John Weston April 4th 1930 – May 26th 2019
We chose the cover picture for the service sheet partly because Dad has always liked steam trains, but at least as much to celebrate the fact that Dad is now well and truly embarked now on the most important journey of all: to the Heavenly Kingdom.
It has been a long and varied journey from the moment my grandparents sailed to Africa to farm in the country then known as Rhodesia. A succession of locusts and bad harvests rendered that enterprise impossible, and my grandfather, who had previously been awarded an MBE for his services in designing and constructing airfields during the First World War in England, turned his hand instead to work designing and constructing bridges to span the fast flowing African rivers.
When my grandfather was taken ill while Dad was still very young, the family were obliged to return to England where Grandfather, who bore the same name as myself, Robert Ogilvy Weston, died shortly before the Second World War started, leaving Granny all but penniless. The door opened for her send the young fatherless John to a school in Sussex, but when the Second World War intervened, his school was evacuated, first to Glastonbury and then to Ambleside in the Lake District. That was when he was struck by agonising pain in his feet (which proved to be Rickets) and which forced him to leave school for good when he was only fourteen.
Dad has always shown remarkable resilience. When he was told that he would never walk again as the result of his rickets, he did not succumb to despondency but simply hunkered down and got around by crawling until he recovered. He would show the same resourcefulness again following a stroke nearly twenty years ago when he taught his brain to think in different ways and learnt to write and walk again.
Going back to his impoverished circumstances during the Second World War, the Lord found ways to make sure that he scraped his way through School Certificate, the GCEs of this day, which proved far more important than he could have realised at the time.
When he was about seventeen Dad caught the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe, where I would later go to school. He set off on a bicycle tour, and when he reached Rouen he saw a building with a signboard outside that read, ‘Reunion, tout le monde bienvenue.’ Unaware that ‘reunion’ means ‘meeting’ in French, and scratching his head as to why everyone should be welcome at a reunion, Dad stepped inside and had his first experience of a Pentecostal service.
The following day, passing a battered dictionary across the kitchen table, Dad and the pastor had a long conversation, during which he prophesied that Dad would be used in the renewal of the Anglican Church. That dear French man had no more idea what the Anglican Church was than Dad had about the gift of prophecy, but the Lord had sown a seed, and many years later in the mid 1970s, the Lord began to kindle that word into life when he filled Dad with his Holy Spirit.
When he returned from his adventures in Normandy, and after doing his national service with the Intelligence Corps in Egypt, Dad went to RADA to study to be an actor. He briefly ‘trod the boards’ in Brighton, where he met Mum at the Little Theatre. He loved everything to do with acting, but he did not feel ‘wired’ to cope with the ups and downs of such an irregular life of an actor, so when he and Mum married he became a primary school teacher in the lovely South Downs, first in Alfriston and then in Seaford and Newhaven.
Oxford, Nottingham, Dictionaries and Ministry
A key moment in Dad’s life occurred when a kind cousin generously paid his living expenses so that he could study English at Oxford. Praise God for people who give others a leg up. May each one of us do what we can to help each other in this respect. He loved his time there, and went on from there to lecture in English at a teacher training college just outside Nottingham, that has long since become part of Trent University. Those were blissfully happy days, where he was loved by staff and students alike, especially for the enthusiasm he conveyed, and the productions he organised.
Dad’s appreciation of words was recognised when he was approached by Oxford to compile the highly acclaimed Children’s Dictionary. It required many years of hard labour to complete, but it finally ran to three quarters of a million copies – what a pity Oxford didn’t offer royalties to dictionary compilers in those days! The literary editor of the Birmingham Post confessed to using himself – albeit furtively – because he found the definitions clearer than in adult dictionaries!
When he was 40, Dad was away from us for a couple of years at weekends training to become a priest in Lincoln. Back at college he was continuing to put his experience in sound engineering to good use, devising and producing some fantastic son et lumieres that traced the history of the parish church of Norwell, near Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire through the centuries.
