I was born in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and moved to Great Torrington, North Devon with my 2 brothers when I was 5. Dad was Deputy Head-teacher at Torrington County Primary School. Mum (June) was kept busy looking after us 3 boys. We attended Torrington Baptist Church and were involved in the youth club there. I started playing guitar in my teens and would sometimes play at our youth club events. I can remember in my teens making a decision to put Jesus first in my life and have sought to follow his way and prayed that He would guide me in each step throughout my life. I attended Bideford Grammar School and left aged 16 after “O” levels to do a photography course at Plymouth College of Art and Design.
I only ever had one ambition, and that was to become a Newspaper photographer. At Plymouth I attended Mutley Baptist Church and it was here in my second year of College that I met a pretty 18 year old girl called Lyn who would later become my wife. Lyn had come to Plymouth to train to be a teacher at The College of St Mark and St John, (Marjons) and at the end of her first year I completed my course and began looking for work. I worked on The Chronicle and Echo in Northampton for six months and later spent 3 months working in a family-owned photographic business in Totnes, Devon, spending most of my time in the darkroom and I didn’t enjoy the work at all.
I moved to start work as a trainee photographer on The Bucks Herald in Aylesbury in 1977 and was very happy there. Lyn completed her training in Plymouth and started work as a teacher in Buckinghamshire and we were married at her home Church in Milton Keynes in 1978. We bought a flat in Aylesbury and enjoyed time as part of the congregation of Southcourt Baptist Church.
In August 1980 I took a promotion as Deputy Chief Photographer on the Eastbourne Gazette and Herald in East Sussex, by the sea. We bought a house and were greatly blessed to have a daughter Claire. We were very happy to be part of Victoria Baptist Church and made many friends. I once made the mistake of saying to Lyn, “I love it here, we’ve got the sea, we’ve got the downs and we’ve got our lovely girl”. Shortly after that God was to move us on again.
I said that I only ever had one ambition and that was to be a newspaper photographer. Eastbourne was a lovely place; we had a lovely home, family, friends, and work-colleagues. When we had lived there about 4 ½ years I got to a point in my work where I was feeling a great deal of frustration. I was at that time Acting-Chief Photographer. I took the emergency calls at evenings and night times when there were serious fires and disasters. I remember a period of a month or so when I had a number of call-outs; one was when a small plane that had been on the ‘Beaujolais Run’ to get bottles of the first of the new vintage wine, crashed near Eastbourne killing around 5 people. I remember trying to dodge the Police so I could get photos of the plane on a hillside in the dark. Another sad story was of a fire in a house which killed a mum and her daughter; I returned home at about 7 am and hugged my little daughter Claire who was about the same age as the little girl who had died. I felt God was saying to me “You photograph the news including the sad things; I want you to tell people the good news, about me”. I sensed a call to be a pastor; a Baptist minister. Whilst expecting our 2nd child, Lyn and I visited Bristol Baptist College and met the Principal, a lovely man by the name of Morris West who suggested I should try studying; so aged 29 I began studying English ‘A’ Level by correspondence course soon after our second daughter Michelle was born.
BRISTOL BAPTIST COLLEGE
I was accepted at Bristol Baptist College and we moved to the city in September 1986. Lyn and I sold our home in Eastbourne, and with Claire aged 3 and Michelle aged one we moved to our own home in Bristol mortgage-free, Praise God, in the appropriately named Gratitude Road. We were greatly blessed by being part of St Marks Baptist Church which we were close enough to for Lyn to be able to take Claire and Michelle to church when I was often away preaching on Sundays in Gloucestershire, Somerset or the Welsh Valleys. I would use my guitar and sing songs for the early part of the service before the children went out. I didn’t find study easy, but managed to get through the course and gained some useful experience on the way. I spent an afternoon a week working with the chaplain at Horfield Prison; it always used to scare me going through the many sets of locked gates. I also did a placement at a Psychiatric Hospital as I felt that mental illness was one area I wanted to learn more about.
Another placement I very much enjoyed was at St Christopher’s Hospice; it was lovely to spend time each day with patients; but always sad when they died. Each day I would come in and often find one room empty where I’d been talking with the patient the day before. I can remember one night comforting a nurse who crying over the death of a patient. During the six weeks or so I was at the hospice I struggled to accept my own mortality; it is a very moving experience being with someone and holding their hand as they take their final last breaths. I got to the point where I recognised that one day I would die; yet as a Christian I know I will be with Christ in a new form where there is no longer any sickness, pain or death.
