Mary Gilson

Mary was brought up in Wednesbury in the Black Country. After a short time at a grammar school in Wolverhampton she moved to Hunmanby Hall, a Methodist boarding school for girls near Scarborough.

Mary read history at St Hilda’s College Oxford and initially thought she would try out various different churches. However, she was invited to join the John Wesley Society, based at Wesley Memorial Church and it was there that she met her future husband. Mary recalls ‘getting into a bit of trouble’ during an evangelising crusade:

The Somerset Crusade  1.37′

By the time of their marriage Nigel was a Methodist minister and their first appointment was in Cornwall. However within a few years, they decided to respond to the call to go to Africa. Their stipulation was that it had to be where they could take their three young children. Looking back, Mary considers what the experience of living in Africa meant to her and  taught her.

Rhodesia and the Red Blouses

They returned to Britain after ten years (when Ian Smith declared UDI). Out of the blue Hunmanby Hall wrote to ask Nigel to be Chaplain. Their two daughters were already at the school and they lived in one of the staff cottages. However Wesley Memorial then invited Nigel to become the Superintendent of the Oxford Circuit. They accepted and moved to Oxford in 1970. Mary recalls some of the happy times at church and at the manse.

Wesley Mem 1970s  1.30′

Their next move was to Wolverhampton where Nigel became Chair of the District. During this time Mary became a Community Relations Officer in Dudley. Despite the area being ‘Enoch Powell territory’ Mary enjoyed her work. She recalls it was “exciting –  people coming into the office needing help. We set up a women’s group in the office, and I met young Asian women through that. When I went into schools, I got a good welcome” but admits “it wouldn’t have been easy if I had been Asian.”

Community Relations Dudley  1.18′

In 1983 Mary was invited to represent the Methodist Church in Great Britain at the World Council of Churches Assembly in Vancouver. She recalls how the exchange of garlands helped reinforce the reality of global inequality.

Vancouver  1.45′

In 1986 Nigel was elected President of the Methodist Conference and they spent a happy year travelling around Britain. At Christmas they went on a trip to Antigua which was celebrating the 200th anniversary of Thomas Coke’s mission to the island. Nigel and Mary were presented with a commemorative plate on the occasion.

Mary describes how she had to draw deeply on her faith as Nigel’s health declined, when he had to go into a nursing home and especially when he died. She concludes “Meeting Nigel was a great gift of God to me. We had a very full life – never out of a sense of God in our lives. Couldn’t have been better.”



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