A correspondent writes:
“LORD, that I might receive my sight” (Mark 10.51). So said Bartimaeus, and so said Alfred Wood in his final sermon, given in 2015 at St Margaret’s, Lee, south-east London, when he was 95 years old.
Alfred, who died on 3 April, aged 100, gave 75 years of devoted service both to his beloved church as well as to others in the Lewisham area, to charities, and in the community. He had a strong faith, but, after a mini stroke in 2019, Alfred questioned God’s purpose for him. He hoped that, like Bartimaeus, his sight might be restored, but this was not to be. But those of us who loved Alfred knew that he was a remarkable man, who, although he could no longer see with his eyes, had always been able to see with his soul.
Alfred was the longest serving Reader in the diocese of Southwark. He was licensed in 1952, and his ministry lasted for 63 years. Alfred was honoured to be nominated by the Bishop of Southwark to receive the Maundy money, and he went to St George’s Chapel, Windsor, in 2016, where he met the Queen.
Alfred had arrived at St Margaret’s in 1940, courtesy of Adolf Hitler, after the bombing of Christ Church, Lee Park. All he brought were his Bible and gas mask. Alfred carried out many different posts at St Margaret’s, from church cleaner to sacristan and server. He was also a member of the PCC for 28 years.
Alfred met his beloved wife, Doris — who died in 2014, after 68 years of marriage — at the NAAFI, where he had a long career, holding down highly responsible and demanding positions. In the 1950s, he and Doris led the youth group, and he served as a sidesman. Alfred was elected churchwarden in 1955, and he served in this office for 13 years. He wrote several publications, including two books about St Margaret’s, and he was widely respected by his peers for his encyclopaedic knowledge. Alfred was not daunted by responsibility, and was awarded the courtesy title of Warden Emeritus for his outstanding work as Reader, churchwarden, and sequestrator, holding the three posts during a vacancy.
Alfred’s other passion was local history. Coming from a non-churchgoing working-class family, he had little money, and so he had to occupy himself in the school holidays. Alfred visited local churchyards, recording tombstone inscriptions. He was one of the founder members of the Lewisham Local History Society. Alfred chaired the group for six years and was appointed a life vice-president in 1974.
Alfred’s list of achievements is impressive and extensive, but he exercised his ministry in many other ways. Alfred visited the sick at home and in hospital, undertook bereavement counselling, taped books for the RNIB, and was a school governor for 12 years. In many ways, he was an innovator, abolishing pew rents at St Margaret’s, and chairing the appeal for the modernisation of the parish halls. He worked tirelessly for charity, serving as trustee and clerk on three boards. He initiated correspondence with the Charity Commission which culminated in the granting of a new scheme of administration.
There is no doubt that Alfred was a true disciple of Jesus, bearing Christian witness wherever he went, always ready to listen to the needs of others and to provide wise counsel. He was a truly remarkable man, a gentleman from a bygone age. Even in his last few years, he was not spiritually blind. Can we, who are able to see, say the same and continue Alfred’s legacy? “Lord, that we might receive our sight.”
Alfred leaves a daughter, five grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. A service of thanksgiving will be held at St Margaret’s, Lee, on 1 July.