On January 18th family and friends gathered in church for a thanksgiving service for our dear friend Alma Jones passed away on January 5th 2019
Her love of painting and tulips were evident in the church.
The flowers and some of her many ‘masterpieces!’
Rev Dr Phil Wall shared these thoughts
As I thought about what to say today, I kept coming back to that line – “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for another” and I think this verse kept coming up because, for me, it is a verse that captures the essence, the beauty, the wonder of Alma. Let’s take that beginning part first – “By this all people will know that you are my disciples…”
Disciple isn’t a word that you hear often today – maybe never outside of church but when Jesus used it to describe his followers, his friends, it would have been well known to his hearers. There are various different definitions of the word of course but the one that I like best suggests that a disciple is ‘one who learns by doing’. Someone who learns by doing. Well Alma was most certainly a lifelong learner and doer! Each time someone has shared with me their memories of Alma, I’ve discovered a new skill that she learnt; another gift that she honed and it’s a diverse old curriculum. Let’s start with the Welsh language – which I’m told she went to evening classes to learn so she could watch pobl y Cwm without the subtitles on…which, of course, she later did; then there was aromatherapy, yoga and reflexology…the latter of which she became so gifted at that she could make you laugh or cry with just a squeeze of the right pressure point; there was her shorthand writing, her city and guilds in dressmaking, her learning to swim later in life when taught by Mike…and then there was the flower arranging. Well…sort of!
A few years’ back now, Alma intended on attending a flower arranging course but…well, she went through the wrong door. Or perhaps it was the right door as she found herself unexpectedly in an art class. She was encouraged by those she knew there to stay and by the end of the session, she was hooked. Hooked but not necessarily yet skilled. Of her first efforts that night, one critic, a Stan Jones of Pontypridd said – “A four year old could have done it!”
Like all of us, Alma had to start as a beginner but unlike many of us, Alma had the passion and perseverance to keep going, keep learning, keep trying and soon her paintings were the envy of Ponty. Like all enthusiastic learners, she couldn’t keep her new passion to herself and soon, Stan was beside her, brush in hand. Qualifications followed, paintings were auctioned, accolades offered, teaching was given and perhaps nothing better exemplifies how far she and Stan had come over the years than the award they were given by the Bargoed and District Art Society just 3 years ago for ‘Loyalty, Talent and Generosity’. Alma was a true inspiration then, for not only did she refuse to allow age or gender, status or hard work to stop her from learning something new but when she had gained that knowledge, honed that skill, she would want to generously share it with others.
And such loyalty, talent and generosity wasn’t reserved for the canvas of course but was evident in her other great act of lifelong learning – in her Christian faith. Which brings us to the second part of that verse which echoes with Alma’s spirit – By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
There is no certificate, GCSE award or trophy in the Christian faith. The only way you can share your learning, says Jesus, the only way people will know that you are one of my disciples is by loving others. And Alma was someone who loved fiercely and generously. Through the church she showed such love as she worked with children at Church House on a Sunday morning and welcomed worshippers on a Sunday evening; she shared such love as she supported the church’s work with the homeless and worked hard to raise money for the Church House extension; she shone with such love as she brought smiles to the children at holiday club and the slightly older children at Ladies guild.
And then there was the love that began a few decades ago in a dance hall in the Aberaman Welfare Hall. One version of events tells how Alma entered the hall with her friends, took a look at the goods on display and said “I’ll have that one!” Whether or not it happened exactly like that, the lucky man who got to dance with the bold, beautiful young lady was the one who stood by her side for the next sixty plus years. Alma and Stan’s love grew, and after they got married it widened with the arrival of their daughter Sandra and, a few years later, their son, Mike. The circle kept widening as Sandra married Bob and had Rhodri, and Mike met Bev. The love spilled out of course to all were lucky to meet Alma, Stan and the family – their fellow artists in various societies; their caravan park neighbours in Southgate; the new friends they made on their many trips abroad…even those in Majorca where, on one occasion, Alma and a friend decided to have a little laugh and make a little money by setting up a table near the gents’ toilets…and charging them 5 pesetas for use! Quite the entrepreneur!
“We had lots of love”. This was one of the last things that Alma shared with the family she adored as they gathered for one last Christmas together. I’m not sure you can ask for anything more. And the man with whom she shared such love over the years – the fellow artist, reflexology guinea pig, Church House bouncer and beloved husband – Stan – wanted me to share these words with you today –
“Two weeks ago, my wife Alma died and I miss her. To me, she was always pretty, a loving mother and grandmother, a gifted artist, but she had another gift – the gift to make people smile. When the Revd Phil comes to see her he would sit and say, “How are you Alma?” and she would say, “Not so bad but a little bit wonky!” and Phil would walk up our drive with a smile on his face. This was a gift from Alma. Today, I recognize many faces and I know many of you prayed for her. I thank you for your prayers and pray God blesses you.”
Stan is right, of course. Alma had that rare gift of being able to make people smile. She’s even done it on this most difficult of days as you have smiled, even laughed at your cherished memories of Alma. And, though perhaps accompanied by tears, the smiles don’t have to wane just yet for Alma’s parting gift to us was a reminder that her story isn’t over; her painting not yet complete…
“I’m not scared of going,” she’d tell those who visited her, “Because I’m going to be with my friend Jesus.”
Alma believed in the good news of her friend and teacher, Jesus. She believed in a God who loves us – each and every one of us – so much so that God became one of us, lived our life, died our death and rose again to show us that love is stronger than hate; life is stronger than death. She believed in the God who told his friends – who tells us and all who are mourning or near death today – “Do not let your hearts be troubled, for I am going to prepare a place for you and where I am, you also will be.”
Today, then, let’s thank God for Alma – the little lady with the big smile. Let’s thank God for her humour and hospitality; for her painting and her passions, but most of all for her deep and generous faith which encouraged her to make the most of life and to not fear death, for she has gone to be with her friend Jesus, Alma is now held in God’s eternal cwtch.
This photo was in the service sheet
Goodbye Alma you will live on through your paintings and in our memories