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The Revd John Humphrey Newman

by
14 September 2012

The Revd Michael Savage writes:

THE Revd Humphrey Newman, or "Humph" as he was widely known, died on 30 August, aged 95. From his parish days in Watford, he was a protégé of Dick Rees, an Anglican evangelist; and when called to the ministry he trained at the London College of Divinity under Donald Coggan. When he was ordained in 1949, he served his curacy alongside Dick Rees, who was by then Vicar of Bishop Hannington Memorial Church in Hove. This gave a evangelistic flavour to all Humph's subsequent parish ministry.

In 1952, he was appointed to the parish of St John's, Welling, in north-west Kent, a between-the-wars development of London dormitory housing beside the A2. The parish church was at the eastern extremity of what was then reckoned to be the largest parish in Rochester diocese, with a population of about 25,000.

For some years, Dick Rees had been involved in leading summer-holiday camps for public-school boys on the north Norfolk coast at West Runton, and when demand grew for a similar venture for boys of preparatory-school age, Humph took on the leadership task, carving a considerable amount of time out of his parish ministry. These were then known as the Varsities and Public Schools Camps; today they still operate under the umbrella of Scripture Union.

It was in this context, in the 1950s, that I first became acquainted with Humph, having been recruited early in my Christian life to join the leadership team of the junior camp.

Humph had a marvellous rapport with the youngsters, and won the respect of the mixed bag of leaders, many of whom later found their way into the ministry, or to the field of overseas mission. At least one of them became a bishop. Humph led morning prayers around the campers' breakfast table (with stunning visual aids), and evening meetings in the camp's large marquee near the cliff-top. He gave members of the leadership team the chance to give talks at the evening meetings, and led the singing of hymns and choruses with great gusto.

The day-time programme consisted of games on the camp field or on the beach below. I learned one lesson in the course of "Coastguards and Smugglers", in which heavily disguised leaders had to be found and challenged by the campers. I was with Humph, both in our disguises, when he asked me a surprise question: "Are you enjoying your afternoon for the Lord?" Up to that moment, I had perceived the day-time activities as merely filling in time till the next "spiritually important" bit.

It was of great concern to him that the western end of his vast parish had no venue for Anglican worship; so he acquired land on which to build a daughter church. This project came to fruition in 1958, with the completion of Bishop Ridley Church to serve the Falconwood end of the parish. In 1960, his curate colleague left, and for the next two years he cared for the two churches with the help of just two Readers. The work proved too much; so he arranged for a house to be built for a curate, to be priest-in-charge.

He asked me to join him, which I did in 1962. Then began a new partnership, with much imaginative evangelistic initiative on his part, to reach out and introduce parishioners of all ages to the Lord Jesus Christ. His ministry was particularly effective with young people; and young couples active in churches nationwide today can date the start of their Christian lives from their days in Welling.

He knew how to get through people's defences. I recall one rugby-playing, hard-drinking young man, strongly opposed to the Christian faith, who later became a Christian and went on to lead CPAS holiday-camps, telling how he had been invited to a meal at the vicarage. Having thoroughly done his homework so as to be able to demolish the Christian case, he found, to his surprise, that the whole evening passed without any reference to the gospel at all.

Memories abound of Sunday-evening youth squashes in the church hall, where a young Michael Baughen (then at CPAS) once hosted a vocations weekend; of open-air services at Welling Corner; of parish summer house-parties on the Kent coast; of the production of a newsletter to keep in touch with former members at college, or those who had moved away; and of an annual motto card with a verse of scripture to be displayed in homes through the year. More recently, Bishop Ridley Church came of age, and now serves Falconwood as a separate parish.

In 1964, Humph moved on to St John's, Penge; his ten years there were followed by eight as Rector of Knockholt, until he retired in 1982 to live in Fairlight on the Sussex coast. There, with the unswerving support and companionship of his wife Norma, he exercised a much appreciated retirement ministry, until the advancing years slowed both of them down.

They saw out their days in a Christian retirement home in Hastings, Norma predeceasing Humph by a few months.

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