Revd. Frances Drake R.I.P.
It was with sadness that we learnt of the passing of Revd. Frances Drake on 2nd of January. Dear Frances was such a positive person that she left an impact of the joy that should be at the heart of the Christian understanding of life with everyone she met. It was very good that when people learnt of Frances severe stroke in the summer, combined with bone cancer, that she was sent many notes of appreciation. She told me how much she appreciated these notes. She also told me of her great love of God and the strength he gave her at this most difficult time of her life. Frances was the first appointment of a woman member of the clergy for our parishes. Firstly as John Brown’s curate and involvement with Fryerning, Margaretting and Mountnessing, then with all five parishes through the interregnum. After my appointment and pastoral re-organisation, Frances had specific responsibility for Margaretting, Mountnessing and Buttsbury churches and the two church schools. Everyone will have their own positive memories of Frances. She was so enthusiastic about her ministry, seeing it as a great gift from God she never expected. I remember her saying, “How could I have ever imagined I would be ordained? God is full of wonderful surprises!” At a wedding reception she was asked to say the grace, she said, “With food on the plate, and drink in the cup, and not having to do the washing up, thank you Lord, Amen.” Fifteen years on from the wedding, the bride’s father could instantly quote this grace and laugh. Let us all give thanks for Frances, for the way her faith and love of people has inspired us all and remember happy times with her that make us smile.
Revd Patrick Sherring.
Frances Maud Drake, Priest. A Tribute 24 January 2015
by Revd Canon John Brown
In October 2011 Frances wrote what she called ‘Funeral Wishes Please’. Why written in October 2011 I have no idea. Perhaps she was anxious then about something not quite right with her physically; perhaps it was because of all the funerals of others that she was taking at the time that something prompted her to say: ‘I ought to put down some requests for my own.’ So she did! She stated that she wished her funeral service to take place here in St.Thomas’ Navestock, that she should be buried in Navestock churchyard, and that her body should be dressed in her priestly robes of a White Cassock Alb, a White Stole, and that she should be holding a Bible from her shelves – I found the Bible with which she was presented at her Priesting in the Cathedral in 1994. She is also holding the two crosses which were given to her when she was in hospital. She gave instructions as to who she wished to officiate at her Service, the Biblical Reading from Revelation 21, and two poems. She listed 4 hymns: All Things Bright and Beautiful – 2nd tune; Now Thank We All our God; Be still for the Presence of the Lord; and Praise my Soul the King of Heaven. She also stipulated 2 CDs: Pie Jesu and the Hallelujah Chorus. You will see that in devising this Service I have not completely followed Frances’ instructions! I have included the 121st Psalm, the hymn we have just sung, and the hymn which we will sing at the end of the Service, both hymns I suggest being totally apt for Frances, who in my view is amongst the ‘Unnumbered … whose candles shine to lead our footsteps after thine’, and who was both a Michaelmas baby and ordained at Michaelmas. But more of that in a moment. I have bowed to pressure to include ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’ learning only last week from Claire today’s organist that on one occasion back in the summer Frances was heard to say: ‘If I have to sing All Things Bright and Beautiful once more at a funeral I shall scream’ Sorry Frances you did not amend your Funeral Service wishes - but at least you didn’t have to sing it on this occasion! I have however omitted ‘Praise my Soul’ and the Hallelujah Chorus will be played on the organ so that all of you will be able to hear it! She then wrote: ‘Please encourage people to sing these hymns with enthusiasm, whether they think that they can sing or not. They are to make the best noise they can! In my life and during my Ministry I found it very sad when people hardly opened their mouths and were half-hearted’
She also wrote the following which on her behalf I ask you to heed carefully: ‘I want the day of my Funeral to be an uplifting day and please Smile - capital S! There IS - capital IS - no need to be sad. I have lived and loved life and have sought to live it to the full and to the best I can. When you read and then please act on the instructions outlined in this paper, I will have reached the next dimension of my life. I will be ‘grazing’ – in quotes – in another pasture; I will be standing on another shore; I will be re-united with those I knew and loved during my life; somewhere else; wherever that might be and however it works. Wow!!’ So there you are, that’s Frances speaking directly to you! As the Bible says: ‘If you have ears to hear, then hear!’
In Winchester on 29 September 1943, ‘Infant BROWN’ was born. At birth she was named Irene Maud Brown. Within days of her being born she was adopted - little bureaucracy in those days, it was Wartime - and given the name Frances Maud Drake, after her adopting parents. She hated the name ‘Maud’ so never used it, but capitalised on being Frances Drake though of course with an ‘e’ rather than an ‘i’. She grew up in her adopting parents’ home just off Navestock Heath, not realising until her teenage years that she had been adopted. She often recalled coming as a child with her mother to this church and sitting in any pew where in the winter there was the least likelihood of the snow falling on you, repairs to the roof following war damage not yet having taken place. She became a member of the Choir, and on one occasion when a former Bishop of Chelmsford came to the church and she was acting as Crucifer, he patted her on the head and asked: ‘Are you alright sonny?’ It was that short hair-cut that did it! At the age of 22 she assumed the office of a churchwarden!
