Sermons

At a service of thanksgiving for the life of Joyce Belcher

Proverbs 8:1-14
Colossians 2:2-5

I can only describe Joyce as a Farnham institution. She knew so many people, in so many different contexts, and I never heard anyone say a bad word about her. I think the reason for this was her wisdom. Joyce always had something wise to say, if you asked her, and this is what our reading from Proverbs was all about: does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? The voice of wisdom as a woman rang so many bells with me – what better way can remember Joyce, than the voice of wisdom.

Shortly after I accepted the call to be Minister of this church, Joyce was one of a few people who wrote me a letter of welcome. At that time Joyce wrote what we call News of the Fellowship for the Church Magazine, which is the nearest church magazines get to a gossip column. Joyce was essential to the life of this church, which she loved so much, by keeping an eye on who was missing and phoning them up to check they were OK, by remembering to send cards to people who were unwell or had significant life events. Of course, with a twinkle in her eye, she simply, said, “I’m the nosey one!”.

Joyce certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth, without knowing her father, and being brought up by her mother and grandmother, with her beloved brother Bill. Although they left Wells-next-the-sea at a young age, she regularly returned there to visit cousins until very recently, and she subscribed to the magazine from Wells until she died. Joyce didn’t have the same affection for Hastings, she once said to me it “was a town that never really recovered from the war”, and I don’t think she had much affection for it. She did remember Robertson Street Congregational Church, as it then was, a vast barn of a building which in later years was to become quite lively in its worship, influenced by the charismatic movement, and Joyce was VERY unimpressed by what became of it.

It was during the Second World War that Joyce served in the WRAF, much of which was spent taking down Nazi wireless messages to be de-coded at Bletchley Park. She certainly had the right mind for that, because on a Sunday morning we’d regularly have a conversation on which clues we’d enjoyed and which we hadn’t from Saturday’s cryptic crossword in the Daily Telegraph.

After the war, Joyce trained as a probation, and some of that time was spent in what we now call Cumbria. I can’t imagine what it was like for a young woman driving a car around Cumbria in the early 1950s trying to convince people that she really was a probation officer, but Joyce’s character was such that I can believe she rose to the occasion in a way that most of us might not so easily.

Once she was fully qualified, Joyce began working in Surbiton, but it can’t have been for so very long, because the membership register of this church records that Joyce and her mother became members in 1961, transferring from Kingston Congregational Church. Joyce was active as a Probation officer for the rest of her career in this area. Even now, she’d occasionally refer to someone we’d seen in the town or in the church coffee bar, and discreetly say, “I knew the family professionally”. I think for her whole time in Farnham, Joyce lived at Sumner Court, where the woners of all the flats have a share in the freehold through a combined company. It won’t surprise you at all know that Joyce took her turn as chairman of the Board of Directors.

In her retirement, Joyce was immersed in supporting many charities. The Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice, for whom she sorted old newspapers and collected tin foil. Oxfam, where she and her dear friend Nellie ran Saturday afternoons for more years than anyone cares to remember. Joyce also loved driving, and giving people lifts. For many years she took to people the Contact the Elderly, enabling folk on their own to enjoy a tea party in someone’s house. She also drove people to the Williams Club for the Visually Impaired for many years, not least her good friend Barbara, and Joyce continued to join in the social side of the Williams Club even after she had to give up driving. She also drove me over to Mytchett one day to visit Tools with a Mission, for whom she had rounded up all manner of tools and equipment for refurbishment and transport to the developing world. Joyce was also the main link between this church and Pathfinder’s Camp, which is run for severely disabled women at the nearby Woodlarks Campsite, and gently nudged us into supporting them every year. If I’ve missed a charity, please don’t take offence, but Joyce didn’t tell us all about all of them and we’ve had to gather our information from here and there.

We shouldn’t forget that Joyce was one of the founding recipients of the annual Services to Farnham awards, where the Mayor presented her with the award for her work with so many charities, and it was no accident that Joyce was one such. That said, once it had appeared in the Farnham Herald and the day was over, Joyce never spoke of it again.

And in this Church, Joyce served as an Elder for many years, occasionally chairing the Church Meeting in the absence of the Minister – and when Joyce was in charge things always finished promptly. She also helped to run the Women’s Fellowship for many years, and looked after people, keeping in touch, remembering special times in people’s lives. Every church needs a Joyce Belcher, one of my predecessors said. Joyce also served the wider church, being our representative on the Guildford District Council for many years, and taking part in visits to other churches. Joyce was also on the District Pastoral Committee for many years, and I remember her telling me, with that characteristic twinkle in her eye, that she spent many meetings at the Camberley manse watching the Minister’s three legged cat through the window.

Joyce was the face of Wednesday mornings for most of the life of our coffee bar. She often found the toilet rolls needed replenishing when she was on duty, and liked to describe herself as the mistress of the rolls. One of our regular customers said this, “Joyce really was the face of the Spire Café and the URC. What a lovely lady. She always found time to chat and make people feel welcome – we came in specifically on a Wednesday to see her. She always had something interesting or amusing to say, and took an interest in our family”.

Although her own family were distant, Joyce loved them all very much – she stored up presents to send to Canada under the bed, and talked of Norfolk. But most of all she talked of Bill and Colleen, and her love and admiration for you, of course in very English reserved ways. She was so proud of your artwork, showing it to visitors to her flat – although some visitors on one occasion caught her out by noticing the can of pledge and duster left out from one of Joyce’s rare moments of housework, which she hated. It was you who inspired her not to eat meat. She was a special part of your family, and we’re grateful to have shared her with you.

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?, asks the book of Proverbs, O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right…all the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold…I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion. I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength.

Joyce has been the voice of common sense for so many of us. Joyce was a progressive thinker, and a positive thinker. She was a joy to so many of us, and we give thanks for her generous spirit, glad that we have known her. A wonderful woman in so many ways, more than we can say in words, known to each of us in our hearts. Let us remember always with thankfulness.

In our New Testament reading Paul reminded of the riches of knowledge and understanding, which is Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. If we have seen even just a glimpse of that in Joyce, her life has been fulfilled. Joyce may be absent in body, yet she will be with us in spirit. While we live, she will not be forgotten.

Thank you, God, for Joyce. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory.