Gillian was one of this year’s recipients of the Diocese of Truro’s Cross of St Piran awards at a ceremony which took place on 5 March.

When Gillian Beresford-Power’s parish priest rang her to let her know he’d nominated her for a Cross of St Piran award, she’d replied, “Heavens, why have you done that?”

She says she is now simply “gobsmacked” to be receiving the award and “wondering why” she has been chosen.

Her nomination describes her as a “quiet friendly saint”. She says she hopes she’s friendly but feels she’s not particularly quiet. She adds, “I’m not a saint for sure”.

She grew up in London. She remembers being “a bit of a loner” as a child. She went to Sunday School and joined a church choir.

“But I hardly ever heard about Jesus, except in hymns,” she says. “I didn’t know what being a Christian meant.

“I always thought I was a Christian, but I didn’t really understand any of it. It was always there in the background. It was something I leant on without really thinking about it.”

She traces the origins of her faith back to 1947, to her mother’s near-death experience at the moment of Gillian’s birth. Her mother had a heart condition: her heart had in fact stopped on the delivery table. She’d died and then come back to life. In later years, she’d told Gillian of witnessing a light at the end of a dark tunnel, a bright beautiful garden where old friends and family were awaiting her arrival, and a voice telling her to return, telling her it wasn’t yet her time.

But it wasn’t until the 1970s when, a new mother herself, Gillian came back to the church. She took her children to a tiny tots group near where she lived in London, and later, once the children had started school, she joined a young mothers group – a group which she eventually came to lead.

In 1987, Gillian moved to Cornwall – to the coastal village of Downderry, where she ran a grocery shop and tearoom.

By this point, she’d stopped going to church, but over the following years she slowly regained her active faith. She returned to regular churchgoing when she moved to Callington in 1990. As her faith grew, she enrolled on an Alpha course. “I thought I was a Christian, but then realised there was so much more to learn,” she says.

“I still felt there was something not right – everyone else was at the party and I wasn’t.”

Her spiritual turning point took place at a spring harvest festival in 2014. She was attending a talk about how to read the Bible for all it’s worth. The speaker had chosen to talk about the passage in the Gospels in which Jesus reads the scriptures – when the prophet Isaiah foretells the coming of the Messiah.

The speaker then asked the group to imagine Jesus putting down the scrolls, looking at them and walking across to them. Her question was simple: “What are you going to say to him?”

Gillian’s epiphany was immediate and profound. “Suddenly a searing heat went through my eyes and into my head – and I was there. I was at the party.

“I’d always felt like a waif outside the window in one of those old Victorian Christmas cards. But after that I was inside. I was at the party. That feeling has never gone away.”

She has been a member of St Mary’s Church in Callington for more than thirty years. She’s been involved in fundraising for refurbishments to the building, and then in running the kitchen at the church. She did that for 12 years, and took it over again in the immediate wake of the pandemic crisis. She ran a women’s fellowship group at the church for nine years, and when the parish recently decided to establish a warm space initiative she (as she modestly puts it) “sort of volunteered”.

That new initiative, originally intended to support parishioners through the winter months, is now set to become a permanent fixture.

“We’re going to continue it after the clocks go forward,” she explains. “People come for the fellowship and the friendship. The soup is a bonus.”

Because the church sits at the centre of the town, passers-by tend to wander into these gatherings. “We try to make them as welcome as possible. They say it’s a lovely space and very friendly. We just try to love everybody.”

She has also started a mobility and balance group for elderly people. “It’s sessions of exercise to try to improve core strength and balance,” she says. “But most of all it’s just about seeing each other in fellowship and friendship. It’s a very diverse group of people. We get on very well. We laugh a lot. It’s good.”

And so, after all these years, she has now come to know what her faith means to her. “Christianity means security, love, acceptance and the absence of fear. Being a Christian isn’t just about believing in Jesus and going to church. That can take a long time to sink in.”