50 years ago
- Harold Wilson was Prime minister – and Jeremy Thorpe became leader of the Liberal Party
- The Forsyte Saga was first shown on BBC Two
- Milton Keynes, a village In North Buckinghamshire, was designated a new town
- UK applied to join the European Economic community, only to be blocked by Charles de Gaulle
- The Beatles released Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
- The first automatic cash machine was installed by Barclays
- The BBC Home Service became Radion4
- homosexuality was decriminalised and abortion was legalised
- Winnie Ewing won the Hamilton by-election, becoming the first SNP MP
- The £1 from devalued: from US$ 2.80 to US$ 2.40
- The BBC panel game, Just a Minute, chaired by Nicholas Parsons, was first transmitted
- St Christopher’s Hospice, the world’s first purpose-built secular hospice specialising in palliative care for the terminally ill, was established in South London by Cicely Saunders
- Ford announced the end of the production of the Anglia, replacing it with a new car called the Escort
- The Boys Own Paper, founded in 1879, published its last issue
AND 50 years ago: Caroline and I were married in Wrexham, North Wales
- The exact day was Saturday 26 August 1967. We were married in Wrexham at Chester Street Baptist Church, also known as The Old Meeting – for founded in 1630 it is probably the oldest Baptist Church in Wales.
- Caroline always likes to say that she was a child-bride. If so, then she was a prodigy, for she had by then graduated in History from Girton College, Cambridge.
- At that stage Caroline was demure and softly spoken. How things change!
- In those days her hair was long – and for the wedding her hair was piled high, a veritable crown of glory – she was quite a stunner.
- For the wedding she wore a long white dress – while I and my attendants wore tops hats and tails
- Some of you were there on that day. Three of Caroline’s bridesmaids are present: Elizabeth (my sister), Lynette (her cousin), and Marion (a Girton historian). My best man, Michael, also a Jesus man: sadly only one of my ushers can make it today -Stephen, my brother. Maurice played the organ
- Sadly some are no longer with us: Caroline’s Nain and my Grandma; Caroline’s parents, Maelor & Mavis; and my father, George. My mother, Ruth, is still alive, but is in a care home in Hove.
- The wedding reception was held in the Cross Lanes Hotel, Marchwiel, set in beautiful large grounds. That day the sun shone – we could not have had a more perfect day. Strange as it may seem today, the reception was a relatively short affair. There was not a dance nor disco – just a grand meal, followed by the cutting of the cake and speeches. By three o’clock in the afternoon we were on our way, heading for a honeymoon in Dingle, at the south-western tip of Ireland. The weather proved to be typical Irish weather – lots of rain, but that didn’t matter, we were on honeymoon! I vividly remember climbing a tower for Caroline to kiss the ‘Blarney Stone’ – I was not impressed that as she leant back she was held by an old man in a dirty mac!
- When we married we hadn’t a penny between us – we were students. We had left Cambridge, but were about to start new courses at Manchester: Caroline to train as a teacher, and I as a minister. We were only able to have a honeymoon because I took a summer gardening job. Fortunately we had student grants.
From Manchester we went to Zurich to enable me to finish off my PhD; from Zurich to Kisangani at the head of the river Congo; from Kisangani to Crayford near Dartford for a few months while I went around the churches doing deputation; Crayford to Altrincham for thirteen very happy years; from Altrincham to Spurgeon’s in south London for 6 years; from South London to Chelmsford, where we have now lived 24 years, of which the first 21 years were spent at Central Baptist Church.
50 YEARS LATER
Here we are today – 50 years later. Did we expect to be still married 50 years later?
The truth is that the possibility of separating never occurred to us. I am reminded of the answer the wife of a former Archbishop of Canterbury gave to a reporter who asked whether she had ever considered divorce. “Divorce never”, said Mrs Fisher, “Murder often!”
What has been the secret of our 50 years of marriage? Certainly not marriage preparation – that didn’t exist 50 years ago
A Good Housekeeping article in October 2015 entitled ‘Relationship secrets to steal from couples married for 50+ years’, gave 16 tips for staying (together) power:
- Talk to each other, don’t vent to friends
- Never stop creating shared memories – i.e. to things together
- Kids makes marriage stronger
- Give each other personal space
- Marriage is not always 50/50#
- Make an effort to look your best
- Embrace your individuality – it’s important to be your own person
- Don’t overlook small family moments – G & T Friday afternoons
- Get professional help when you need it – counselling”
- Expect there will be crises – but stick it out – people give up too soon
- Love means being a team – when problems arise
- Never shop showing affection
- Talk out issues – don’t send texts/emails
- Have a standing date – without the kids
- History doesn’t have to be repeated – the fact that your parents split up, doesn’t mean you have to
- Pick your battles
In our case maybe it was my father’s advice: ‘Do whatever he tells you’. Let me explain. My father preached the sermon at our wedding. His text was John 2.5, the command of Mary to the servants at the Cana wedding: “Whatever he says to you, do it!” Let me quote from his sermon: “Today you should remember that Jesus can make a marriage relationship one of joy, depth, and permanence through the constant gift of grace. his is important, for although you are to be a minister and minister’s wife, you are flesh and blood and subject to sin. You will need the grace of God in Christ. Be encouraged today in the faith that God will give it to you – all your way and all your days – if you seek it.”
