Jonathan’s Tribute

At the same service as Nick Mercer’s sermon, tributes were given by Paul’s children. This is Jonathan’s tribute.

Our collective “speech” is organized around some of our father’s publications. Writing has always been central to his vocation. He has produced hundreds of articles and reviews, leaflets and pamphlets. He edited the Mainstream newsletter, wrote the “Pastor’s Prescription” column for Family magazine, and is the founding editor of Ministry Today. He is now also a regular blogger. Plus he has published around twenty books, some translated into multiple foreign languages.

Fearless for Truth is a biography of his father, my grandfather. When he was writing it, my rather anxious family asked me to read a draft and suggest changes. For it is not easy to talk about one’s father, especially when he is such an influence. A quick glance shows my father following in my grandfather’s footsteps. But quick glances can be deceptive. With my grandfather at Spurgeon’s, my father studied instead at the Northern Baptist College. There, he was introduced to Manchester: a city where my grandfather was once offered a job that he did not take up; by contrast, my father would return for a thirteen-year pastorate in suburban Altrincham.

Moreover, my father’s choice of book title (Fearless for Truth) arguably says more about its author than its subject. However much my grandfather did at times court controversy, it is my father who really values speaking one’s mind, in himself and others. Once, for instance, I was in hot water with my school authorities for (alleged) insolence towards a visiting speaker, who happened to be the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry. My Tory father may have been unconvinced of the truthfulness of my comments, but he was not so secretly proud of what he saw as my fearlessness in uttering them.

One person’s “fearless for truth” is another’s bloody-minded obstinacy. Unsurprisingly my father completely ignored my suggested revisions. He is never too worried that he might be saying the wrong thing, because he seldom thinks he is wrong in the first place. But with time, he has reconsidered many of his views: he is more open-minded now, and I like to think that, here, his children have had some effect.

What strikes me most about our time in Altrincham, was his enjoyment of challenging friendships. The people he inspired to work with him on his diaconate, and with whom he and my mother would review, relax, and drink coffee after the Sunday evening service, were no pushovers or clones. It was hard for my father to leave that network behind, and later he would miss their company and counsel.

Finally, unlike my grandfather, who often needed little beyond his study and books, my father has always been intensely social. My grandfather’s writing could seem an end in itself. For my father, writing has been about building community. He is an ecclesiastic in the old sense: what counts is the congregation, the people gathered for a common purpose. So it is hard to imagine him without a congregation, but I suspect he will continue to gather people together, provoking them to be bloody-minded like him.