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Obituary: The Revd Melvin Tinker

07 January 2022

The Revd Dr Peter Sanlon writes:

THE Revd Melvin Tinker’s main ministry was as Vicar of St John’s, Newland, in Hull. He served there for 26 years from 1994, and it grew to be one of northern England’s largest churches, even though Hull was the city in England with lowest per capita church attendance. By any measure, Tinker felt called to a challenging ministry context, and was himself wiling to challenge both the wider Church and culture, and his conservative Evangelical constituency, whenever he felt that something difficult needed saying.

Known by friends and family as a generous and kind man with a terrific sense of humour and outrageous waistcoats, what made him willing over the years to challenge those who, he felt, needed to hear the truth as he saw it?

No doubt, his background was part of his formation. Tinker’s grandfather served as a marine in the First World War, and was a “straight-talking man who gave me time as a boy — which mattered”. Born in 1955 and raised the son of a Nottinghamshire miner, Tinker was urged to be honest and straight-talking.

The Mansfield miner’s terrace in which he was raised had been built in 1822, and during his childhood did not have hot water. Tinker was positive about his upbringing: “It was tough, but we had a lot of fun.” He went to one of the country’s first comprehensive schools, Ashfield, where he developed a love of learning and mixed with people from other backgrounds — whose families owned cars and houses. All of that made an impact. Despite not reading his first book till he was 13, Tinker went on to write nearly 20 published books on a wide range of cultural and ecclesiastical topics. These included challenges to cultural Marxism, That Hideous Strength (2018) ,and popular methods of evangelism, Salt and Light.

While at school, he heard the gospel from a family who befriended him; a Methodist lay preacher who was so “genuine in his faith, he just showed me that it was real”. In 1973, Tinker went to Hull University, having become a Christian just the previous year. He put himself forward to speak at a Christian Union event and was thrilled to see someone become a believer. It was at university that Melvin met Heather, whom he married.

After a few years’ teaching, he trained for ordination at Wycliffe Hall. He served as chaplain to Keele University (1985-90), which helped him to hone a lifelong passion to engage with the culture and academic life. His tenure as Vicar of All Hallows’, Cheadle (1990-94), developed his commitment to patterns of Anglican ministry. Tinker was committed to visiting people in their homes. “My greatest joy has been preaching to people I have led to trust in Christ, in their homes. God really is for all kinds of people — not just the middle class,” he wrote.

The call to be Vicar of St John’s, Newland, was an answer to prayer. Melvin and Heather had long prayed for the city of Hull, concerned that so few had the opportunity to hear the gospel. From 1994, they laboured to see the church grow, and, in the final decade, more than 500 were attending each Sunday. God seemed to bless Melvin’s approach, which was down to earth, and his determination to treat all people as valued in God’s sight. He challenged people with the difficult teachings of Jesus in a context of grace. God used it to turn around many people’s lives.

By 2000, Tinker came to the view that the Church of England was not going to be a secure place in years to come for a conservative ministry. So, he led his congregation to secede. They became a network of growing churches outside the Church. St John’s remains the largest church yet to depart the C of E in light of the sexuality and cultural battles.

Tinker felt, as he led that move, that he was being faithful to his ordination vows and doing what he had done all his ministry: challenging people to ponder what God would have them do.

Tinker sought to speak truth to power even when it brought him into conflict with the conservative Evangelical constituency. Despite being a founding member of Reform, a CEEC Council member, and a speaker at NEAC3, Tinker was willing to challenge his own constituency. Three weeks before his death, he said: “People wonder why some struggle to stand against the culture and Church when they oppose Jesus. The explanation surely lies in the silence — the collusion — around [the Revd Jonathan] Fletcher.”

Whether labouring to grow St John’s, Newland, or leading that church out of the C of E, or challenging his own contemporaries over their relationship to Mr Fletcher, Tinker sought to speak the truth to glorify God. Whether we agreed with his challenges or were the recipients of them, the loss of his challenges leave us all weaker.

Tinker died, aged 66, of cancer, on 23 November. He is survived by Heather and three sons: Christopher, Michael, and Philip.

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