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RIP – Jenny Tee CSF

page 15 Jenny TeeJenny Tee CSF

This obituary is based on the sermon preached by Helen Julian CSF (the ‘I’ of the obituary) at Jenny’s funeral, and the tributes given by her family, and one of a group of her close friends, at the service. The readings, chosen by Jenny, were Psalm 103, and John 1:35 – 39.

Jenny and I shared something quite unusual – a love of contemporary poetry. We told each other about authors we’d enjoyed, and passed on books we thought the other would like. Her friends recall how she had an uncanny knack of recommending an author they’d never heard of – and them discovering it to be one of the best books they’d ever read. Good books, and good poetry in particular, have an open-ended quality – when you reach the end everything isn’t left neatly tied up. Good poetry makes the reader do some of the work; and it can carry different meanings every time you read it.

Along with that ability to enjoy ambiguity, Jenny also had a clear and systematic mind. It isn’t a gift always found among Franciscans (Francis himself certainly wasn’t systematic) and I for one appreciated the way she put that gift at the service of the community in several important pieces of work.

Those qualities had enabled Jenny to rise to senior management in British Airways. Born and brought up in Reading, she was an only child, but her parents Barbara and Harry ensured that she spent a lot of time with wider family, especially her cousins, who remember her mother’s wonderful baking (a theme in her friends’ recollections too!) Later she was a much loved ‘Aunty’ to her cousins’ children. She studied Town and Country planning at Newcastle University, where she became one of a group of five friends whose friendship lasted for 40 years. One of them described her as ‘the thread always running between us, always in touch with what was happening with us, never dropping a stitch.’

Her family recalled that whenever people talked about Jenny the word which cropped up most often was ‘good’. She cared deeply for her family, friends, and the wider community, and translated this caring into action, volunteering with prisoners, children, and the homeless, and during her time as a sister also with students and those of other faiths. It’s a sadness that having arrived in Leicester with its many opportunities for this kind of ministry, her illness often prevented her from doing what she would have loved to do there.

Although that caring might have seemed to point in the direction of a Franciscan vocation, in fact the first time Jenny encountered CSF, visiting Compton Durville, she came simply to reflect on her life and career. She had quite recently returned to the faith from which she’d moved away as a teenager, and so perhaps it wasn’t surprising that it turned out to be also an opportunity to encounter God. She later chose to spend some of a sabbatical with us. But her natural caution when making major decisions, perhaps founded on her abilities both to see clearly and to see many possibilities, meant that it took a while before she even acknowledged that life as a sister was drawing her, and even longer before she made the leap of faith and came to test her vocation. Like the disciples of John encountering Jesus, Jenny had found something which wasn’t what she had thought she was looking for, and she had the courage to follow that leading.

That pattern of careful and searching reflection was repeated before she made her vows too – and by then I was aware that it wasn’t just the caution of someone who could see all sides of a question, but also a very genuine humility which doubted what she had to offer, and whether she was ‘good enough’ at this life to continue. We give thanks that she made the decision which she did.

The psalm which Jenny chose points to her trust in God; it both begins and ends with ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul’ and it celebrates God’s steadfast love, forgiveness and mercy. Through the recent years of illness and treatment, hope and setbacks, her uncomplaining acceptance (which she of course played down and didn’t think was anything exceptional) was in fact inspiring. She stayed interested in others, and ‘didn’t do self-pity’.

Psalms are a form of poetry, and the particular Gospel which Jenny chose for this service is also rather like a piece of poetry in that it doesn’t conclude neatly with the end of the story. It’s four o’clock in the afternoon when the reading ends – we’re left wondering what happens next.

That quality of being open and unfinished reflects the reality of human life.   Every ending, every death, leaves a sense of what is unfinished, and that is stronger with a death at this age. The sense of loss, almost of outrage, at the ‘might have beens’ is strong and painful. But though the reading as we have it is unfinished, the gospel does of course go on, to the disciples’ choice to follow, through their lives of service, right through to the death of the one they chose to follow. That seemed like the end, and it was an end, the end of Jesus’ life on earth, but it was also the beginning of something new and greater. In the resurrection of Jesus death was defeated and a new way opened, a way to eternal life. His story goes on, and Jenny’s story also goes on – but now beyond our sight. God’s steadfast love is not defeated by death; it is from everlasting to everlasting.

God called Jenny to ‘come and see’, to listen to his teaching and to share in his care of all whom he had made; Jenny chose to respond to that call and to follow, and she is following still as God leads her on into a new life, a life which will never end. f

 

Sister Jenny Tee CSF died on 21 November 2013, and her funeral was held at The Church of the Resurrection, Leicester. She was aged 58 years and was in the sixth year of her profession in vows.