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In her own words

06 April 2023

Years after the death of his mother, Alison, Andrew Daunton-Fear was surprised to find the scripts of her talks from the mid-20th century

Alison Daunton-Fear

Alison Daunton-Fear

IN THE mid-20th century, a woman’s scope for ministry was very limited, but my mother, Alison Daunton-Fear, had an influential ministry to women in the UK and Australia, through her insightful teaching with vivid illustrations, based on a firm understanding of scripture.

Born in 1911, the gospel made an impact on her as a teenager at a lively CSSM beach mission. The message presented to the children there touched her own heart; afterwards, she said she had been spiritually “quickened” — her faith had come alive. She later gained a thorough grounding in scripture from Ridgelands Bible College, Wimbledon, and, after marrying my father, Richard Daunton-Fear, she dedicated herself to assisting him in his ministry.

She led the women’s groups in the parishes under my father’s charge. In Street, Somerset, during the Second World War, she delivered poignant messages of reassurance to the Mothers’ Union, as well as once giving a forthright message to fellow members of PCCs, challenging them to adopt a positive attitude to their office. In Gravesend, her ministry was to the Mothers’ Union and Young Wives Fellowship, and she founded a “Martha and Mary” group, bringing together the domestic and spiritual sides of Christian motherhood. A keen cook and later a dressmaker, she had plenty to share, but she also encouraged mothers to foster the spiritual lives of their children.

By that time, she had two of her own — my sister Mary and me — followed soon by a third, our sister Ruth. My mother once travelled across the Atlantic, accompanying my father on a preaching tour. One of his charges in Gravesend was St George’s: dilapidated, but with the remains of the Native American heroine Pocahontas under its chancel. Together, my parents visited the eastern states of North America, where money was raised, enabling the church’s restoration.

In the quiet seaside parish of St Philip’s, Hove, in the 1950s, Mother led both the Mothers’ Union and the Women’s Guild, but, in 1960, health issues led our family to move to Australia.

There, my father became Archdeacon of Tamworth and Vicar of St John’s, and my mother came into her own as a speaker. In addition to leading women’s groups, she ran speakers’ classes to train other women to give devotional talks. She gave a series of evening epilogues on Tamworth’s radio station 2TM, and, in June 1964, she spoke to 700 women at the annual Mothers’ Union meeting in Sydney diocese.

MY SISTERS and I rarely heard our mother teach, but I did have one opportunity. It was at a Youth Fellowship social in the church hall, to which she had been invited to give the “spiritual slot”. She sat at the high table. The whole evening was lighthearted, and I wondered how she could possibly speak in that setting.

When the time came, she rose to her feet and, with a dramatic sweep of her arm, pointed down the hall to the entrance. “If he were to come in that door,” she said, “every eye would be upon him.” We were all agog, wondering whether someone would suddenly appear. She went on to speak of the “rich young ruler” and, from start to finish, held everyone’s rapt attention.

The Daunton-Fear family in Tamworth, after the family’s move to Australia

After a two-year period away in England, we returned to Australia, and Father became organising secretary of the Bishop’s Home Mission Society, and Archdeacon of Gawler, in the diocese of Adelaide. With no parish responsibilities, Mother conducted retreats and quiet days in the diocese.

Later, my parents returned to the British Isles, moving several times, but eventually settling in Worthing, where they had once celebrated their honeymoon. Mother’s later years included leading Bible studies, giving occasional talks, and devoting herself to her garden. After my father died, in 1993, she went on to live a further eight years.

My mother spent her life encouraging and reassuring others. She never blew her own trumpet. Imagine our surprise, then, in 2018, to discover more than 100 scripts of her talks among family papers. Reading them, we were impressed by their enduring spiritual power and relevance to daily life. Forty, thought to be the best, were chosen, and have now been published so that her work can be appreciated by a new audience.

Excerpt from An Easter Message (probably 1930s)

IN DR F. W. Boreham’s essay “The Rainbow”, he observes that, with our limited vision, we can only see the half-circle. In reality, there is a whole circle. As we think together of the meaning of Easter, we see that the resurrection of Christ pushes back the boundaries of our lives to encompass the whole circle. Life is never completed in this life.

Familiarity has dimmed the sharp outlines of the Gospel narrative for us. Imagine the impact of the resurrection on the people who had just witnessed Calvary. There was no radiant certainty of immortality in the old Greek and Hebrew writings. The Greeks struck a note of great pathos. Plato and Socrates “held that the best that man can do is to make a raft out of such materials as reason gives and drift out into the darkness”.

To the Hebrew seers, immortality was expressed in the word sheol: a place of darkness and gloom, silence, and an eerie ghostliness. If we search the Old Testament, we will find little taught about immortality, except in Psalm 23. It was the experience of Easter when our Lord showed himself alive to a great many people, including 500 at once, and revealed his identity by showing the scars on his hands and feet to those incredulous ones, that established the joyful certainty for us all of life beyond the grave.

The first graduation of the speakers’ class taught by Alison

One of the most vital things about the resurrection was that it vindicated Christ and all his claims of divinity. The resurrection has been called the touchstone of Christianity. Without it, our Lord’s death might not have differed from the death of any other martyr. The accusation against him was one of blasphemy (Matthew 27.39-44). Without the resurrection, his accusers would have been right in calling him an impostor.

