At the same service as Nick Mercer’s sermon, tributes were given by Paul’s children. This is Timothy’s tribute.
The book title of my Father’s that I have chosen to reflect is Joy to the World, a book about Christmas. But the reason for this choice is not the focus on the mystery of the incarnation, but the focus on the world. Father’s ministry has always been led by his response to the Great Commission, his favourite bible verse, Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore everywhere and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
My Father, in his three-piece suit and Lions’ tie, looks now every bit the Englishman. But Father has always thought of his mission as global in reach. He wanted to be a Baptist minister since early childhood, but his first dream was not to convert the unwashed burghers of Essex. If his first dream had been realised, we not be sitting here, celebrating his retirement in an English county town with its cricket ground and law courts, but, perhaps, in an Alpine village, the sound of cowbells and gentle yodelling drifting down from the meadows. For, his initial call was to awaken the people of Austria from the slumber of popish superstition. One thing stopped him in this ambition: my Mother. For her, coming over the river Dee to England was already entering a foreign land and Austria would have been a step too far. So while we fervently hope for a Welsh victory in the rugby right now, we must recognise that to her England owes its gratitude.
Despite this, abroad they went. Following his PhD, Father and Mother sailed from Europe to Africa, far up the Congo to Kisangani where Father spent two years teaching at the faculty of Protestant Theology of the National University of Zaire. Now, Kisangani may already seem remote. But every Monday, he and Mother would go further still, crossing the river to Yakusu. Here he lectured on comparative religion to local pastors, his material ripped from the French equivalent of the ‘The Bluffers Guides’.
This is the image I want to summon up for you. My mother, in a summer dress, heavily pregnant with me, leaning on one side of a dugout canoe, crossing the great Congo River, my father on the other side, in an African shirt, head full of French phrases about Buddha and Mohammed. This is an image of his ministry as a whole. It encapsulates an extraordinary dynamism, an almost foolhardy commitment to his vocation, and an openness to the world and its diversity. These qualities have remained constant throughout his ministry – whether in Lebanon, China, Germany, New Zealand, Ghana, or Chelmsford.
It is my prayer for his retirement that – despite his worrying and growing sympathy with the little Englanderism of Mr Cameron and even Mr Farage – his openness to the world will not diminish, nor his dynamism and commitment in bringing a message of joy.