A DAY FOR LOOKING BACK – AND BEING GRATEFUL
However undeserved, over these past 50 years God has certainly blessed us as a couple.
- We have had some amazing experiences together. GK Chesterton, ‘Adventure is the champagne of life’. If so, then we have been fizzing for 50 the past years. Life has been an adventure. Do you remember out first car – the passenger door tended to open once we exceeded 30 mph and the battery was tied on with string. From Manchester we went to Switzerland and then to Africa. Wow we could write a book of our experiences in Congo – chartering a one-engine Cessna to fly 500 miles to find a doctor so that Timothy could be safely born. We have had our adventures here in the UK too – church life certainly has its ups and downs. We had the excitement of seeing the church quadruple in size in Altrincham – with so many people coming to faith. Spurgeon’s too proved an adventure into the unknown – the college was transformed in the 6 years we were there, but it was a costly period for us as a family. In that period we did a lot of travelling to represent the College – including visiting churches in Siberia when Caroline almost got frostbite; and then visiting Brazil, where I became dehydrated. And then we came to Chelmsford – the children were appalled – how could we live in such a cultural desert. But even in Chelmsford life has been an adventure – not least when I led the church into what we thought was a £1.3 million redevelopment project, only for everything to go wrong and the church ending up with a bill for £2 m. But we saw God at work, providing the money, renewing his people, and church took off. More recently we have had the adventure of finding a new spiritual home in Chelmsford Cathedral – for dyed-in-the-wool Baptists like ourselves the last two years have been challenging, but very rewarding.
- We have been surrounded by some amazing friends at every stage of the last 50 years. One of the sadnesses of today is that we have only had room for 80 people in the marquee. The fact you are here today shows that for us you are special. If it be true that “Love is blind; but friendship closes its eyes”, then many of you have closed your eyes. Yes, we have been blessed with friends, who have known all about us, but still have liked us. In the words of Prov 18.24 “Some friends play at friendship, but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin”. We want to thank you for your friendship. Thank you so much for coming. Many of you have come quite a distance: Martin & Myra have come from Scotland; Lynette has come from Wales; others have come quite a distance too – Harald & Anne from Cirencester….. Others have come beyond the borders of the United Kingdom: Harald and Hannelore from Hamburg who have been good friends for many years– and Inge, one of our au pairs, with her husband Toni from Ulm. But the friends who have come furthest are Terry & Jayne Calkin – all the way from Auckland, NZ.
- We have been blessed with four amazing children together with three daughters-in-law and one son-in-law. Jonathan and Fiona are here from Vancouver – Benjamin and Kathryn from Cairo. So too are Timothy & Charlotte as also Susannah & Rob – although only from East London, we are grateful that they have ensured that they are not away on holiday. Thank you.
- We have seven even more amazing grandchildren. Sophie and Theo remain in Vancouver, but we are delighted that David has come all the way from Canada – Jemima and Raphael have come all the way from Forest Gate, and Felix and Clara from all the way from Stepney Green. Thank you.
- An amazing wife, who is also here today! Over the past 50 years Caroline has been a wife, mother and homemaker and done a great job to boot; she has been a minister’s wife and a principal’s wife with all the attendant strains and stresses; she was briefly a teacher who had a hand in shaping Victoria Wood; for many years she was a magistrate and then a barrister; and now with over 7000 deaths she is the busiest coroner in the country. Currently the junior vice-president, in September she becomes the vice-president of the Coroners Society in England and Wales, and then the following September the President of the society. I want to thank her for her love and support.
Yes, as we look back over the past 50 years we have much for which to be grateful. With the Psalmist we can say “Surely goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our life”.
A DAY FOR LOOKING FORWARD – AND BEING CONFIDENT
That may sound a little strange bold – how can one be confident of the future? The reality is that in the coming years we shall become increasingly decrepit. Some of you will be here in 50 years’ time – but we will not be. We can make our plans, but we know that at this stage in life plans always have to be provisional. Who knows when dementia or illness will strike? Yet, in spite of all this, we can look forward and be confident. How come? Because we know that God will be there, whatever.
“We lift up our eyes to the hills – from where will our help come?
Our help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth…
The Lord will keep our going out and our coming in
From this time on and forever more” (Psalm 121 alt.)