Huge heart for people: tribute for a pioneer

Jan 26, 2011

“MUM WOULD loathe to be remembered as a kind old lady and rather be thought of as a trail-blazing rebel.” Selina’s daughter’s words at her mother’s Thanksgiving Service in October spoke volumes.

Selina was, nevertheless, renowned for her kindness, too. “She was a woman of true integrity who you could trust with your innermost thoughts and fears,” added her daughter, “confident in the knowledge that she would treat you with kindness.”

Besides such admirable qualities, Selina’s legacy included being a key member of a radical Christian movement’s founding generation.


Selina was born in 1942 in Oundle, Northamptonshire. She became a Christian in 1971 and joined the Jesus Fellowship in 1973, just as the church was pioneering its radical way of Christian discipleship.

Almost 40 years later, Selina is remembered, with huge affection, by all the people into whom she poured herself. She was a devoted mother and grandmother, not only to her own four daughters and their children, whom she loved immensely, but also to the many, many people she “spiritually mothered” – including some of the most disadvantaged people in the country.

Selina’s father was an eminent writer and a pioneer of British broadcasting. Her mother was a writer, critic, lecturer – and mother to six children! (One begins to perceive something of the source of Selina’s character strength.)

When Selina was three, the family moved to a large old rectory in a village seven miles from Northampton. Selina’s brother fondly recalls this era: “We had plenty of fun and games together in what, in retrospect, seems to have been an idyllic childhood. We had a succession of pigs – all with Old Testament names – and a wonderful orchard with all kinds of fruit, as well as cats and dogs, newts, guinea pigs, terrapins and horses as well as several butterfly collections.”

Though faith wasn’t part of Selina’s home life, commitment certainly was; her father was a passionate Socialist. Yet Selina was struck in her childhood by “something holy and peaceful” about the nuns who taught her at her Catholic school, and by a priest who seemed to have “found the secret of life”. It was perhaps her first glimpse of God.

It was Selina’s father’s death, in 1970, that set Selina on a determined search for life’s meaning. She was determined not to make an emotional, irrational decision. After much thought, in February 1971, she found her childhood faith return in a way that was to change her life.

Two years after her conversion, Selina met some people from the Jesus Fellowship in Banbury. Having given up on political movements to come up with the radical changes she longed to see, she felt a deep attraction to the Jesus Fellowship’s vision and joined the church.

Some years later, came a time of great pain for Selina. In her own words, to Julia Faire, author of Seven Silver Rings, “After 20 years my marriage folded up. It left me broken-hearted because I’d had such a strong sense of building a family, and my marriage was very precious to me.

“After the divorce, I was shocked to find, by law, I was required to return my marriage certificate. Before I posted it, I knelt down and prayed.”

By this time Selina had been a committed Christian for 14 years. “As I knelt, I found myself saying aloud, ‘The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and blessed be His name.’ I took off my wedding ring and that exact moment I felt the Holy Spirit say, ‘I’d like to give you the gift of celibacy.’ It wasn’t a particularly emotional moment, but carried a sense of something being absolutely right – a door shutting properly and a key fitting a lock.”

Although born out of pain, Selina’s celibacy was to be a fruitful seedbed for the great devotion she showed so many in the years to come. Selina had a huge heart for people and was a gifted evangelist. “In many young people’s lives there has never been love without a price tag of some kind,” Selina told Julia. “When you’re a celibate there’s a quality to your love for people. It’s unconditional, centred upon them and shows respect, rather than fulfilling some need in yourself. Celibacy is not for yourself – it’s for others.”

In many young people’s lives there has never been love without a price tag of some kind.

Selina was extremely creative. One outlet for this was writing; she wrote many pieces for this magazine. And her natural creativity and imagination – combined with more than a dash of the prophetic – meant she often sent words of wisdom or symbolic stories to the leaders of the Jesus Fellowship; more than once these had an important influence on the direction of the movement as a whole.

For the last decade of her life Selina lived in Christian Community, at Jewel House in Daventry. As Selina’s daughter described it, “She found a real home in Jewel House and valued those friendships enormously”.

James Stacey, editor of Jesus Life, who worked closely with Selina said, “One of Selina’s abiding qualities was her almost total lack of cynicism. Even members of radical Christian movements (perhaps especially them!) can grow jaundiced through disappointments or disillusionment. Selina never did. She wasn’t naïve – but I think she resolved to be always positive because she knew that ‘faith pleases God’.

It was this refection that caused Laurence Cooper, another Jesus Fellowship writer who worked with Selina, to write a poem in her memory. A poem seems a fitting way to end a tribute to a woman about whom so much more could be said, but who once said herself: “Our words should be full of meaning, like a poem; not empty like a jam pot label.”“She reminded me of Lucy from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” he added; “always the first to believe and the last to doubt.”

Lucy – for Selina

Night falling on the desk and the bed in your room. Moonlight on the wardrobe opens a door to another world, as you step out from this one.

That’s so you – a little bit ahead – like Lucy, explorer, absent of cynicism and pride, expectant as a child, pushing aside dust, decay, the cobwebs of here and now. You’re ahead of us again! Amazed, alive, your eyes widen on a fresh and glorious day. Impossible – but not for you, who believed in the way.

Like “I love you” from a hijacked plane, that last text – I didn’t get the significance of your last request. Not panicked but, as the journey was about to start, wanting a friend’s comfort at the slowing of your heart. There, looking into sublimity, beyond all time and space, you felt a welcome touch, like flakes of snow, kissing your face.