I don’t know how these latest people to be given a blog post have got away without one so far. They are two of the most excellent people I know. They are about to embark on a new adventure away from the lands of Brighton and whilst I want to stamp and rage about the frustration of brilliant people always seeming to move away from us, I shall resist the urge and instead lean into my appreciation of them and try not to cry too much at the thought of them being less in our lives.
John and Mandy came to Brighton about 13 years ago from the leafy village of Lindfield. They rocked up to Brighton in a deeply intentional way, sussing out the church we were eventually part of together before coming down, seeking the right place to live and working through what ‘retirement’ would look like for John and what this new space would look like for Mandy in feeding the artist in her. I love how they talk about this move, the care they took over it and the way they wanted to seek the good in the mess and wonder of Brighton.
I love how much they have loved Brighton, through a whole host of ways, as they’ve been involved in doing vast amounts of good in the city. I love the art collectives Mandy has been part of, the many ways her creativity has seeped into peoples lives and transformed spaces. I love John’s commitment to the St Lukes advice service helping people facing financial struggles, bankruptcy and more. I love John finding his poetic voice. I love their commitment together to be wise helpful landlords, to provide services for the homeless that will bring change with their Umbrella charity. I love the love they have had for our city. I love the amount of people they’ve befriended through their involvement in choirs, co-operatives, Morris dancing, English teaching and general hanging out in local cafes. I cannot think of two people more invested in being good helpful friends to so many.
I first heard about them via my friend Lou who talked of this couple who had joined her church. All I heard was wonderful, these were people who opened their home, who poured out love and grace. I met them later when I joined the church and was drawn into their intentional living. They rocked up at our community house every week at 7 in the morning to pray with us, they cared about us, they fed us, they were a vital part of supporting us as we tried to live in community together.
They read the opening verses at our wedding, they welcomed us into their small group when we moved around the corner from them. I have deeply happy memories of our early years of marriage spent around their kitchen table eating amazing bread John had made and talking all things God and reality.
Their house was a safe point of refuge in the week following the death of Husbandface’s Mum. They helped us weather the hardest part of our marriage. We stayed at their house and they watched all the Lord of the Rings films with us each night that week to help us get put back together. They are the walking definition of a place of refuge.
When I had our eldest Mandy came round every Monday afternoon to play with him in the crazy witching hour. She also brought a lot of chocolate each week. Eventually we decided we’d have to only have one packet of chocolate, and then maybe chocolate every other week. Her love and support were an essential part of me staying sane in those early parenting years.
When the church community we were part of ended 4 years ago they didn’t let go of us. We’ve met each month since then to chat and pray and eat. They’ve brought round many a takeout and have again been a vital part of us staying sane and well in the years Husbandface has been ill. I love that they knew him before me. I love their love and care for him and I love that they always have cared and prayed and not worried if he was a shaky wreck who had to disappear after dinner or if he was well enough to pray and pour out his deep well of love on them. Somehow I trust that we will find others to share this deeply with along the way but I imagine the gap will be large for a while.
Next week they move to some village near Bath, they are, as usual, moving for excellent reasons, to be nearer family, to be able to be more supportive and hands on in a sustainable way, to find rest in the times they aren’t looking after grandchildren. I love their reasons for moving and I pray that they will settle into church, community life and find deep joy and amazing friends in this next stage of life. I’m glad they’ve found a place with a drive for the van to park on and I am glad we will still be friends, albeit from a distance. I think just about every room in our house has a piece of Mandy’s art on the wall so I know we will always be reminded of them and their love. I’m grateful we’ve had transition time before they left, we aren’t in the same church anymore and so feel less in their lives in Brighton than we did. But we will achingly miss the safety and loveliness of them in our house each month.
I’m sad, the kind of sad that comes from friendship so rich that it would be odd if I wasn’t sad when it changed. I am utterly grateful for all they have taught me about life, about living intentionally, about friendship and welcoming all to the table. I will miss Mandy’s adventurous baking, turnip cupcakes were a particular highlight, I will miss John’s bread. I will miss their questions and care. I will miss them. I will miss them knowing all of us, as individuals before we even thought of ever liking each other and as companions along the way in our marriage and journey into parenting. I will miss the ease of shared history and look forward to when we can meet up again.
Raise your glasses, here’s to John and Mandy, goodbye for now and hello to learning how to be friends from a distance.
EDIT. Just realised I haven’t even mentioned the beach hut joy, the gracious way they shared it with people to have a communal space on the beach to share in friends and of course run a night of the Beach Hut Advent Calendar from…