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Obituary: The Revd Walter Wade

17 August 2018

The Bishop of Selby writes:

THE Revd Walter Wade, who died on 9 July, aged 88, was a northern lad who spent his youth in Morpeth, a small market town north of Newcastle. He left school aged 16 to join the Merchant Navy, because he wanted to see the world. At South Shields Marine School, he trained to be a navigator, and this set him on track to become a Master Mariner.

Walter sailed with the Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Company and with Stephenson Clarke’s Ships, and had long absences away from home. Later in life, he spoke of these voyages: of the terrible storms, the death from sunstroke of a fellow officer, of sailing through cleared mine channels, of being on board the last ship to leave Haifa in 1948, and of travelling on an armed train through Malaysia. These and many other experiences had a significant impact upon him as a young man, and he often drew upon these events in his ministry.

In 1957, he married Ann, and, until his death, she was there to help him navigate the inevitable, buffeting storms of life, and none more so than those that he experienced with Parkinson’s in his last few years. They had four children.

At sea, a Christian pilot spoke about his faith with Walter and gave him a Bible. From then on Walter began a personal voyage with God, and it was during a trip to Coventry Cathedral with the Church of England’s Men’s Society that Walter felt his calling to ordained ministry. He was selected for ordination and went to train at Oak Hill Theological College for two years. Ann relocated back to Morpeth with their two young children and began teaching.

Walter served his title under the Revd Peter Street at St James’s, Carlisle, from 1966 to 1969. Then he became incumbent of Holy Trinity, Jesmond, Newcastle. It was a remarkable coincidence that the patrons of the church were ship owners and nautical architects. Here, he and Ann worked tirelessly to build the community of faith by offering a ministry of hospitality and encouragement to all in the parish.

They frequently opened their home to students, often from overseas, and Ann’s skills gained from her training in domestic science were used to the full. It was not unusual to find 12 seated for a delicious meal despite the tight budget. Alongside his parochial duties, Walter was chaplain to the Royal Naval Reserve on the Tyne, and he treasured his occasional trips out to sea on a Royal Navy minesweeper.

In 1977, Walter was asked by the Bishop of Carlisle to go to St Bridget’s, Whitehaven, in west Cumbria, a part of the country easily forgotten by many. They set about sharing their faith, food, and love with local people, and the church was renewed, re-engaged in mission, and grew in numbers and discipleship. After eight years, the Bishop suggested a move to Holy Trinity, Langdale, and a ministry to hill farmers, tourists, and retirees.

They retired in 1995 to Caldbeck, where Walter and Ann continued to offer friendship and hospitality to those in the area. Walter ministered in retirement until he was 85.

Walter never lost his love of the sea, and, in his latter years, Ann’s painting of St Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay, could be found above his bed reminding him of the beacon of safety and hope which welcomed him home in his seafaring days.

Two hymns spoke to him powerfully throughout his life: “Amazing Grace” by John Newton, a sea captain, and “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?” The latter was sung heartily at the close of his funeral in St Kentigern’s, Caldbeck, on Wednesday 18 July.

Throughout his life, Walter was willing to go where he sensed God wanted him to be, and for him this meant commitment to the north. He was a humble, honourable, passionate, and prayerful parish priest who desired few material possessions on his journey through life.

His family will miss him dearly: his generous spirit, his thankful heart, his prayers, his honesty, and his sense of humour.

May he rest in God’s peace and rise in his glory.

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