Frances’ adopting mother was Headteacher of Stondon Massey Primary School. Her father was an Examinations Clerk. Frances began her education at Stondon Massey. At the age of 11 she moved to Brentwood County High which at that time was an all-girls school. Leaving school at the age of 18 she became an Assistant House-mother in a Children’s Home, followed by 18 months as an unqualified teacher in a Primary School. From 1964-1967 she trained to become a teacher through the Brentwood College of Education in Sawyers Hall Lane, specialising in PE and History. Her first teaching appointment was as Head of Girls PE at Hall Mead School, Upminster – there was only one Girls PE teacher and that was Frances! Commuting up and down to Sussex University while teaching at Hall Mead, she gained a Bachelor of Education degree in 1974. In 1979 she moved to Hedingham School as Deputy Head, only to return in 1988 to Hall Mead as a Deputy Head. She retired from the school in 1996.
I read to you a tribute to Frances from a Headteacher. It reads a bit like a reference: ‘Frances was an excellent teacher. She was not greatly interested in educational theory but was an outstanding practitioner. She was popular in the best sense, with pupils, parents and colleagues. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she was much loved. Frances was not a towering figure – clearly! – but she was a towering character and a towering presence in the school. She was an enthusiast whose enthusiasm rubbed off on those around her. She would turn her hand to anything and give 100% to everything and everybody. She clearly understood that any successful enterprise depends fundamentally on getting the best out of people – by caring for them, setting them a good example and motivating them. She believed that, given the right environment, ordinary people could do extraordinary things. She had an enormous impact on the ethos of the school and on the lives of so many people who were part of it; she brought joy to all those with whom she came into contact. Following her ordination she was always in great demand from families seeking her support at momentous times in their lives, especially for weddings, christenings and funerals. She always gave freely of her time, her expertise and her love. She will always be remembered as the spiritual heart of the Hall Mead family.’
I was appointed Priest in Charge of Kelvedon Hatch and Navestock in September 1986. It did not take me long to appreciate that in Frances Drake there was a special talent from which the congregations of both churches could benefit yet more than they had been to date, a talent for teaching and leading and supporting. Initially I encouraged her to seek authorisation within the Church as a Lay Reader, and in the late 1980s she was duly licensed. But I urged her to go further, to seek ordination, and thankfully, following training through the Southwark Ordination Course this was realised on 26 September 1993 in St.Giles’ Mountnessing, to which I had moved in 1992. She was priested in the Cathedral the following year and served with me in the parishes of Margaretting, Fryerning and Mountessing. At some point during this time she studied for a Diploma in Religious Studies through Birkbeck College, London. I was advised to take early retirement in 1999 following a heart problem, and in 2001 Frances was appointed in my place as Priest in Charge of the parishes of Margaretting, Buttsbury and Mountnessing. She served until 2007.
I don’t know how well people knew Frances. I am going to give you a series of bullet points which highlight various aspects of her life some amusing, some not so amusing:
I speak of Frances the athlete: did you know she once played cricket for Essex ladies, that she ran three marathons, two in London and one in Paris;
I speak of Frances the musician: she loved singing – any hymn with a descant you would hear Frances above everyone else; she played the guitar - I saw a wonderful photograph of her in her teenage years dressed in shorts and a T-shirt with snorkel headgear on her head and flippers on her feet, strumming a guitar, with no lake or sea in sight; to enable Mothers’ Union Council members to remember the overseas countries with which this diocese’s Mothers’ Union is linked she wrote a poem including the names of all of them and set it to music;
So Frances, though not a mother herself, was nevertheless a member of the Mothers’ Union, promoting the work of the organisation within the three parishes where she served, across the deanery of Brentwood, and as Action and Outreach Co-ordinator within the Mothers’ Union Diocesan Council. From time to time she also served with other Mothers’ Union members in running a crèche in Chelmsford Prison for the children of prisoners while their mothers visited their partners;
I speak of Frances as dog-lover: Malcolm and Ruth Gower of Pump House Farm, alongside whom Frances lived for nearly 40 years, were into yellow and black labradors in a big way, training them to pick up accompanying pheasant and partridge shoots. Frances got involved as well - with Rom, and Rani and Dusk and Kim and Judy and Coll and Teal and Caper and Amber and Peg and Becky and Jay and Shelley and Meg and Sylva and Nell and Emma. Following the death of Frances’ father, Ruth allowed Frances to call Rani her own. The only time I have ever seen Frances cry was when together we buried Rani in the dogs’ grave yard alongside Pump House Farm;
I speak of Frances the organiser: - in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of the ending of the Second World War, organising a Commemorative Event and Service at Hall Mead School for 900 pupils and staff; and on a much smaller scale, organising a Christmas meal and trip to the Pantomime at the Queens Theatre Hornchurch for MU members and others in the parishes, with seats in the front row, just in case the invitation was to members of the audience to come up on the stage, and you can guess who would be the first up wearing her Christmas pudding hat;
