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The Very Revd Benjamin Hugh Lewers

by
17 April 2015

The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall writes:

THE Very Revd Ben Lewers was born 83 years to the day before he died, on 25 March, the feast of the Annunciation; he was the son of a Devon GP. After Sherborne School, Ben did his National Service in the Devonshire Regiment. So he was already 25 when he went to Selwyn College, Cambridge, and on to Lincoln Theological College.

He was ordained in 1962 to a curacy at St Mary's, Northampton, and was then Priest-in-Charge of the Good Shepherd, Hounslow West. For the next seven years, 1968-75, Ben was Chaplain of Heathrow Airport, which made his name. There, he quickly cleared a debt of many thousands of pounds for the underground chapel. Next, he went to Newark, first as Vicar, then as Team Rector. In 1981, he became Provost of Derby Cathedral.

For more than 16 years, he was Mr Derby, even Mr Derbyshire. He made sure that he knew everyone who mattered and many who didn't; he was always at the door to welcome both at least half an hour before any service or meeting. Successors are often not very polite about their immediate predecessors; it says much of Ben that his successor at Derby, the just retired Bishop of Gloucester, writes that he was always grateful for Ben's ministry - for the foundations he laid, and the healthy state in which he left things.

He retired to Marshwood at the end of 1997, surprising us all with how well he adapted to country life. He chaired the Hawkchurch History Society and the Beaminster Festival, was a school governor, and served on the Parish Council. He enjoyed driving all over the place to take services in rural churches, and was very much involved in the removal of pews from Marshwood church and the PCC's granting of per- mission to share the nave with the primary school. He chaired the committee that got the speed limit reduced, first to 40, and then 30.

Between university and ordination had been his Dunlop years. Ben and his future wife Sally both worked for the giant rubber company. He was in charge of tyre complaints - a good training, he used to say, for dealing with PCCs. He and Sally met in 1956, at a dinner party in Park Lane, in London - it had been arranged to plan Sally's future - which was supposed to be with her boss's PA's nephew, a life of hunting, fishing, and shooting. Ben was there only to make up numbers. But it was Ben who accompanied Sally back to Earls Court on the number 74 bus.

From those early days, Ben was a member of the Institute of Personnel Management. His style of management was to get up early and get the job half done before anyone else knew they were supposed to do it. Then, having let them do the other half, he let them get all the praise. He was the greatest affirmer of his junior colleagues, even when we didn't deserve it. He expected those he trained to go on and do greater things than he ever dreamed of doing himself. On the Sunday morning when Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed, he wrote, before the 8 a.m. communion, a booklet for a service at 3 p.m. that day, already agreed with the Bishop, the Duke of Devonshire, and the Lord Lieutenant.

Many of us will remember Ben for his other interests: gardening, music, wine, history, watching cricket, making rugs, doing jigsaws, stroking cats, collecting pictures, embroidery - many of them done for his own enjoyment, but some certainly done to make money for others. Fund-raising dominated much of Ben's ministry. In the cathedral office, Ben's door was almost always wide open; if it was closed, you knew he was doing one of two things: holding a meeting (that would be short) or catching up with the Test match (that might take much longer).

In his Christmas newsletters from Thimble Cottage, Ben might comment on some pretty young violinist he had heard at a concert in Lyme Regis, but more often about the weather and the garden: how the clematis enjoyed the winter, the length of the runner beans, and the straightness of the carrots. And when writing about the burst pipe, or his Parkinson's and other energy-level-reducing ailments associated with what he called a "lengthening retirement", he used the word "interesting" rather than anything negative or self-pitying.

He lived and preached the Dunlop strapline: "Forever Forward". As he preached in 1993, at my own installation as a Canon Residentiary: "Christians are a pilgrim people, ever on the move forward, and doing it in a manner that runs clearly contrary to the way that those without faith perceive movement." He viewed Christian humility as the greatest weapon we have been given for changing minds and altering routines.

I thank God for one who was ever faithful - to God, to the Church of England, to Sally, to his three boys (of whom he was very proud), and all their loved ones, and to friends and colleagues.

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