Thanksgiving for the Life of Rosemary Stephens
We were deeply saddened to record the death, on 24th June 2017, of Rosemary Stephens, aged 94.
Rosemary was a significant contributor to the ecumenical scene in Farnham in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1986 she founded an ecumenical drama group - the Farnham Interchurch Players - which she subsequently ran for 16 years. During this time the group performed some 20 full-length plays or anthologies, and numerous shorter items - all with a Christian message. Most performances took place in churches or church halls, but the Players also put on productions in local schools and in the open air during town festivities, and on one occasion took part in the Woking drama festival.
Some of the pieces performed were almost pantomime, some were humorous sketches with a twist, and some were deep and thought-provoking. The First Easter sketches, performed in 2002, were a prime example of the latter, being based on the writings of the Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oriel College, Oxford. All served to present aspects of the Christian faith in a striking and entertaining way, and many were seen by people who would rarely, if ever, attend a normal church service.
Rosemary was the driving force and inspiration behind the Players from beginning to end. She produced nearly all the shows and bore overall administrative responsibility for getting them to happen. She selected all the items to be performed with great skill; her voluntary work in the library of the Religious Drama Society of Great Britain (RADIUS) was a valuable help here, giving her sight of much potentially suitable material.
She was continually on the look-out for performers and, over the lifetime of the Players, nearly 100 individuals contributed, from ten congregations across seven denominations. Many were not ”dyed-in-the-wool“ amateur dramaticians - Rosemary achieved remarkable results nonetheless, and bequeathed happy memories of team-work in performance to people to whom such experiences were new.
Rosemary trained and worked as a Nightingale nurse in the 1940s and subsequently trained for the Church Missionary Society, during which time she met her future husband, Revd (later, Canon) John Stephens. They were both sent to work in different parts of Nigeria before marrying in 1952. They continued in Nigeria together, Rosemary going on to train midwives there, before returning to England in the mid-60s.
After serving in parishes in Swindon, Ash Vale and Thursley, where Rosemary’s dramatic skills were also exercised, they retired (!) to Farnham in 1985.
In the 2000s, with Rosemary 80 and John nearly 90, they retired more genuinely and in 2006 moved to Sway in the New Forest.
Drama truly has a part to play in Christian life, and Rosemary worked tirelessly during her time in Farnham to realise this potential. Many of us who participated were truly sorry that the Players demised when Rosemary stepped down - but she was an act that was impossible to follow.
It was a great delight at the Service of Thanksgiving for Rosemary’s life, held at Sway church on 30th June 2017, to be able to acquaint the assembled family and local friends with the activity of the Players - Rosemary’s personal ministry in the service of God’s mission to his world.
The ashes of John and Rosemary Stephens were interred at the Church of St.Michael & All Angels in Thursley on Monday 18th September 2017. The short service was followed by tea and coffee in the church.
Andrew Partridge - former member of Farnham Interchurch Players.