Jo's story of the Parliamentary Prayer Cards
This is the story of the vision of Colin's wife Joanne, to produce hand-stitched prayer cards for every member of both The House of Commons and The House of Lords in Parliament.
A few years into our marriage, I can remember Jo asking me what I would like for my birthday. At the time I had my eye on a copy of the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). She duly obliged and gave it to me with the inscription "To Colin. I hope this helps you to understand better the greatest gift of all. With all my love, Jo xx". The greatest gift of all is the love that God gives, and Jo certainly demonstrated that. Although this was her gift to me it ended up that she read it mostly.
In 2009 Jo was doing her daily Bible reading with this Bible and when she got to Proverbs 10:9 she read "He who walks purely walks securely, but he who walks in crooked ways will be found out." (CJB). This was around the time of the MP expense scandal and she thought this would make a catchy sound-bite. At that point she felt that God gave her a vision of prayer cards to be sent to every member of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, with the first part of the verse cross-stitched with a border around it. When she told me that was her plan I was quite overwhelmed, but I knew when Jo made her mind up there was no changing it. So we set about buying cross-stitch materials, the cards, and envelopes. We were both on the team of an organisation - Call to Prayer- and when we shared the vision they were happy to give us a gift to help buy these, for which we were very grateful.
The design was made and Jo set about stitching. Jo always stitched to a very high standard and, given the time it takes to sew and how many there were to do, I suggested she get some help stitching. However she was not always happy with the standard that came back. This meant she set about stitching them by herself.
Jo kept faithfully stitching even when diagnosed with kidney failure. At first the kidney failure was managed with drugs, and then peritoneal dialysis (which could be done at home). In October 2013 she received a kidney from her mum. In August 2014 she was suffering from pain in her hip which was initially diagnosed as sciatica. She was then called in to hospital as her kidney function had reduced. An MRI scan revealed she had a tumour around her sciatic nerve. This was diagnosed as non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Although she suffered during this time there was no complaint from her and she kept stitching. Tragically she died in January 2015 but such was her passion to get this done, even a few hours before she died, she was still stitching. She had made 731 prayer card inserts; about half way. Before she died she was concerned that the project would not be finished but I promised her that whatever happened, I would do what I could to see the project to completion. Part of this completion included a friend called Ray who offered to have the cards printed, which meant that Jo would not have to hand write each card as originally planned.
A few months after she died I realised as I was not a stitcher, and I needed help to move the project forward. A friend who works in publicity wrote an article appealing for help stitching. This article appeared in a number of publications and resulted in 84 volunteers, who faithfully stitched from kits assembled by a friend called Penny. Although most of these volunteers were from the Norfolk area, some were from other parts of the country. We started to assemble the cards in September 2016 and by the next month we had put the cross stitch inserts in enough cards for all members of Parliament.
When seeing how to correctly address members of parliament, particularly members of the House of Lords, I began to realise this was not an easy task. As it happened around that time I attended a church meeting with the Bishop of Norwich, at which there was a sit down meal afterwards, and I got to share Jo’s vision with the Bishop. When I explained my lack of knowledge about addressing Lords, he kindly offered the services of his PA. I emailed the list through and she sent it back with the necessary corrections.
We then set about printing a covering letter and addressing the envelopes. There were delays in printing which meant it was early in the new year of 2017 before they were printed. It was around then I was advised to contact an MP who could also send a covering email. Jo’s mum had good contact with her MP (Nicky Morgan), and then I contacted my MP (Clive Lewis). After a series of emails we had agreed the wording of the email which would be sent out to the MPs. Finally the cards were addressed and boxed.
I arranged to go down to London to meet with Nicky and Clive, and also to drop off the prayer cards. Although the date was fixed about three weeks in advance, it so happened that the day before the meeting, Theresa May called a general election. That evening two people contacted me to advise not sending the cards at this point, but emotionally I wanted to honour my promise to Jo so was minded to go ahead and deliver them. The plan was that we would meet the MPs and then go to the drop off point. The meeting was at 10am on 19th April 2017. As no word of cancellation had been sent, I set out with my friend Hilda, who regularly travels to parliament to pray. Several people were praying for us that day. I drove down to London, parked at a tube station, and then we took the tube to the centre of London. While on the tube I noticed I had a missed call with a voicemail. When I listened to it, the message was from somebody called John who said in light of the election being called, the meeting we had arranged was cancelled. My first thought was “You can’t cancel now, we are nearly there!”. So I prayed. A little later there was an email on my phone which said that to follow up with the message left, the meeting with Clive was cancelled, but we should still be able to meet with Nicky. I thought that was something but still wanted more. So I prayed again for more. After that came another email saying that it may be possible to see Clive but it would be later in the morning.
We arrived in plenty of time. When the time came John, an assistant to Clive Lewis, collected us and took us to Nicky. We had a good meeting with her. I gave her the card addressed to her and she opened it. She was quite moved by it. In a way I was not surprised by that, as I knew she was a Christian and a mother and would appreciate the message and the heart behind it. We chatted and had our photos taken. One thing that impressed me was that she was not trying to cut the meeting short but had time for us. The meeting came to a natural conclusion and John led us out. As we went down the corridor, he told us that he would try to call Clive, who was notorious for switching his phone off. He put a little distance between us and made a call. When he came back he told us that amazingly he had spoken to Clive and he would see us in half an hour. I suggested a cuppa, to which John was also minded to do. So we went down to the cafe area and chatted over hot drinks. It was interesting to get to know John and he was interested in finding out about us and about Jo. True to his word, half an hour later Clive turned up. I handed Clive his copy of the prayer card which he opened, and to my surprise, knowing he was a humanist, he was quite moved by it. He said these are wise words and he could get behind it. Clive was quite chatty and looked at the prayer cards from a practical point of view. It was speaking to him that made me see that it would be wiser to delay sending the cards. So I made the difficult decision to delay sending the cards until after the election results were known.
The election came, and went, with the unexpected result of no overall majority. I ordered new envelopes, modified the labels, and printed new letters for the newly elected MPs. A week after the Queen’s Speech, I travelled down to London and dropped off the boxes filled with the completed cards. Finally the promise I made is fulfilled.
As of 8th August 2017, 353 parliamentarians have responded. A few are simple acknowledgements but most are personal letters (no two are the same). Several say things like I will treasure this card, I have placed the card in my Parliamentary office, or what a wonderful lady Jo must have been. Many express condolences for Jo's death. Others have said this is a timely message, or they will endeavour to live by the message. Many say this was a welcome change from their usual mail. The cards have been described as beautiful, exquisite, and wonderful. What is clear from these comments that several people have been touched by these.
LinksNetwork Norfolk and Norwich - Appeal for volunteers to make the cards Published 23/03/2015
Network Norfolk and Norwich - Meeting with Clive Lewis and Nicky Morgan - Published 01/06/2017
Premier Radio write up with radio interview 2 June 2017
BBC Radio Norfolk on 11th June 2017 (no longer available on the BBC website) - interview with Anthony Isaacs from about 2 hours 43 minutes into the show.
You can listen by clicking the play button below.
The Call to Prayer team
The 84 stitchers
Ray Scorey who organised the printing
Keith Morris who wrote articles
The Bishop of Norwich and his PA
Clive Lewis MP
Nicky Morgan MP
Sequoia Mallett for proofreading
Those who helped assemble the cards, and many others who prayed