And I must speak of Frances the priest: a position she always considered to be an enormous privilege and a responsibility for which she considered she was very inadequate. Her preparation for the leading of worship was meticulous, even to the writing out of vestry prayers; she saw herself very much as one of the people, but given this special privilege. She had to ensure that she let down neither her Lord nor his people. She found it hurtful when some would not accept her ministry because she was a woman, but she tried her utmost to offer them what she believed they would have sought from a man; she found it even more hurtful when some of her male fellow clergy refused to share the Peace with her since they regarded her as not being one of them. Remember Frances had discovered that her birth mother had rejected her - and here was rejection confronting her again in a most painful way;
And I must speak of Frances the preacher: her sermons tended to be on the longer side – she believed people needed to be informed as well as inspired;
And I must speak of Frances the pastor: she endeavoured to ensure that no one’s need of which she was aware went unrecognised. She would visit the sick, the lonely, the needy, the house-bound, faithfully, and if she was not able to visit on a regular basis she would ‘phone to let them know she was not ignoring them. She would immerse herself in the village schools of Margaretting and Mountnessing, take a turn as Bingo caller in Margaretting Village Hall, and carefully prepare families for Baptisms, couples for Marriage, and the bereaved for Funerals, always ensuring that whatever she said as a tribute at a funeral she afterwards gave the family a copy. Here was what I call ‘incarnational ministry’ par excellence!
Time will not allow me to tell you of Frances the entertainer, singing songs from the 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s to and with members of the older generation, telling them short stories and watching them cringe at her jokes! Of Frances the computer buff first at Hall Mead School then, following retirement from the parishes, at New Hall School, and offering computer consultancy to individuals and groups. How she loved her annual monthly holidays in the Scilly Isles with Rani, and latterly with her friend Mary in Penzance; her narrow boating holidays with friends from Billericay and representatives of Guiding. Of her partnering with others on the Christian journey as Spiritual Director. From 2008, of her liaison work with retired clergy in the Bradwell Episcopal Area, and her contribution to the Brentwood Deanery Clergy Chapter. Of her many friendships with her wider family, with individuals, couples, families and groups in Kelvedon Hatch and Navestock, the parishes where she served, Billericay, and all the congregations to whom she ministered at weekends occasionally and regularly out as far as the end of the Dengie peninsula. To all of them she would want to say ‘thank you’ for allowing me to share with you.
On 21/22 September of last year it all came to an end. Frances was rushed initially into Queens Hospital Romford, and subsequently into Basildon Hospital. No one knows when the stroke which paralysed the whole of her left side occurred, no one therefore knows how long she had lain unattended in her bedroom. Thankfully the stroke did not occur when she was out driving. The possible consequences to her and to any others do not bear thinking about. In partnership with the physiotherapists she struggled to regain some use in parts of her left side, and at one point seemed to be able to sit on the side of her bed unaided. But further progress was not to be; she suffered further seizures and difficulty with breathing. When the end came it was a happy release, not least that even with full-level oxygen, but only one lung functioning, taking every breath was tortuous. One of my great sadnesses was that she was not able to gain sufficient recovery to enable her to fight her way back to some degree of self-control and mobility, because knowing Frances as I did, had she had an inkling that that was possible I believe she would have achieved it, and having done so, said to others: ‘See, I did it, why can’t you?’
I apologise for going on, but I want you all to appreciate what Frances has left to all of us. Physically she is no longer able to give; through our remembrances of her, talking about her, she will go on giving unless and until we stop! I am going to conclude by reading to you some words from St. Paul’s two letters to the Church in Corinth, words which I often use at the funeral of someone I know has lived their life endeavouring to be Christian:
‘We are no better than pots of earthenware to contain this treasure; this proves that such transcendent power does not come from us, but is God’s alone. Hard-pressed on every side, we are never hemmed in; bewildered, we are never at out wits’ end; hunted, we are never abandoned to our fate; struck down, we are not left to die. Wherever we go we carry death with us in our body, the death that Jesus died, that in this body also life may reveal itself, the life that Jesus lives. For continually, while still alive, we are being surrendered into the hands of death, for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be revealed in this mortal body of ours. Thus death is at work in us, and life in you. (2 Corinthians 4.7-12)
No wonder we do not lose heart! Though our outward humanity is in decay, yet day by day we are inwardly renewed. Our troubles are slight and short-lived: and their outcome an eternal glory which outweighs them far. Meanwhile our eyes are fixed, not on the things that are seen, but on the things that are unseen: for what is seen passes away; but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4.16-18)
Therefore, my beloved, stand firm and immoveable, and work for the Lord always, work without limit, since you know that in the Lord your labour cannot be lost.’
(1 Corinthians 15.58)
That was Frances!