I left Bristol Baptist College in June 1989 and we moved to take up my first ministry at Whitehouse Baptist Church, Ipswich. Here we made some good friends and I cut my teeth on my first funeral, first wedding, and first everything else. We bought our own home, and had some lovely neighbours who later became Church members. I began taking assemblies in the local Infants and Junior School and began singing songs in these assemblies. I bought my first PA system for the 200+ pupils. I learned so much about people, about God, about Church life, and about the struggles of life, from my time in Ipswich, and we left when I became the Minister of Blackfield Baptist Church in Hampshire.
We moved to Hampshire in 1994, and on my first day Gary the local vicar dropped in to say hello. One of the joys of Blackfield was that Gary had arranged a rota so that the local clergy; Anglican, Baptist and Methodist, used to take assemblies at all the local schools. We had one Secondary school, 2 Junior schools, and 3 Infants schools, so we used to keep quite busy and it was great fun. I began programming and recording backing tracks that I would use to sing to whilst playing acoustic or electric guitar. I upgraded my PA system to a stereo system which was just right for 400 or so people in schools. We had a good youth group at Blackfield and one week ran an alcohol-free cocktail bar. One of our ladies made some colourful palm trees and murals to give it a tropical theme, and a friend and I played guitar and sang some songs. Along with two other Baptist Colleagues I also organised some youth events in the new Forest and we put together a band to sing worship songs.
In 1997 I had my first sabbatical (a period off from ministry spent studying) and studied the use of contemporary music in evangelism. I began to look for ways of using songs for adults. I met some interesting people who were using music to share their faith including the legendary ‘Yes’ keyboard player Rick Wakeman. Most of the songs I wrote at Blackfield were written for use with children, and were sung at School assemblies, though I did start writing songs for adults.
Whilst at Blackfield our son Nathan was born, and so with a 15 year gap between him and his oldest sister family life changed again. I can remember changing his first nappy being so pleased to remember how to do it after a long gap of about 12 years. Another part of my work at Blackfield which was painful, but I valued, was supporting people who had been bereaved. We seemed to have a number of people ill and dying; with cancer being the major cause. It was a tremendous privilege to share with people who knew they were dying; to be with the bereaved just after death; and then to take the funeral. I do not know how atheists cope with death; I always say that death is where theology meets reality. To see a person breathe their last breath and then see them so still; to see life ebb from them to be replaced by silence; to feel the warmth of life turn into the cold body in death is a deeply profound experience. To me the knowledge that when a Christian dies he or she goes to be with Christ is an amazing fact; yet it is hard to understand or comprehend, especially when we are caught up in the emotion and pain of loss. I am grateful for the friendship and warmth of many friends in the Blackfield and Waterside area; we left the Church at the end of 1999 and moved to our own home in nearby Hythe.
During 2000 and 2001 I was half-time minister of a United Reformed Church meeting on the Halterworth estate in Romsey. This was a Church-plant meeting in a community Centre and had been developed by my predecessor by visiting young families in the area. I enjoyed visiting the families who used to come to the Church, in addition to the older members of the congregation, and would take a Sunday morning service there every other week. My other ministry was as Associate Minister at Central Baptist Church, Southampton where I was responsible for developing the work among the many students who lived in the Polygon. We ran Christian concerts to try and get people into the Church. At this point I began hiring lighting equipment for some of the events we ran as part of ‘Shepherds Gate’ which is what we called the series of events.
Our oldest daughter Claire, left home after taking her ‘A’ levels to sing with a Christian band called Taste based in Essex and in September 2001 we moved into Southampton when I took up the post of Minister of Bitterne Park Baptist Church. Although many of the congregation were quite elderly I developed opportunities in the local Schools, and fellowship between the local churches was very good. I now had both Infants and Junior Schools about a hundred yards down from the Church and ran Christian clubs in both schools with help of other local Christians. I also continued to do regular assemblies at both Schools and used my songs in some.
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Forest Flame Music; Music to uplift the soul!