Philip Young recently attended the special celebrations of a special lady within the Christian community in Ipswich. Here he writes about her zest for life – ‘God is love’.
Freda Smith is a legend. On Sunday 24 June she was wearing her wedding dress from 1943 when she married Bernard Smith. She stood at the entrance to St Matthew’s Church in Ipswich greeting the congregation, family, and guests as they arrived for the 10 o’clock Family All Age Communion Service.
On 27 June 2018 Freda was 100 years young. The church on Sunday was full to capacity as they came to celebrate this amazing lady. Freda was first up for communion as she then helped to distribute one of the cups of wine to others. What other 100 year olds do you know who are capable of this? The church was full of people of all ages and of mixed ethnic backgrounds. Freda is a person who loves and welcomes all people. One lady from the Windrush generation spoke movingly of the welcome that she had received from Freda when she had first arrived in England. Freda is a natural teacher who still teaches the St Matthew’s children who respond to her warmth and sense of fun.
Last year, just before her 99th birthday, she received an honorary degree from her old teaching training college, Southlands, near Putney in London. There were pictures of her in the paper throwing her mortar board in the air and of her giving an interview at home and afterwards swinging backwards and forwards on her garden swing wearing a long flowing skirt and rainbow scarf.
The key to her long life and her sense of fun is that she knows that she is loved by God and also by those who appreciate her amazing zest for life. She gives love and she receives love and so has found the answer to happiness.
The church gave her a tremendous party with the ten o’clock service and afterwards across the road in the Old Vicarage garden (now The Fletcher Centre) Freda was on her feet most of the time in need of no stick to steady her. There was wonderful home made food and lots of chat and catching up with old friends – much hugging and kissing and laughter.
At the end of the service she stood at the lectern and silently surveyed all of us with that special look and you could appreciate the headmistress in her, still looking after all in her care. Freda spoke of her time teaching. She was headmistress of the Sprites Infant School (her husband Bernard was also a headteacher). She told of her teaching the children that ‘God is Love’ and of the school inspectors being most impressed when they asked the children ‘Who is God?’ and them responding ’God is Love’. She had us all chanting it in the church showing that she has not lost the teacher’s touch.
One of her birthday cakes was a huge model of St Matthew’s Church with Freda standing outside complete with gown and mortar board. The garden was decorated with balloons and flowers and with white stones under the huge Lime tree spelling out ‘Freda 100’. In the corner was a bouncy castle and the sound of children having a wonderful time. Also the neighbourhood resounded to a three hour long peal of the St Matthew’s church bells – rung in honour of the birthday girl.
My wife Ann, who has known Freda for 37 years, introduced me to Freda when we first got to know each other six years ago. She came to our wedding in Felixstowe in 2015. I am one of the many people giving thanks to God for Freda, who shows no sign of giving up teaching her message that ‘God is Love’. Freda is full of joy and it is truly the joy of God that is keeping her so young and attractive.
Thank you Freda for being you and for lighting up so many people by giving them love and by showing them how to live a long and joyful life.
A true East Anglian legend, originally from Yorkshire and still with a strong accent, but now showing those Norwich folk that wonderful things can come from Ipswich – for St Matthew’s is at the top of Portman Road, just a stone’s throw from the football ground.
Philip is an Anglican, Quaker, and a member of the Third Order of Franciscans, and now lives in Felixstowe. Until July 2014 he was the Diocesan Environmental Officer for the Norwich Diocese. In June 2017 he stood as an Independent Candidate for the General Election in the Suffolk Coastal Constituency. He is now a freelance writer on spiritual and political matters. He is available to run Quiet Days, give talks, presentations or to preach and can be contacted at email@example.com