Tag Archives: Tribute

To the Newly Ordained Pastors….Why I’m Afraid For You.

It truly was an amazing Ordination Service.

Hundreds of United Methodists, a great cloud of witnesses, gathered together to honor and celebrate those who had bravely stepped forward to answer God’s call on their lives and enter ordained ministry.

2016-06-14 10.47.00

It was such a powerful and moving service that I wouldn’t have been surprised if a white dove had descended from the ceiling. Because the Holy Spirit was surely present… hovering, and filling, and moving, and working. Everyone there could feel it.

In the Bishop’s hands as she knelt to wash the feet of those newly ordained, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the songs we sang. and the music we heard, the Holy Spirit was there.

In the babies and children who clapped their hands, the Holy Spirit was there.

In those who watched from the balcony, who heard God calling them into ministry too, and who made their way up to the altar in tears, the Holy Spirit was there.

It was the same Holy Spirit who hovered over the chaos of creation; the same Holy Spirit who came down upon Jesus 2000 years ago in the River Jordan; the same Holy Spirit who showed up powerfully thirty years ago, when my husband was ordained.

Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of ordained ministry? the Bishop asked.

I do so believe came the unanimous response.

I do so believe that too.

I believe that God called each of you.

I believe that each of you who knelt before the Bishop have already knelt before God’s throne.

I believe that each of you who had hands laid upon you in prayer already have God’s own hand powerfully laid upon your life.

I believe that for every person who hugged and clapped and cried for you, there are already a thousand angels singing for joy for you.

Because I know that you, like my husband, have been called, and set apart and sent for God’s Holy work, and you entered the ministry because you have a yearning to mend broken hearts, and bind up the wounded, and try to make a difference in this hurting world. I know this.

But I’m afraid for you.

I’m afraid lest you become one of the wounded. I’m afraid that as you rise to your feet and leave that spirit-filled sanctuary behind, the world and (dare I say it) your churches might steal your joy, and cause you to question your call.

And if that day should come, I pray that you can find your sanctuary again, that you will remember that it is Almighty God who has called you, that you will still be able to feel God’s Holy Spirit strengthening and sustaining and upholding you, and that when you hear words that discourage and deter, the truth of God’s words to you will be louder in your ear and stronger in your heart….

you are my child whom I dearly love; I find happiness in you.

It was a privilege to see you ordained. May God bless you every day and fill you with the Holy Spirit as you seek to make disciples, preach the Word, and answer that wonderful call on your life.

You are brave.

And you will make a difference in the world.

2016-06-14 10.49.51

The Check I Never Wanted…

It was sitting quietly in the mailbox one misty morning. Waiting for me to find it. I knew what it was before I opened the envelope.

International Special Delivery, the important stamp said. I normally love mail from England… it’s always family-sent. But this one was different.

I opened it slowly and pulled out the contents. An impressive logo announced, ‘Zurich Bank’.  So here it was…. the check I never wanted.

Dear Mrs Nellist, Paying the claim on your father’s Adaptable Life Plan, the words said in bold.

Your. father’s. Adaptable. Life. Plan. 

I had to read those words three times and still I didn’t want to believe them. Is that my father? The one with a twinkle in his eye and a love for life?

2016-01-13 22.41.27The one who taught me how to swim, and played badminton with me on holiday?

The one who walked with me through the woods, and taught me how to spot glow worms in the dark?

The one who held my hand when I was in the dentist chair, and read books to me every night?

The one who taught me the name of every insect and every tree?

The one who happily gave away everything he owned, and the only things he ever saved for himself were acorns in his pocket?

Do you mean my father? Surely not.

Because if you do, then I don’t want this check.

What I want is for my wonderful dad to see what I’m seeing… which is a fiercely protective robin, who labored long to build a scraggly nest in a ladder outside my front door; who carefully laid four little blue eggs in there; who chases away every naughty chipmunk that dares to go near her home; who sits on those eggs every minute so that her young can have the very best future possible.

Who, when those babies are born, will watch over them, and love them, and feed them, and nurture them, and teach them everything they need to know about the world….

just like my wonderful dad did for me.

And if I could hug him again, and laugh with him again, and walk with him again, and show him the robin building her nest, I would gladly rip this check to pieces.

But it’s his way, my wonderful father’s way, of caring for me, even though he’s gone.

He’s gone.


I Wish You Knew. (A Tribute to My Mum)

Her name was Isabella. She hated it, and preferred to be called Isabel. But she hated that too. She thought it old-fashioned.

