Jean's Church Recalls
In parallel with Jean's achievements as a national and international figure within Metropolitan Community Churches, she was also a loved and respected day-by-day, week-by-week working Pastor of her own church. This page offers recollections, thoughts and insights from the people to whom she ministered as Pastor of MCC London and MCC South London.
From Elaine Ambrose
Jean has been my pastor, mentor, sister and friend for many years. I will remember her always with the deepest love and affection. Treasured memories of her include her many thought-provoking and encouraging sermons; gently and lovingly taking my father’s funeral; ceaseless encouragement for my academic studies; and the countless times she has reduced me to tears of laughter with stories of her experiences over the years. My heartfelt prayers and thoughts reach out to my friend and sister, Mary.
On many levels irreplaceable, Jean’s compassion for all, her ceaseless energy for pursuing equality and justice, her commitment to inclusivity, her commitment to a rich and steadfast partnership with Mary, and her faithfulness as a servant of Jesus Christ, are and always shall be a precious example of a Christian life where abundant living and holiness balance perfectly. I know, even in the depths of grief, a profound sense joy for trusting and believing Jean is now serving the Lord she loves face-to-face, reunited with the saints gone before and preparing for those of us who will follow when our time comes.
Bye Mamma Jean – I love you tonnes . . . see you in glory. Try not to argue with St Paul too much!
From Stacey Ingrassia
Jean was very dear to me and my family i have many special memories of Jean she baptised me, married my partner and I and blessed my son she will be dearly missed there will be a hole left behind. My thoughts are with Mary at this time. Jean you will never be forgotten! You have helped me achieve soo much in my life. Love always.
From Rupert J
(With apologies to Mary Frye)
I shall stand at your grave and weep
You are not here, I cannot sleep.
Your faith in God was strong and true
But I’m not ready to let go of you.
I’ll miss your laugh and sense of fun
How you saw good in every-one
You’re Preacher, Pastor, friend to all
You solved our problems, big and small
On Tooting Bec with Lucy-loo
Friends to all, never thinking of you
I’ll miss you at church, and everywhere
You left too soon, Life’s just not fair
So I shall stand at your grave and cry
I’ll miss you friend, and you know why.
From Bob Norfolk-Thompson
I have known, loved and respected Jean for many many years. We have agreed and disagreed on many things but none more than the clothes I wear. This is one little story I would like to relate concerning just that.
When I was lay delegate, it fell on me to attend the MCC conference, with Jean, in Dallas, Texas. Now the conference is always in early July; you can expect Texas would be very warm like 90 deg plus. So I decided to wear my light beige suit.
Jean had made her flying arrangements and left me to make mine. So, as the church was paying I found the cheapest direct flight from Gatwick. Jean was also flying from Gatwick on the same day; so naturally we met up at the airport. It was only then that she informed me that I should have booked the same flight as hers - with American Airlines, as they were the MCC preferred carrier. Whereas I had booked a much cheaper one.
I pleaded ignorance on this matter, simply economy on behalf of Church funds. She explained to me that the seats were slightly larger with more leg room in American Economy class. Plus to top it off, she insisted that I was totally overdressed in my beige suit, explaining that her comfy outfit would be more appropriate for the long flight to Dallas/Fort Worth.
We each went our own way at Gatwick and promised to meet up at the other side; to share transport to the hotel.
I actually arrived at Dallas/Fort Worth slightly ahead of Jean but no matter, I had a coffee and met up with her after that. She told me that she had had a pleasant flight and just how much better her American Airlines Economy seat was superior to the Economy seat, I must have experienced. Sadly I had to confess to her that the Economy area on my flight was over crowded and slightly less sadly, that they upgraded me to First Class. I am certain that this would not have happened to me in a comfy outfit.
God bless you Jean.
From Timothy Spiers
I first attended a service of MCC London on 7th October 1973. This was a “Road to Damascus” experience for me. It met in a private home in Baron’s Court. The room was packed and one of the many people whom I met that evening was Jean White. I went to the Bible study that Wednesday, when only a few people were present and Jean was again there. For this reason she was one of the people i got to know well. Nobody who was there then is around now, so I can claim to have known Jean longer than anybody else who met her through MCC in this country. (She had met Rev. Elder Troy Perry before this).
