inn for four people would be covered by £20, but nowadays it costs me more than that to take my two grandchildren to the cinema – and that’s three concessionary tickets and not including popcorn! £20 just ain’t what it used to be!

I looked up the meaning of “stewardship” and the definition is this “the job of supervising or taking care of something”. I am very conscious that I am asking for your commitment at a time of austerity in the country, which is doubly difficult, but we need to take care of our churches – the clergy, admin team, buildings that create the church life we all enjoy and love.

As I have revealed, my faith doesn’t have deep-seated roots and you may think my approach a bit light-hearted, but I can assure you that I now rejoice in the love of God and I am glad I discovered it later, rather than never. I am also passionate about being part of the church in Stroud – so jointly supporting Stroud Parish Churches now it’s future, starts with us all today.

There are no forms for you to complete and return but there is information on our website on the different ways your donations work best for the church’s finances. Or just ask your friendly local treasurer

I appreciate some of you already give generously and the church is probably not the only charity you support, but I am hoping that this appeal will give everyone food for thought and the chance for those of you not already enrolled into one of our planned giving schemes to join forces.

If you are able to increase your giving that will be fantastic; you will be protecting the ongoing life of this place, but even if your circumstances do not allow you to give more financially, please pray for the situation. Our bills may be big, but our God is bigger! Pray that we may trust in him as we wait on his blessing.

I am going to finish by recounting two prayers read by William and Alice when we revisited the story of the feeding of the 5,000. I was instantly struck by them when I heard them that morning as being appropriate for today – the message is the same – share what you have with others.
The words are quite simple, but are so exact and precise for a Stewardship service that I would like to end with them now:

Lord Jesus Christ, whatever we give to you is as nothing compared to what you have given to us. Receive our praise and accept our thanks. Amen

Loving God, make a difference to us, so that we may make a difference to others. Amen

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Communion during this time

In these unprecedented times, we are working hard to find imaginative solutions in a landscape that has been rapidly changing. Sometimes we get things right, and sometimes we miss the mark. I apologise that this has been the case regarding communion.

For those of you who have received wafers in a parcel, we would ask that you either consume them, or put them somewhere safe to bring back once we are able to be together again.

We are going to be sending out a new order of service for use during this time as either a simple service of the word or, on occasion, to help us to share an Agape meal together.

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