2016-05-07 23.11.06

I wish she knew now how popular that sweet name is, and how, when I meet that little girl called Bella, she always makes me think of her. But there’s a lot I wish she knew now.

I wish she knew that I married David, whom she adored.

I wish she knew that he became a pastor…how surprised and thrilled she would have been!

I wish she knew that I had four wonderful sons, that my family has grown to welcome three daughters-in-law, and four adorable grandchildren.

I wish she knew that I went into teaching, and eventually became a children’s book author.

Because it’s really due to her.

Those who know me well would never, ever believe that I was a naughty girl at school. But I was. My poor parents were constantly hauled into the headmaster’s office, as he tried to rein in my unruly behavior.

I remember one of those occasions more than most.

I’m sitting in his office, while he glowers at me from behind his big important desk. His black gown is as dark as his mood. I’m sure I deserve to be there. I probably deserve to be shouted at too, but I can’t remember what I’ve done. Perhaps I got caught smoking again, or perhaps it was the time when I nicked someone’s bike from the bike shed and rode off down the road with my best friend. But we had only sneaked away from boring science class to get some fish and chips… what’s wrong with that?

Whatever it was, I’m upset. And that’s unusual too… because I’m a bit of a rebel, and I have a hard exterior. But the headmaster in the black cloak has no hope at all for my future; in fact, he thinks I’m heading for failure.

And perhaps I was.

But that’s when I hear Mum come to my defense. To be honest, I can’t remember her exact words, but they went something like this:

But did you know, Mr Ellis, that she is SO very good and patient with children? I wish you could see Glenys at home. She takes her little niece, stands her on a chair, and they bake dozens of wonderful fairy cakes together. They line them all up on the kitchen table, and fill them with custard and jam. Glenys is so good with her! I just know she’s meant to work with children.

Mum didn’t know that she had just sowed a seed in my heart, that I would one day become a teacher, and out of that, my love for writing for children would grow.

She didn’t know because she took her last breath the day I sat my final exam at college. She never saw me wear the cap and gown, or pick up the pen to write Love Letters from God.

Mum has been walking those gold-paved streets for thirty-five long years. This month, I will turn fifty-seven, the age she was when that cruel illness stole her from us.

I wish she knew how thankful I am, what a privilege it was to be raised in that wonderful home, a place full of laughter, and busyness, and song.

A place where a hard-working lady called Isabel did her best to raise eight children, and saw the good in them when others couldn’t.

I wish she knew.

The Last Time I Saw my Dad…

The last time I saw my dad he was sitting under a magnolia tree.

It was the last time we would smile for the camera together; the last time we would laugh together; the last time we would sing hymns together under its leafy shade. But I didn’t know it then.

2015-12-26 14.05.00

It’s a splendid tree, this love, he said, with that wonderful twinkle in his eye that characterized my dad so perfectly. Just look at it! It’s really at its best. 

It wasn’t quite the truth. I knew it, and he knew it. The tree’s best days were certainly behind it. The tell-tale carpet of pink blossoms on the ground beneath our feet gave it away. But my dad was always one to look up, never to look down. It was the reason he saw the best in everything and everyone.

And so we smiled, and nodded together, and admired the splendid tree.

Now then, said my dad, as he looked up into its leafy boughs. Is that Mr Blackbird? He’s always here love, and he’s always singing. Well then, give us a tune.

And Mr Blackbird did. Perched high up on the branch as it swayed in the wind, the blackbird opened his beak and sang at the top of his voice. It was a beautiful tune, shrill and clear, a morning song that carried on the breeze and brought sunshine to the grey skies overhead.

My dad chuckled.

What about this one then? he asked, as he pursed his lips together and began to whistle a tune. The blackbird cocked his head to one side and listened. We waited. And sure enough, there came the obligatory reply. And so it went on: my dad whistling a tune and the blackbird copying.

That was in May, before summer gave way to fall, and autumn gave way to winter.

And on a December afternoon, I found myself kneeling at my front window, saying good-bye to my dad, as he lay 4000 long miles away, taking his final breaths.

Dad, it’s Glenys, I say, very deliberately and very slowly. It’s really important to me that my dad hear these words.

I have something very important to tell you. I can hear his breathing.

I love you Dad. And I WILL see you again. 

I can’t bring myself to say the word goodbye, and so I don’t. I save it for the moment I see him again, lying very still, and peaceful, and quiet.

I slip an acorn into his pocket as he’s lying there and kiss his head.

And on the morning of his funeral, I’m in front of the mirror, getting ready, when I hear something right outside my window. It’s a blackbird, perched high in the treetops, swaying back and forth in the wind, and singing for all it’s worth.