One of my earliest memories is of Dad surrounded by tape recorders, marking up innumerable edits on reel to reel tapes in yellow Chinagraph pencil, and making endless cuts and splices in his recording projects, advancing the tape moment by noisy moment to just the right place. Speaking as someone who has spent countless hours in a studio with Colin Owen, who is with us today, editing the recordings that we have made, it is so much easier these days!
When ill health struck again, Dad was obliged to take early retirement in the early 1980s, at which point he took over a ministry I had set up some years previously to serve believers in the Vale of Belvoir, after i had gone to live in Chester.
I mentioned that my grandfather had built bridges in what was then Rhodesia. By definition, bridges are there to be trampled on, but they serve a vital purpose. From that moment on Dad was certainly a bridge builder between different denominations and did much solid Christian work behind the scenes, as well as ministering to a range of fellowships, mainly but by no means exclusively Anglican and Baptist, in the East Midlands, often praying with great success for the sick to be healed. May we too be willing to serve as bridges for the Lord!
On one occasion he and Tony Roake, who has kindly driven all the way up Somerset to be with us today, took a group of teenagers to stay in a barn owned by the lovely Monastery of Bec Hellouin in Normandy. The whole area between the Monastery at one end of the valley and the convent at the other, then as now, is saturated in the Lord’s peace and presence, and they saw the Lord at work in many wonderful ways in their group.
From Mowbray Lodge to Malvern – Upheavals and Continuity
A few years after Mum and Dad had moved to Shropshire to be nearer us, we jointly purchased a remarkable property called Mowbray Lodge in 1996, near Church Stretton in Shropshire, and which many of you will be familiar with. Once we had spent many months restoring the property, we were blessed to host many guests there and to run informal retreats. It was while we were there that Mum became increasingly incapacitated by the swift onset of Alzheimer’s. For a whole decade, Dad gave himself deeply and sacrificially to caring for her. It was a great mercy of the Lord that they were able to move to Malvern ‘just in time’ for Ros to be able to support Dad in looking after Mum during her final months.
Where we may be inclined to look at isolated episodes, the Lord sees a deep continuity behind the threads and themes of our lives. Life is not just a random sequence of fits and starts, and the passing on the batons of faith and service from one generation to another is very precious and important in the Lord’s sight.
As we get older, it is lovely to see how the particular flair and talents of one generation continue to unfold in new ways in the next. It goes without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that I owe a great deal to the lexicographer in Dad, fostering in me a deep love of words and languages. He was a great help in a number of our early publishing projects. His love of music and especially the recorder, paved the way for similar gifts to develop in my own life and ministry, and which continue through the family line in different ways.
Even down to the fun things in life. When Dad was a mature student at St. Peter’s College, Oxford (where I also would also study ten years later), he, Granny, Mum and I took to playing table tennis across the dining room table. We enjoyed it so much that Dad built a table in the outhouse of our Leicestershire home. We could not have known then that Dominic, would one day take the game to a very high level. He has just completed three very happy years playing with, and being coached by, some of the top players in Europe. It’s a lovely example of a life-changing impact stemming from the apparently chance purchase of a couple of bats and some ping pong balls!
Dominic with Canon David Weston, nephew of Bishop Frank Weston of Zanzibar
Looking backwards down the family line, we are blessed to count among our family members not only Dad but also his Uncle Frank, who was a deeply passionate and dearly loved missionary Bishop of Zanzibar and Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in the early years of the 20th century who was greatly used by the Lord; we are so pleased that Dad’s younger cousin David Weston has been able to join us here today. May faith in Jesus continue to flourish in the lives of Dad’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren and on into the future, just as Paul’s disciple Timothy was inspired by the faith of his family members (2 Tim. 1:5).
We only found out a few days before his passing that he was suffering from advanced secondary cancers and had only a few weeks left to live. Even so, the suddenness of his passing took us all by surprise – we thought we would have at least a little while longer together.
We are so grateful that Ruth, Dom, Tim and his family, Martine, Anya, Isabella and Elisha, were able to spend time with Dad a few hours before he died – and that his mind and spirit were still in fine working order right to the end. So much so that just a few hours before he died, he and Carol Sampson, who led worship for us at the funeral, including singing Laurie Klein’s lovely well known worship song I love you Lord. Laurie herself was very much in spirit with us during the service.