MCC London in its early days was lay-led. No British person was a member of the UFMCC clergy, although we welcomed visitors from the USA. For a time in the mid-seventies I think Jean was unsure whether this was the church for her and for a while only attended irregularly. I remember one Sunday, when she arrived, somebody exclaiming “Oh good, Jean’s here”. It was clear that the church leadership saw her as someone who would be valuable to the church.
Our first proper pastor was Rev. Tom Bigelow, who felt inspired to come here from the USA. He was a great believer in the gifts if the spirit On one occasion he claimed that God had told him that Jean would one day be a member of the clergy. Jean replied that when God told her she would let Tom know.
God didn’t take long as she became a deacon and then an exhorter (a term we then used for student clergy). In the meantime Tom had returned to the USA and our pastor was now Rev. Ken Taylor, the first British person to be an MCC clergy.
I cannot remember the exact order of events during this period, but events moved fairly quickly. We were now worshipping at the Pimlico Neighbourhood Aid Centre. A rather shabby room attached to an old garage with two caravans in it, one of which served for committee meetings. At one meeting (I had not been elected to the committee at that time)there was an argument between Ken and the rest of the committee. Ken said he would resign if the committee would not accept his wishes, (I forget what the issue was). The committee, accepted his resignation. Jean was a member of that committee and emerged as the unofficial leader of the church.
She was ordained in 1979, and to nobody’s surprise was elected pastor. That year there was a General Conference, Jean went as clergy and I as MCC London’s lay delegate. One day during the conference she told me in a bewildered tone that somebody had proposed her for the Board of Elders. She was elected and rose to the occasion. At the start of that conference most of the delegates had known little or nothing of her. In a few days she had obviously made a huge impression. When I returned (Jean was not due back until he following week) I had big news for the congregation.
In 1979 we moved to new premises in the basement of a block of flats near Kings Cross. This was not satisfactory. Early in 1980 Jean had a back injury and was confined to bed. She used the time to contact estate agents in the search for new premises and as a result we moved to the upstairs of an Oddfellows Hall in Balham, of which we had exclusive use; later we had the whole building.
Jean remained pastor until 1995 when she stood down to take a sabbatical. The circumstances were not happy. A longstanding member of the church, who may have had psychological problems we did not understand, set about deliberately undermining Jean. Making as much difficulty as he could and spreading malicious stories about Jean which had no basis. In retrospect it seems reprehensible that those of us that remained did not see what was happening. Our only excuse is that this person’s behaviour was so strange and inexplicable that we couldn’t see it.
Before Jean left she warned me this person was dangerous; before long I realised she had been right as he turned his bullying and manipulation on the committee who were trying to keep things going. MCC London struggled on until 1998 before deciding it was in the Fellowship’s best interest to close and for members to transfer to the remaining London Churches.
Jean and some former members of MCC London who left when she resigned had founded MCC South London. I transferred there and Jean was again my pastor, which she remained until her death in 2010.
It would take a long time to list what Jean has done for me over the years, so I will write about one period in early 2005.
For a long time I had had a stomach problem called Reflux. At this time St. George’s Hospital were calling me in for lots of tests. I mentioned these to Jean who took a lot of interest in them, which with her medical background and caring nature I did not find surprising. However, one day I received a letter with an appointment to speak to a doctor. When I told Jean this she immediately said that she would come with me.
The doctor told me that I had lung cancer. Jean revealed that she discussed the tests that I had been given with Alec, a church member who works at St. George’s and had realised that something serious was suspected. Jean was now driving me to regular appointments at St. George’s and once to St. Thomas’s. Although I could have got there without help, her presence was reassuring at a worrying and bewildering time.
I was in hospital very soon to have a tumour removed from my left lung. The operation left me weak for some weeks, Jean and other church members, visited me and drove me around until I could manage for myself. I received the news that I hadn’t had “proper” lung cancer, but a lesser condition that the operation had cured.
