On Friday afternoon I travelled over to Maundy Grange in Accrington. It must be four or five years since I last visited. Maundy Grange is a charity staffed by dozens of volunteers and managed by the truly amazing Dorothy McGregor. The Charity provides food packages, clothes and furniture, counselling and spiritual support to local people in need. Dorothy must be eighty years of age now, but she still works every day from early morning to late evening, running Maundy Grange and providing immediate practical, emotional and spiritual help to the disadvantaged and poor. She is an anchorite, a Catholic nun with the name Sister Benedicta. In her long life she has worked as a probation officer - for twenty-five years - in the days when that role was about welfare rather than punishment. Before that she was a midwife and a mental health nurse. Public service is the theme when considering Dorothy's career. Now she lives her Mission in the community, with a philosophy of unconditional love. Dorothy is a wonderful example of what can be achieved when we identify our purpose in life. I am sure it's that and her deep Christian Faith that keeps this tiny woman going - along with cups of coffee and bowls of thin soup - and I say tiny, but what an enormous presence she has!
I first met Dorothy in the year 2000 when she took me on as a volunteer counsellor at Maundy Grange. I was training as a counsellor at Blackburn College with two outstanding teachers, Tony Cook and Liz Rice and I needed a placement. I stayed for about five years, getting involved in the management of the charity, writing bids and managing projects. Eventually I disagreed with my fellow trustees about the direction of the charity and gradually gave up my responsibilities and left. On reflection that turned out well for me as it freed up some time and enabled me to set up my own counselling practice. Whilst I worked at Maundy I was proud to consider myself one of Dorothy's 'right-hand men'. The fact is that Dorothy inspires total loyalty and even now I'd come running if I heard the call!
So on Friday I took along a student of mine and introduced him to Dorothy, hoping she could help him in his search for a placement. Of course she did and he was delighted. It was a moving experience for me, here I am with students of my own, sorting out placements. Time passes. Dorothy looked older of course but the inner beauty, the compassion and the resilience were still there. We sat together and I fell in love with with this amazing woman again, as I do each time I meet her, and as I did when I first met her twelve long years ago.