In days gone by, it was midwives who laid out bodies. Ros had done this her own mother as recently as last December, as well as for Dad, and now Ruth and Ros together washed and tended Dad’s body together for the last time after his passing. We prayed together as the birds were singing as dawn broke at 4am on the 27th of May. We were very sad, but there was also something to celebrate just as there is always a new dawn breaking for each of us, whatever stage we have reached on our own journey . . .
Farewell to Earth and on to Heaven
It was good to commemorate Dad’s passing in the same church where we celebrated Mum’s passing to glory six years ago, and for the two of them to be at rest together just a couple of hundred yards from the church. Click here for the story of Dad’s homecoming. We made copies of it available in a separate room of the Community Hall opposite the church, along with some of the photo albums that Dad had compiled, so that people could have the opportunity to reflect quietly.
The deepest laws of all in God’s sight are that it is as we sow and what we sow that we will also reap – whether seeds that contain the poison of resentment and envy, or of pure love and faith.
All that we do and sow and pray, whether seen or unseen by others, welcomed or rejected by those around us, is seen by the Lord. The important thing is to abide in Jesus and to keep looking to Him and sowing for Him, so that He can bring about what we cannot for ourselves.
As he journeyed on in life, Dad became increasingly concerned to keep sowing seeds of faith, love and kindness wherever he went. We have a lovely story of this in that many of the nurses on the ward who looked after Dad in hospital during his last month felt the effects of that sunshine in his life. Six of them, together with one of the chaplains, queued up to say farewell as he and Dad left to return home. They wanted to celebrate and acknowledge the joy that he had bought into their lives, little knowing that his departure back to Malvern would precede his home calling by just a few short hours.
As we remember Dad, and commemorate the end of this phase of his long journey, praise God that Heaven is his and our destination. Heaven is reserved for those who make the pursuit of God and the love of Jesus their highest aim. Nothing ugly or self-centred can inherit that Kingdom, which is why it is precious to commit ourselves afresh not to labour primarily for the things of this world; but rather for that which endures for eternal life.
Beldavia was an imaginary country Dad invented for his production Journey so long, but the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is a real place, where Jesus will be all in all, and where we will have physical, resurrected bodies, and still be able to recognise each other. We don’t hear enough about the real Heaven these days!
It will surely be a case of saying, ‘As we were saying’ as we pick up with old friends and are introduced to countless new ones. Praise God that our resurrection body will suffer no memory wipe or arthriticy hips. Mum’s mind and memory will be restored and Dad’s cancer healed. So Paul assures us in 1 Corinthian 15 as he concludes his section on the resurrection of the dead with a summons concerning the way we direct and focus our lives.
With Dad now in his final resting place, may our deepest concern be to ‘treasure up for ourselves a firm foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that is truly life’ as Paul so memorably writes to Timothy (1 Tim. 6:19). That is such a lovely and such a powerful concept you’ll excuse me for repeating it again: that ‘we are called to treasure up for ourselves a firm foundation for the future, so that we may take hold of the life that is truly life.’
Let’s face it, 99.9% of our life lies ahead of us in eternity, when there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth where righteousness dwells, (See Rev. 21:5-21, cf Is. 65:17, 66:22). Let’s spend our time and energy seeking the Jesus, and all these things will be added to us as well as the eternal life that only He can give us (John 6:27). Each one of us will one day stand before Him to receive His utterly faithful assessment and appraisal of all our motives as well as our deeds. That which is not of Him will be burnt up, as if it were of no more account than hay or straw – but that which is noble, true and kind and done for Jesus will bring great reward as we enter our resurrected state.
The Lord has much more for each one of us, as Dad’s friends, and family to do on earth, as we commit ourselves to holding nothing back, but loving Jesus with all our hearts, and living, loving and serving Jesus each and every day. And then, when our turn comes, and we join Dad in catching the train to Heaven, there will be so much for us to experience as we heed the summons to go further in and further up!
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:42-44, 57-58)