We all need a ‘Freda’: 80-year old community champion a source of inspiration to all

23 July 2018

A beautiful and sincere thank you note can stir the heart of even the toughest cynic. And one written to church volunteer Freda Gibbons, who has steadfastly served her community for 60 years, despite a life-long battle with rheumatoid arthritis would surely melt it.

The note was written by St Mary and St John’s church in the Diocese of Bath and Wells as an entry to the national ‘Little Deeds, Big Difference’ competition that is being run by specialist insurer Ecclesiastical.
“Every church NEEDS a Freda,” Jennifer Richards, treasurer for St Mary and St John’s, wrote in her nomination letter, adding: “She is the face of the church in our community, the one you can rely on to be there (although she does have the occasional day off!). National treasure? Maybe not, her influence doesn’t extend that far. Parish treasure? Definitely.” 
The year 2018 is very important for Freda as she will turn 80 in September. For the past 21 years she has been church warden at St Mary and St John’s in Shepton Mallet, and she has been a member of its PCC (Parochial Church Council) for 60 years. 
Freda is always ready to make the tea or wash-up afterwards, supply a cake or her speciality very-sherry trifle, administer the chalice if needed, and welcome anyone who comes into the church. She has also been the constant presence at innumerable baptisms, weddings, and funerals, as well as being the friendly face many go to for a chat — and you can be sure that anything said in confidence will go no further.
Her voluntary activities are not confined to church though. She has also been on the Almshouse committee in the village for 30 years, taken part in a large range of village activities, and provided an important link between the church and its community. She has also been a friend and shown support to many villagers when they needed it most.
All this despite the fact that she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of five, which she has dealt with without complaining. She doesn’t let it stop her!
The ‘Little Deeds, Big Difference’ competition is open to Anglican churches and aims to celebrate the often unsung but vital contributions that church volunteers make to their wider communities. The winners will be invited to a special lunch, to be held in London at the famous Trafalgar Square landmark St Martin-in-the-Fields church in November.
When asked about Freda, Jennifer added: “If you want to give this award to someone who shouts the loudest, forget Freda! She embodies many of the quieter Christian virtues: humility, kindness, and faithfulness. In the Sermon on the Mount these are the very qualities that Jesus promotes, the people he calls blessed.”
Churches have until 31 August 2018 to nominate a volunteer. To find out more about this year’s competition, including how to enter, visit www.ecclesiastical.com/churchcomp.