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Obituary: Prebendary Richard Bewes

24 May 2019

His Honour Judge David Turner QC writes:

PREBENDARY Richard Bewes died peacefully, after a period of illness, at home in Virginia Water, Surrey, on 10 May, aged 84. He was supported to the end by the loving presence of members of his family.

He made an outstanding contribution to UK — and, indeed, world — Evangelicalism, and was one of the most versatile and talented Anglican parish clergy of his generation, serving as Rector of All Souls’, Langham Place, from 1983 to 2004, a worthy successor to the Revd Dr John Stott and the Rt Revd Michael Baughen.

Richard’s parish ministry was marked by his skill as a talented preacher and communicator, a passionate evangelist, and a warm-hearted pastor. Ever modest and self-effacing, he was an easy man both to love and to admire. In addition, he was a fine hymn-writer, composer, and author, a talented broadcaster and teacher, master of the “slide show” and early audio-visuals, and the member of many boards and committees on which he served with energy, wisdom, and good humour.

He was an exemplar of Christian ministry at its best — passionate and strong, humble and gentle, visionary, and yet with “feet on the ground”. He was a serious person who did not take himself too seriously and who was consumed by a passion that others should come to know Jesus as Lord and to love His word, the Bible. As his dear friend, Bishop Michael Baughen, said: “Richard was a man who carried a Bible in his pocket and Jesus in his heart.”

His pride and delight in his spiritual roots so plainly contributed to the man he became. His grandfather came to faith at 14, in 1882, at a rally led by D. L. Moody. His parents, Canon Cecil and Mrs Sylvia Bewes, were distinguished missionaries who served in the East African Revival of the 1930s.

Richard, with his two brothers and sister, was born in Nairobi and brought up on the slopes of Mt Kenya, “the most tranquil upbringing a child could have”. He breathed the air of revival, which gave him an unshakable confidence in the power of God’s Spirit to change lives, and he mastered passable Kikuyu, which startled and delighted many a subsequent Kenyan visitor to All Souls’, as he exploded in warm greeting at the church door. Those African roots were later honoured in his UK chairmanship of African Enterprise for 32 years.

He came to Marlborough College at 13 and continued to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, graduating in 1957, “a geographer”, as he admitted, “with little sense of direction”. Training at Ridley Hall followed, and he was ordained in Rochester Cathedral by Bishop Christopher Chavasse in 1959.

After a long curacy under the Ven. Herbert Cragg at Christ Church, Beckenham, Richard was, successively, Vicar of St Peter’s, Harold Wood (1965-74) and Emmanuel, Northwood (1974-83), before becoming Rector of All Souls’ in 1983.

Keen to refresh what they considered somewhat impoverished contemporary Christian music, Richard, with Michael and Myrtle Baughen, launched Youth Praise I in 1966. Youth Praise II followed at the Royal Albert Hall in 1969. Richard was later to relish a creative partnership at All Souls’ with its Musical Director, Dr Noël Tredinnick, in the development of new hymn books, arrangements, and large-scale events such as Prom Praise.

Richard himself wrote more than 20 hymns, and supplemented, with suitable verses, some much-loved traditional ones. His skill as a wordsmith was matched by his flair for choosing a tune, and he had no hesitation in enlisting the Dambusters’ March or Vangelis’s Chariots of Fire to match his fine words. His All Souls’ send-off in 2004 was accompanied, in that same spirit, by a staff-team rendition, echoing the Beatles, of Hey Bewes.

Richard was a long-time friend and admirer of Dr Billy Graham and, as its chairman, a driving force behind Mission ’89, one of the largest-ever mission events held in the UK. To Richard’s immense disappointment, ill health meant that he could not fulfil the longstanding invitation from the Graham family to preach at Billy’s funeral last year.

He was at heart a preacher and communicator. He wrote at least 21 books and many booklets. He had broadcast on television and on local and Christian radio. He was a Keswick speaker and a Thought for the Day regular on Radio 4 in the 80s. He hosted, in his inimitable and genial style, award-winning international Bible-teaching video/DVD/TV courses, Open Home, Open Bible, and Book by Book, and established, in 2010, an international TV series, The Sermon.

He was a Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral from 1988, an effective Chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council (1992-2001), and was a powerful moving force in the National Evangelical Anglican Congress. He was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to the Church of England.

As he prayed silently before he preached, he would say to himself: “Someone’s life is going to be changed in the next 20 minutes.” His theology — an unshakeable confidence in the sovereign grace of the triune God — was the expression of all that he treasured most.

Behind his own unfailingly gracious air of relaxed informality was immense competence and versatility and a steely conviction that, at the end of the day, it was not creativity or excellence or winsomeness (and he had all those) that won hearts to Christ, but the sufficient and powerful Word of God. The goal of all his preaching and teaching was that people might know and love Christ and His word. He was deep, clear, thrilling, practical, and, above all, godly.

Richard’s first wife, Elisabeth, died in 2006. They had three children and four grandchildren. He married Pam in 2012 and, despite Richard’s declining health, they greatly savoured the years they had together.

When well, and taking time to relax, he was never happier than on the tennis court, behind his camera, or thinking up the content of his next book or blog.

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