The British Orthodox Church

within the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate

Martha COPPIN (1888-1987)

Martha Coppin was born on the Dulwich/Peckham borders in south-east London on 8 December 1888, the eldest child of Walter and Mary Ann Coppoin. Her father, who originated at Stambourne in Essex, was a carpenter and joiner.  After school she trained as a nurse and midwife, so that when the first World War broke out in 1914 she made herself readily available and saw a great deal of front-line service. Her lifelong ‘croak’ was a reminder that she had been gassed, whilst her vivid recollections of the ill-fated Nurse Edith Cavell (1865-1915), who was executed by the Germans for helping British soldiers in Belgium escape, highlighted the dangers that existed, even for a nurse.

After the war she entered Ascot Priory as ‘Novice Martha, CLJ’ (Company of the Love of Jesus) but found it difficult to turn her back on nursing in favour of a completely contemplative life. Among some of her handwritten notes in her daily office book is the meditation, “vocation is the call of God to whatever form of life He may please to call one.” With the conviction that nursing was her primary vocation she left Ascot and returned to the world.

In 1936 she encountered the Christchurch Healing Fellowship under the auspices of the young priest, Father A.F. Kaufman of the Orthodox Catholic Church in England. At that time they worshipped in a room above a health store at 548 Christchurch Roasd, Boscombe, and it was here that ‘Nurse’ as she was known affectionately, was chrismated and admitted to church membership by the late Archbishop John Churchill Sibley.

Her lifetime association with the congregation, which eventually settled in Osborne Road, Winton, began in those days and although, after 1951 the congregation went into schism, Nurse remained loyal to Metropolitan Georgius. As sacristan for Osborne Road and the sisters living in the nearby “Retreat”, she worked hard to care for the fabric of the church and was not prepared to be driven out by the priest, who refused to speak to her and virtually ignored her for years. Several letters to Metropolitan Georgius, written duiring this period, demonstrate her faith that in God’s time the problems would be resolved. They also reveal a great lady of outstanding integrity and strength of character.

In 1981, after the Church in Winton returned to the episcopal oversight of Abba Seraphim, Nurse – by then living in a Rest Home nearby – came back to the Church to receive communion. She was overjoyed to participate in the Divine Liturgy and to know that others were carrying on what she had started. The clergy continued to visit her regularly, but in her latter years her vision and hearing began to fail and she became increasingly frail. Nevertheless she remained alert and devoutly joined in prayers said with her. Father Michael Robson administered Holy Unction to her on 3 May and she died peacefully on 8 May 1987 in her ninety-ninth year.  At her funeral she was dressed in white with a virgin’s garland of white flowers, which still  hangs in the Bournemouth Church. She was buried in the Wimborne Road Cemetery and, by permission, of the Church trustees was given a space in the Hatherly grave off the main drive.

 

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