Was Christ’s offering on the cross in vain? In 1 Corinthians 15.17, we read, “If Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!” Immediately following the dreadful accusations against him, darkness came upon the whole land. During that physical, mental, and spiritual darkness, the spotless Son of God made his supreme offering of love.

He was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. We read that, in the moment of this supreme offering of his life, the veil of the Temple was torn from top to bottom, the veil that had always hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Thus, he opened up the way to God and gave us all access by faith. . . His life and his death were completely vindicated by his resurrection.

Excerpt from The Love of Jesus (probably delivered Holy week, 1969)

THE shadow of the cross fell upon Mary. Those who have come to Bethlehem must inevitably follow on to the cross. Joy and sorrow are so intertwined. She who was highly favoured had to come under the yoke of suffering. The sword pierced her own soul. She knew the deepest anguish of all — that of seeing her beloved suffering, and of being helpless to do anything to ease his agony. She would rather have been crucified herself than see it happen to him.

Mary was at the foot of the cross. That is the place where we must all come to see the fullness of the love of God, and to experience his forgiveness. Mary came close enough to hear Jesus’s words. She did not stand afar off. “Let me come closer, Lord Jesus.”

She came close enough to hear his voice of forgiveness. She heard him say to those crucifying him, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”. . . There is forgiveness for all my sins if I come close enough to the cross. “Nothing in my hand I bring.” There is nothing that I can do to take away my guilt — “simply to thy cross I cling”. When Mary stood at the foot of the cross, she came close enough to see a fresh revelation of Jesus’s love for her.

Jesus’s love: in his agony, Jesus’s thought was not of his own suffering, but of their . . . need as greater than his own. He saw Mary’s need of care and protection. He saw her need of a home. He saw what the loss of a son meant to her — and he sees what our losses mean to us. He saw for Mary the emptiness of life, and so, in his great love, he sought to fill that emptiness. His divine provision gave Mary and John to each other. “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother.”

Jesus makes provision for us. Never can we escape his love. The nearer we draw to the cross, the clearer we see his love and hear his words. He stoops down from the cross in love to succour us — to provide for us. There is no experience that we can go through where he does not provide the strength. Even death.

Excerpt from Jesus Himself Drew Near (probably March 1941)

WE ARE always having to face the unknown. We never tread the same path again — we always have to break fresh ground, every day, every tomorrow. We wish it were not so, because we love the old familiar paths and landmarks. Yet time marches on. We have only trodden down two months of the present New Year. What were your feelings? There was grotesque dancing down the bombed streets of London. Those who felt the solemnity of the New Year did not dance, but prayed it in with trembling hearts.

Impending invasion and danger are talked of today. Before the war, we had put much faith in our prayers for peace, and they failed. Up to the last moment, we had hoped that God would avert the tragedy of war. Our hopes were dashed. Instead of God’s intervention, we are left with relentless suffering and destruction. With these thoughts pushed to the back of our minds, we face a new unknown road of tomorrow.

Richard and Alison

Yet we are not alone. We read in Luke 24 of two others who faced a new unknown road with the same feelings; probably they were husband and wife. The road stretched from Jerusalem to Emmaus. They had had great hopes and faith in Christ. They knew with certainty that he was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God.

Their faith in him had been so strong that up to the last they trusted he would redeem their nation — save them nationally. They prayed that he would save them, but he couldn’t even save himself. He was overpowered and destroyed and crucified. In their hearts still rang the cry of a forsaken man: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Then Jesus himself drew near and went with them and they found that they were not travelling alone. They thought he was destroyed and powerless, that evil had conquered, that he had left them alone. Some of us have been tempted to feel the same. Is he aloof and untouched by our suffering?

It is just then, in that place of hopelessness, that he is near. This is the message of strength given us to help us face the future. Not that he sends us out alone, but that he goes with us — into danger, into suffering, and into disappointment.

Excerpt from Light (November 1963)

THIS week, in Tamworth, we are celebrating the sixth anniversary of the Festival of Light. One of my memories as a child was of the streetlamp lighter. The streets were lit by gas, and when darkness began to fall, we used to stand at the window, eager to see the lamplighter riding his bicycle up our road.

He used to hold a long pole in his hand; it had a hook at the end with which to pull down the catch and turn on the gas light. We used to mark his progress down the road by the lamps he had lit.

Sir Harry Lauder, the Scottish comedian, speaking once at an eminent businessmen’s lunch, told of his own pleasure at watching the lamplighter. After a short pause, he said to them, “Your business and mine, my friends, is so to live that after we have gone our way through life, we shall leave a trail of light that will guide the steps of those who otherwise might walk in darkness.”

In our Lord’s time in Jerusalem, the Jews kept their own Festival of Light in October. It is called the Feast of Tabernacles. To commemorate God’s leading of the children of Israel through the wilderness by a pillar of fire, they lighted four great candlesticks in the Women’s Court of the Temple.

It was at this ceremony that our Lord stood up and cried out this great declaration: “I am the Light of the World. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life.”

If our minds are darkened with problems and doubts, Christ can dispel that darkness with his light. If we do not know which way to turn, he can illuminate our path with his light and give us divine guidance. . . He will lead us safely through this life and beyond to the Celestial City, where we are told there is no need for the light of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it “for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light.”

Treasures from a Deep Mine: Readings for Lent and Daily Life by Alison Daunton-Fear is published by Onwards and Upwards at £11.99 (CT Bookshop £10.79); 978-1-78815-517-5.

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