Obituary: Canon Michael Rees

by
06 April 2018

Church Army

The Revd Michael Rees, Chief Secretary of the Church Army, 1984-90

The Revd Michael Rees, Chief Secretary of the Church Army, 1984-90

Julia Cameron writes:

MICHAEL REES, a parish priest and former Chief Secretary of the Church Army who was appointed a Residential Canon of Chester Cathedral in 1990, died on 25 March, aged 82. He was one of the leading Anglican evangelicals of his generation.

Richard Michael Rees was born in Watford in 1935, the eldest of three children, to Dick Rees, a well-known evangelist, and his wife, Margaret. He read theology at St Peter’s Hall, Oxford, where he was a keen rower and active in the Christian Union.

Well-connected, and knowing his way around the Church of England, Michael was sought after by senior committees, and would frequently be promoted to chair. His easy manner, well-judged wry humour, and ready smile won him the respect of liberals and conservatives alike, from high and low churchmanships.

This wide acceptance was unusual, especially for one who was anchored so firmly in the evangelical tradition. But Rees seemed genuinely at home in ecumenical circles, listening, contributing, and ever respectful.

He served on the General Synod for Bath & Wells and Ely dioceses from 1975 to 1985. From 1983 to 1990, he represented the Church of England in the British Council of Churches, and was moderator of the BCC Evangelism Committee.

After curacies in Crowborough and Bristol, Michael served as incumbent in Clevedon for eight years, before moving to Cambridge. From 1972 to 1984, he was Vicar of Holy Trinity, following in the steps of Charles Simeon.

He took seriously the church’s heritage, and, realising the need for a new biography of Simeon, approached Hugh Evan Hopkins as a writer, and Hodder as a publisher. This book, which appeared in 1977, became a modern classic. From 1971, Michael served as a trustee of the Charles Simeon Trust, was elected as secretary from 1973 and served as chair from 1983-1999. During his Cambridge years, he was secretary of the Cambridge Evangelical Association, and chair of Cambridge Churches Together.

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Holy Trinity and the work of the Cambridge Pastorate, which came under its wing, remained close to the CICCU (Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union). The church hosted the students’ weekly Sunday-night evangelistic address, which began as soon as the evening service had dispersed. Students were part of his world, and Michael was wholly supportive of university missions with Billy Graham and David Watson. He retained friendships with some students long after graduation.

After 25 years in parish ministry, in 1984, Michael was appointed Chief Secretary of the Church Army, where he oversaw 300 lay evangelists across the UK and Ireland. During his tenure, he restructured the ministry, devolving more authority to regions, and oversaw initial plans for a relocation of the training school from Blackheath to Sheffield.

From here, in 1990, he moved to Chester as Canon Missioner for the diocese. The request for this post to be created had come from Chester laity, and was welcomed by the Bishop, Michael Baughen, an old friend. During this time, he also served as county ecumenical officer for Cheshire. As Vice-Dean of Chester Cathedral, Michael had oversight of the buildings in the Cathedral complex, and responsibility for work among tourists — an estimated million visitors a year. With a constant eye to opportunity for the gospel, he organised a millennium celebration, which drew in 28,000 people.

Michael Rees married Yoma Hampton on 6 September 1958. It would prove a close partnership for almost 60 years, with Yoma immersing herself in parish ministry in each of their churches. Michael and Yoma retired to King’s Lynn in July 2000, where they joined the congregation of St John the Evangelist. As long as he was able, Michael would preach in churches around the diocese, and he loved to encourage younger clergy.

Writing his will in 1999, shortly before retirement, he added a note at the end to say that he wanted to be remembered as one who “tried to know Christ better and to make Christ better known”. He is survived by his wife, his two children, Tim and Killy (who is married to the evangelist J. John), five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

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