Most people won't have heard of Keith, a Baptist minister who retired just about the same time as I was ordained.
Keith was Superintendent in the North Western Association (NWBA) of BUGB at the time I was exploring my call to ordained ministry. I have three stand out memories of him.
The first was when he came to visit me at my home in Burtonwood (just down the road from the brewery) as a precursor to formally beginning the discernment process. I baked a chocolate cake - the standard NWBA bribe in those days - and we discussed my sense of call. In the way that only a minister seasoned by many long years of the joy and sorrow, disappointment and celebration that is pastoral ministry can do, he tried gently to discourage me and to consider alternatives. Because I was an engineer he suggested overseas mission - I don't think he realised that I was a desk bound engineer not a spanner monkey!
Over the following months, Keith was hugely supportive as I worked through the process of being comended by a church that was, at best, ambivalent about women in ministry, going so far as to say that a simple majority of one vote would suffice (unusual) and that if they said no, I should transfer to his church, wait two years and go again. They said 'yes' by a bit more than a simple majority, but I was very glad of Keith's support and encouragement.
The second was one of those dates that sticks forever in my mind, 5th November 1998, at Hillcliffe Baptist Church, just outside Warrington, when I faced the Minsiterial Recognition Committee (MRC) of the NWBA. After a long and challenging day, each candidate was called in to be told the outcome. The layout of the premises was such that you had to go out of the church, along the path to the former manse, and enter an office. It was a lovely sunny day, but I recall vividly walking along thinking, 'they could say no'. As I walked into the room, a huge grin spread across Keith's face, and even before he spoke, I knew the answer was 'yes.' He told me I had been unanimously commended for training and could now progress to interview at a college of my choice.
The third time was at my ordination. Keith had by now retired, and his successor, Rev Chris Haig, who had overseen my settlement process with equally strong support, was leading the service. When it got to the bit where someone from the Association was invited to speak, Keith stood up, recalled the first meeting 'just down the road from the brewery' and affirmed their joyful commendation.
This morning I received news that Keith died yesterday. I know that my life is richer for having known him, and that without his steadfast support I might not have become a Baptist minister, there were so many obstacles along the way.
Well done, good and faithful servant, may you rest in peace and rise in glory.