It’s so very loud. And it’s so very lovely. You’d never guess it was singing in the rain that morning, or that the sky above was so grey.

It’s just singing for all it’s worth, that little blackbird…

singing its song for a man who truly taught me how to live, whose legacy of love will last forever, who saw the best in everything, who sat with me under a splendid magnolia tree in May as blossoms of pink covered the ground.

What Happened When the Angels Came for Iris

You just never know when or how this one beautiful life may end.

It was summer… a warm, lazy, ordinary day, when my husband called with the news. Would I like to go with him? One of our wonderful church members, a lady we all loved, was lying unexpectedly in a hospital bed. They would soon turn off life support.

Would I like to go with him? I wasn’t sure. I was afraid. But I said yes.

No one met Iris without falling in love with her. Unique, bubbly, funny, compassionate, thoughtful. A lady with a great sense of style, humor, and a heart full of love. She was special.


Iris lay quietly in the bed. We gathered around her and held hands as David prayed. I didn’t know what would happen next. So I sat next to her husband and held his hand…because what else could I do?

It was then that they drew the curtain back and came in. Two ladies – quiet, unassuming, carrying fold-up chairs and harps.

Would you like some comfort in here? They said.

Who doesn’t need comfort at a time like this?

And as the nurses quietly began their work, those ladies began to sing and play.

Peace around you; Peace upon you; Peace above you; Peace beneath you.

It’s hard to describe what happened next.

The whole room filled with the sweet sound of their music, and a peace that I have truly never felt before. And although we all watched as the monitor screen went blank, and although we all saw the soft rise and fall of her last breath, it was as if the song of the harpists summoned in the very angels of heaven, who flew down, lifted our sweet Iris gently in their arms, and winged her safely home. I could almost hear the beat of their silvery wings as they soared upwards with her soul.

And if I didn’t believe in heaven before that day, I would have to believe in it now.

Iris left this earth. Iris left us. But she lives, she laughs, she loves, somewhere else, somewhere where angels gather, waiting on hovering wings, waiting to take us home.

Saying Goodbye to Grandma

It was very early this morning, still dark outside, when I heard the pitter patter of rain on the roof.

Me & GrandmaLightning flashed and thunder rumbled ever so quietly. And then for a moment, there was stillness. I lay in bed with my eyes open and wondered about that. I wondered if, four thousand long miles away, my mum had opened heaven’s gates and stepped inside.

And she had.

She wasn’t my real mum, but she might as well have been. Her other daughter-in-law affectionately calls her Joanie, but she was always mum to me.

She made the best breakfasts…of bacon, and eggs, and tomatoes and mushrooms. She had a special plate that was just for me. And she always told me I ate like a bird.

It was her who came to stay each time I had a baby. She would knit them hats that were far too big, and bounce them affectionately on her knee.

When our four sons were young, it was always to her big house, in the sunny south of England that we would go for our summer holidays. We would pack up the car with our six bikes hanging off the roof and drive, like the Clampetts, for two weeks of fun at Grandma’s. And even though she scolded us when we tramped the red sand of the beach in on our shoes, she loved us being there. And even though it sometimes rained, we always remember the sunny days.

Victoria Park

She would walk with us down the little stony path, through the woods to our favorite Elberry Cove, where we would sit on the pebbly beach and eat our crisps and salmon butties. Once we clambered together in a blow up boat and rowed around in the shallow waters. I remember her laughing in her floppy hat.

Elberry Cove

Sometimes, we would go out walking together at night. She loved big houses and when it was dark, you could see in peoples’ windows.

She was full of energy and life, and was often found to be doing her ironing and dusting at one o’clock in the morning. Even when she retired, she cleaned houses in her spare time, and even though she didn’t have much money, we always found a few pounds tucked away in the envelope whenever she wrote to us.

She could paint with two hands, and loved to water color. She could magically grow any plant from the tiniest shoot or seed; and outside her kitchen window, there was always a row of flower pots standing proudly on the little stone wall, spilling over with fuchsias, or sweet peas, or carnations. She talked to them every day, and always knew what they needed.

She loved to go for rides in the countryside, and was always the first to notice and name the yellows and purples of the wild flowers that danced in the Devon hedgerows. One day, she wrote about them in my diary.


And I think about time, and life, and how fast this one, precious gift passes us by.

And how we must snatch it, and hold on to each moment, and cherish the memories of summer days, and floppy hats, and wildflowers that dance in the hedgerows.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  Mary Oliver