“Our People Die Well” - John Wesley
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
20th September 2013
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Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
Who are your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you? Most of us have many. In our childhood we may have been privileged to have parents who taught us God’s word, or there were Sunday school teachers or youth fellowship leaders at our church, or ISCF/Crusader teachers at school. For many it has been the pastor of our church, or the Bible study leader. During the lifetime of a Christian we usually have a range of leaders, who teach us God’s word.
There are some people whose leadership stretches well beyond personal ministry to affect whole communities with their teaching of God’s word. They speak at conventions, write books and articles, and travel to speak at evangelistic gatherings and church conferences. They become well known to the community as a whole, as they influence the culture of church life. And as we consider the outcome of the lives of those who lead us personally, we also remember and consider the lives of these more public leaders.
Recently I have been caused to remember and consider two such men, as they came to the end of their earthly life to be welcomed into the presence of the Lord of eternity. They were both leaders of the Christian community in Sydney, having a great impact on the lives of thousands. It is a privilege to have been taught by both of them personally. They knew each other well, worked together on many a project, and were even rectors, at different times, of the same parish.
Geoff Fletcher, served in the Air Force in World War II, before entering Moore College in 1947. He was ordained to be curate of Summer Hill and then in 1950 became the rector of the new suburban developments of Kingsgrove and Beverly Hills. This was ‘baby boom central’ for Sydney suburbia, and Geoff lost no opportunity to proclaim Christ as the suburbs mushroomed around him. Ten years later in 1960 Dudley Foord, having left an academic and business career studied at Moore College, became the rector of Kingsgrove, overseeing the largest Sunday school and youth fellowship of the diocese and giving himself to parish based evangelism.
These two men were extraordinarily, but similarly, gifted. Both were intelligent, practical, enterprising, energetic (amazingly energetic!) visionaries. They were both hard working and diligent. They were great encouragers; you never left their fellowship without feeling enthused with the gospel. They had a great rapport with all sorts and conditions of humanity; a ready sense of humour and fun, warmth of affection and loving concern for your welfare. They were both born salesmen and persuaders providing convincing reasons to join them in whatever cause they were advocating at the time. In this world, there is little doubt that they would have risen to the top of any career they chose to pursue. And in that regard, they were also alike in eschewing worldly success for a greater cause that had caught their hearts. For one of the lessons that they both modelled was the use of the gifts of God for the work of the Lord and the love of his people (1 Corinthians 13). They did not work for self-aggrandizement but for the service of others in the service of their Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5).
They had their differences. Geoff was a man who told jokes while Dudley was more a man who laughed at jokes. Geoff was the more practical, international, itinerant man; Dudley the more academic, parish, Sydney man. Geoff was the NSW General Secretary of CMS and brought Campus Crusade to Australia. Dudley lectured at Moore College and demonstrated evangelistic church growth as rector of St Ives, bringing Evangelism Explosion to Australia. But the differences were more matters of degree than significance. Both were committed to world mission, travelled overseas preaching, encouraged missionaries in their work and evangelized university students, especially overseas students.
Just as both of them ministered in Kingsgrove, both of them were engaged in the ministry of the Department of Evangelism: Dudley as the chairman and Geoff the director – and that captures something of their real common commitment. Both of them were evangelicals through and through and so were utterly committed to evangelism, not just their own evangelism but training every other Christian to evangelize as well. All evangelicals evangelized, Geoff and Dudley taught us how. They were saved by grace and wanted everybody else to know the Saviour. They wanted to marshal all God’s people into the cause of proclaiming the Lord Jesus Christ across Australia and to the ends of the world.
Even in their senior years, to be more accurate their old age, they persisted in the work of evangelism. Dudley, in so called ‘retirement’, introduced me to people he was evangelizing and asked me to help with his work of bringing them to Christ. Geoff sent me the draft of a new tract he was writing in his late eighties! Here is the outcome of their way of life, the model to imitate.
As I write this article, I have received news that Bruce Blowes, another elderly saint whom I had the privilege to know, has been called to glory. A retired farmer, Bruce was not as well known to the Christian world, but yet just as well known to the one who matters most: his Lord and Saviour. His life impacted his family and community in the same way as Geoff’s and Dudley’s. He died in just the way any evangelical, like Geoff or Dudley would like to die; sharing his hope of eternal life with the nurses who were attending him.
The Wesleys knew about dying well, as Charles Wesley wrote:
Happy, if with my latest breath
I may but gasp His Name,
Preach Him to all and cry in death,
“Behold, behold the Lamb!”