From Annika Harzhofer
What I remember most about Jean are her hugs. She gave such good hugs. You could draw strength from them, and they could say more than any words. A Jean-hug just made me feel that no matter what, somehow things would sort themselves out the way they were meant to be.
When I first started coming to MCC South London, I was not a Christian. My faith grew slowly, and listening to Jean's sermons certainly gave me a completely different perspective on what it meant to be a Christian. They were so down to earth, so relevant, so current, and so full of humour! I would hang on to every word. But then Jean was just like that – people would naturally be drawn to her. I am just so glad that she wrote down most of her sermons, so that many more people, many of whom will never have the priviledge to meet Jean in person, can experience a "Jean sermon". Because there's nothing quite like it.
Jean had Jesus in her blood - her faith so strong, yet so humble.
On a more personal level we certainly shared a love for food, although she was always a better cook than I was. But I was always happy to supply the odd Norwegian brown cheese, which she of course had to share with Mary. Or should I say, Mary had to share with Jean… Despite trying to hide her share, Mary would invariably find it and bits of it would mysteriously go missing… Herrings on the other hand, did not need to be hidden or shared ;-)
Often we would chat about Scandinavian culture, given my family roots there and the fact that Jean had spent time in both Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
I miss my Jeanie hugs, chats and laughter. But I do sense her spirit every now and again, and I can certainly hear her voice from time to time. Most often it will be something like "Oh, don't be so ridiculous!" or "Giving up is not an option." Jean's spirit will always be a part of my life, and I am forever grateful for the years I knew her here on earth. She better be there, welcoming me with a proper Jean hug, on the other side ;-).
From Christina Jenkins
Jean, for me the most important point about her was her humanity.
Rarely have I met anyone with such empathy. When she was talking to you, you felt she was completely focused on you and your needs she understood instinctively.
To me this is what people must have felt when they met Jesus, enveloped in love so that you felt able and willing to tackle your faults and to overcome your failures..
I and many others have been blessed by knowing her.
From Anto Ingrassia
I am sure lots of people will remember Jean as a strong spiritual leader. What many people may not know about is the healing power of her faith.
I went to Jean with my partner Stacey at a most difficult time in our lives, when we were both physically and spiritually exhausted. She prayed with us and when we went home we had the best night's sleep in months, a much needed rest.
Miracles like this are often overlooked but I will never forget how important her prayers and encouragement were at the time.
Our son Christopher still remembers auntie Jean and often asks about her living with the angels.
I am sure Jean looks over us...
From Lynne Jordan-Passmore
I first met Jean at Gay Pride on Clapham Common in 1997. She was on the MCC South London stall and I went over and had a chat with her. Apparently, after we had gone, she said to Mary, ‘that’s someone who knows what she is talking about’.
We started attending MCC South London when it was in Brixton in August 1997, and the rest is history. Entering MCC South London felt ‘like coming home’ after a number of years without a church that would accept both Shar and I.
My main memories of Jean are that she always encouraged me to ‘have a go’. Looking back now I have achieved more than I ever thought I would or could because of her encouragement.
I really liked listening to Jeans stories of her past, even though some of them, like her time in China, were quite horrific. Listening to her inspired me to think that you could be yourself, but still achieve amazing things. I think part of that was that she didn’t realise what an amazing impact she had on people, and often wondered why people were so interested in her and her life. Although she did many wonderful and outstanding things, she never became big-headed: she was always down to earth.
Jean had the knack of getting people to talk, not only in church, but at the supermarket, in hospital and especially on the common, where she took Lucy and, before that, Megan - her dogs. Jean would say that she had two congregations, one in the church and one on the common.
Jean was a breath of fresh air. I was so used to having patriarchal figures at church that to have a matriarchal figure with her feminist attitudes was something I was not used to, but really enjoyed having. I also felt that her politics were Jesus through and through.
When Jean did our Holy Union, during the homily she spoke truths about Shar and me that are still relevant now: she had such a brilliant way of understanding people and seeing into their lives.
Although Jean wasn’t always the easiest person to be friends with, because she could cut you down as quick as she would build you up, she was worth every bit of the friendship and love that we received from her.
