by Jean Barnett
from Signs of the Times No. 63 - Oct 2016

When Bill and I started attending Modern Church conferences some 18 years ago, Clare Nicholson was one of the first people to welcome us.

Clare was a warm and embracing person who encouraged us, making us feel very comfortable among a group of strangers who quickly became friends. She always greeted us as though we were the very people she wished to see, and we soon found out we also shared Methodist roots.

Clare was well-known figure in Modern Church, as a member of Council and of the Standing Committee. She also served as Conference Secretary and, on many occasions, offered her support to the Conference Secretary in other years.

Attending her funeral was, for us, a necessary journey. It was here we learned a little more about this modest person who was our friend. Large numbers of people flocked into the quire and crossing of Canterbury Cathedral to pay their respects to this diminutive figure. Clare is survived by Tess, her elder sister to whom she always looked up: when Tess learned to play the violin, so did Clare. This began a lifelong love of music. In her teens she played for the county youth orchestra on the viola. On her retirement she sang in the Whitstable Choral Society, and the Gregorian Chant society. She was also a volunteer chaperone of the Cathedral choristers.

Clare always wore heavy lensed National Health spectacles for her short-sightedness, and it was with delight she told us of her 'miracle', when in later years she had surgery for cataracts and thereafter could leave off the glasses as the short-sightedness had been largely remedied.

When Clare was asked at school what she would like to be when she left, her reply was 'either a teacher or a nurse'. The response was that this would be impossible for a secondary modern school girl. In those days of course it was unlikely, but they did not count on Clare's determination. Always an avid reader and largely self-educated, Clare set out to prove them wrong. By the time she was 20 she had gained the necessary qualifications to enter Keele University, where she met her lifelong friend Doreen. Clare showed 'them' and went in to teaching!

In her early years, Clare was a Methodist and a Lay Preacher, later becoming an Anglican. She also became a psychiatric nurse, thus achieving another of her ambitions. I believe it was her love of worship that called her to become a deacon. Clare was a staunch supporter of women's ministry, and was, proudly, among the first cohort of Anglican women priests ordained in 1994. She planned carefully for her retirement and, when a house within the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral was acquired for her, Clare's joy knew no bounds.

Clare experienced two mental health breakdowns during her life and this, I think, helped to mould her into the empathic person she undoubtedly was. Her leadership was of a quiet, sensitive style, whose first priority was always worship; ever discreet and humble, but firmly and confidently outspoken for what she believed was the right thing. She was never high profile, a lovely lady with a huge heart for the downtrodden and anyone in difficulty.

Being unable to attend this year's MC conference was a big disappointment for her as she so wanted to hear Rowan Williams, and we kept in touch through emails and texting about events.

She died from cancer just seven days after this year's conference, remaining calm and peaceful as she relinquished her life into the hands of the God she loved and served. It was good to know you, Clare.