Life is a journey, not a destination. This adage rings as true for Hilary Clark as it does for many others of the St. Mary’s family. Hilary is currently one of our churchwardens. Along with her co-warden Martha Ellison, Hilary is responsible for the maintenance of the church buildings and church business, a role which is of particular importance during this time of vacancy. The wardens also take a share in the responsibility of appointing a new incumbent, something which is at the forefront of Hilary and Martha’s minds at present.
Hilary’s journey to faith and her current role within the parish at St. Mary’s has been circuitous, via the length of the country and further afield in warmer climes. Born and educated in Newcastle, living in Whitley Bay for the first 20 years of her life, she can claim to be a true Geordie – not that that is immediately evident when you hear her speak. Her time away from the North East has softened her Geordie brogue. Her family were practicing Christians, and she attended a church school, but drifted from the faith in her young adulthood.
Initially qualifying as a Secretary, Hilary worked at Newcastle University until her marriage to an airman resulted in her moving away first to Lincolnshire and then overseas to Malta.
She returned to the UK as a result of her first baby daughter, Elinor, requiring medical treatment for a heart defect, and the family relocated to High Wycombe when her husband was posted to Strike Command. As her daughter’s condition worsened Hilary found herself becoming increasingly familiar with Great Ormond Street hospital but, sadly, Elinor died during surgery, just after her first birthday. Imogen and Matthew arrived within the following 3 years, both born at RAF Halton in Wendover.
Following her divorce in 1976, she and her two other children relocated back to the North East. Once the children had grown up she qualified at Newcastle Polytechnic as a teacher. During that time, she taught English as a Foreign Language as well as setting up and running a Youth Drama Group while a member of Whitley Bay Theatre Club, whose productions she regularly appeared in.
However, on qualifying, with teaching posts being difficult to obtain at the time, she again changed tack, this time setting up a cleaning business, “M-aid-day the Cleaners”, starting with 20 staff, rising to 50 over the 8 years it was in operation. This experience in turn led to her involvement with Project North East Enterprise Agency, as a Business Consultant, assisting in the setting up of other small businesses.
It was during this time, having moved to North Shields, that one Sunday morning she was called to a service by the bells of her parish church in North Shields. She attended the 8 am service regularly for the next year, but was struck by the fact that in all of that time rarely did the clergy or anyone in the congregation actually speak with her.
Wanting to learn more about the scriptures, she started to read the bible, but, studying on her own, found it difficult to understand. One day, two Jehovah’s Witnesses called at her house: having initially turned them away she was compelled to invite them back and studied with them for the next ten years, although never committing herself any further.
In 1996, whilst staying with friends in Aldershot, she saw an advert in a local newspaper for a “Quality in Focus Co-ordinator” for a large firm of Funeral Directors, SCI UK. Undaunted by the upheaval that this would undoubtedly necessitate she applied for and was offered the job. Relocating to Hampshire she ran seminars and liaised with funeral directors, associated organisations and the bereaved. After eighteen months, she applied for a post with the company, working with their funeral planning division, eventually becoming seconded to Age Concern. It was during this time, in 1999, that she first came to live in Caterham. With the experience that she’d obtained over the preceding 6 years, in 2002 she became a Funeral Director, with the same company (now Dignity Funerals), obtaining the Diploma in Funeral Directing in 2006, then qualifying as a Tutor with the National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) in 2010 and continuing to arrange and conduct funerals until retiring in 2013.
It was on taking up her role as a Funeral Director that she ceased her study with Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing inconsistencies with their attitude to her new profession which required her to work sympathetically with all religions and cultures, particularly when working as a locum throughout South East London.
Still seeking an outlet for her faith Hilary attended her first service at St. Mary’s, on 6th January 2006 (Epiphany), and was immediately struck by the difference in approach from that of her previous Anglican experience in North Shields – at the end of the service Father Duncan made a point of seeking her out and introducing himself and others!
And so began Hilary’s involvement with St. Mary’s. She undertook the Alpha Course with Father Nigel. Her experience as Funeral Director proved helpful to Nichola Riches and Len Abram during their ordination process. She took over as Sacristan in 2008 and became Warden in 2016. Aside from seeking a new incumbent, she has taken a central role in the Lego-build fund-raising initiative, specifically for external repairs to St. Mary’s spire and roof, and is keenly supporting new initiatives such as Messy Church, thereby ensuring the evolution of our church.
Hilary maintains a number of interests outside of St. Mary’s. She frequently visits her son’s family in Sheffield and daughter in Whitley Bay – with four grand-daughters and a great grand-daughter between them. She still works as an NAFD Approved Funeral Director Tutor, enjoys regular swimming sessions with Early Birds at de Stafford, sings with Luke’s Larks, assists with front of house at The Miller Centre and runs an iconography group in Sunbury. She enjoys travel off the beaten paths, last year touring through Nepal, and the previous year visiting icon centres in Russia after an iconography course in Estonia. This coming year she plans to explore the South American Guianas. Now that’s an active retirement!