From Shar Jordan-Passmore
I think one of the most outstanding memories I have of Jean was how much she was admired world-wide in UFMCC. It was my first General Conference in Calgary, Canada, as Lay Delegate and I was utterly dumbfounded by the fact that Jean, our Jean, from MCC South London, suddenly became everybody’s Jean, everyone wanted a piece of her. She would be followed by an entourage of people everywhere she went and all you would hear was ‘Jean, Jean, Jean, do you have a minute to chat?’ It seemed like everyone knew Jean and Jean knew everyone, and she would give time to each and every one of them.
In stark contrast to the above, I found out over the years that, yes, Jean was a very remarkable, strong woman, but she was also a tender, loving and fragile woman too. She had undergone things in her life that would have broken many others, but these just seemed to make her stronger and stronger. But every now and then you would see the gentle Jean, a caring, loving mother to many in her congregation in MCC South London. Jean was the first person of the cloth to show me her ‘human’ side: she would laugh, cry, tell jokes, share stories, even let out the odd swear word (not in church though!)
Jean did our Holy Union, and probably spoke to almost every one of the 130 guests we had that day, and I think it was Jean's words that put my mum at ease about mine and Lynne’s relationship.
Jean also blessed four of our five grandchildren. She was unfortunately too ill to bless the fifth when he was born. Jean adored Jessica, our first grandchild. Jean would say that Jessica was a deep thinker and she liked her quietness and serenity. It broke Jessica’s heart when she heard that Jean had died.
My final memory of Jean was going to her's and Mary’s house one evening and seeing her sit in her large leather chair that she had once upon a time comfortably filled the entirety of – Jean was not a small person; but on this evening her shrunken body looked tiny with all this chair around her. She looked like a little child sitting in an adult chair and Jean was barely recognisable, but she still had that same smile for me.
I loved Jean very much and I know that she loved me too. Bye bye Jean, I miss you and hope you are finally realising your dream and seeing angels.
From Joshua Barnbrook
In all the years that I knew Jean, I cannot recall one story that encompasses her character and presence as a whole.
She was my mother here in the UK. She looked after me when I was sick, advised me in difficult situations, celebrated my successes with me, helped me grow into the man I am today, loved me for me and we argued sometimes.
I remember that we had been arguing one day, I’m not sure over what but we had reached an impasse. I turned to her and said, “You know Jean, I love you despite your imperfections and that you’re obviously wrong.” I’ll never forget the look she gave me when she lifted her chin and replied, “Humph, I know.” The smile and raised eyebrow that followed showed that she knew she wasn’t perfect. She was a private person and she was human. Everyone knew and loved a different Jean.
Jean loved red, she liked a glass of red wine on the weekend and she wore red shoes.
She was a steadfast Christian who personified her beliefs and values. She believed that no-one should have to go without when another has extra and that winning LGBT rights in your own country is not cause for resting on laurels when brothers and sisters are suffering in foreign countries. Her strong sense of justice and compassion made sure everyone she knew received help or comfort if she could help. She encouraged the congregation at MCC South London to step out of their comfort zone and participate in services. She often saw potential where I saw none in myself and ruffled my hair when I needed it.
Jean wore bright colours, she loved the sea and she really loved to dance.
She blazed a path where people were afraid and lonely. We are those people, we represent many others and Jean’s legacy lives on through us. As a pastor she had a very serious job and responsibility but she had a wicked sense of humour and a love of life. Not a clean cut, easy going and shiny one that doesn’t exist but rather the hard times, the sad times and joyous times, real life.
Jean laughed, Jean inspired and Jean believed in you and me.
From Em and Al
Mama Jean you helped us become closer to each other, closer to others and closer to God.
From Lucy Fern Smailwhite
I am completely fed up that you are not at home. I do not understand where you are and I want to go to the common. There are no tummy rubs in the morning! That Mary mopes around at night and forgets my chews. And the chicken that you always topped my meals with has all but gone. I don’t understand but I love you. Your dog Lucy Fern Smailwhite.