Richard Bewes – with a Bible in his pocket and Jesus in his heart

We thank God for Richard, for his biblical teaching, his inspirational books and his pastoral heart. We were honoured to have Richard and Pam as members of Christ Church, Virginia Water since 2013. It was a privilege to have Richard join our preaching team and mentor several of our staff team. Richard also helped launch Peacemaker Trust in May 2017. He was a valued and respected member of our international Board of Reference.

Dr Chris Sugden, also a member of our Peacemakers’ Board of Reference, has written this article for the Church of England Newspaper.

Richard Bewes – with a Bible in his pocket and Jesus in his heart

“Christian leaders from across the world responded with warm tributes to the news of Prebendary Richard Bewes’ peaceful release from months of suffering from cancer at 6.25pm on Friday 10 May at his home in Virginia Water, surrounded by Timothy, Wendy, Stephen and his wife Pam.

A child of the East African Revival in the 1930s, he treasured his African roots and was the UK chairman of African Enterprise for 32 years. The son of missionary parents, Canon Cecil and Mrs Sylvia Bewes, he was born in 1934 in Nairobi and spent his first five years in what became (over 40 years later) the library of St Andrew College of Theology and Development in Kabare, founded by Archbishop David Gitari in 1977. 

The family moved then to Weithaga where — along with his two brothers and sister — he had ‘the most tranquil upbringing a child could have’ on the lower slopes of Mt Kenya. 

He told the story of how he first experienced revival as a child to the sound of thousands of African voices singing, in his most recent and final book Under the Thorn Tree – when Revival comes.

Coming to England at the age of 13, he was educated at Marlborough College, (and Iwerne Minster Camps), Emmanuel College and Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He was ordained by Bishop Chavasse of Rochester in 1959 and served a six-year curacy under Herbert Cragg at Christ Church, Beckenham. Then successively he was vicar of St Peter’s, Harold Wood, Emmanuel, Northwood and finally successor to Michael Baughen as vicar of All Souls, Langham Place. 

In the early 1970s he was chairman of Eclectics and then from 1992-2001 chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council and the Anglican Evangelical Assembly.

Richard’s send-off from All Souls in 2004 was accompanied by a spectacular rendition of the Beatles’ great hit Hey Bewes by the members of his staff team. In his mid-70s he launched the online video website “The Sermon”.

He was appointed Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral in 1988 and awarded an OBE by the Queen in 2005.

A keen photographer and tennis fan, he was frequently to be found at the Wimbledon championships. Bishop Gavin Reid, formerly of Maidstone, recalls: “Richard and I were teenage members of St John’s, Blackheath, and I first met him when I accepted to play doubles tennis against him. It was a foolish decision as Richard was a very good and rather passionate player. 

“I don’t know what hurt me most — his passing shots or his sympathy for my failures on court!”

Richard’s first wife Elisabeth died in 2006, and they had three children and four grandchildren. He married Pam in 2012 who cared for him through his final drawn-out illness.

Richard was a longtime friend of Billy Graham. Bishop Gavin Reid writes: “Richard was the key player in bringing Billy Graham to London for Mission ’89, which centred on three mission phases around London: West Ham, Crystal Palace and Earls Court with a finish at Wembley. He was an enthusiastic chairman of the event. 

“He proved a very tactful leader of the various committees full of people with strong personalities.” 

Richard named his last home “Montreat” after Billy Graham’s home in Asheville, North Carolina. Leighton Ford writes: “Richard Bewes was one of my brother-in-law Billy Graham’s special friends, and one of his valued advisers. He respected him so highly that, if it had been timely, he wanted him to preach at his own homegoing service.”

Bishop Michael Baughen, whom Richard followed at All Souls, recalls: “His African upbringing influenced his whole life and ministry with gentleness and informality and brightness. He frequently used Africa illustrations and loved anything and anyone African. 

His love of music caused a stir when it was reported that a CofE curate had come to Christ Church, Beckenham, with a guitar and, even worse, had taken it to his ordination retreat and had been reprimanded for doing so.

But this was the beginning of our friendship as he and I formed the group to work on new Christian music for youth in a time of barrenness in such a field. We started writing new words and new music. Richard’s ‘God is our strength and refuge’ — later put to the Dambusters’ March — has become a firm favourite. As editor of our Youth Praise books I hesitated at a line in one of his earliest pieces: ‘There are minis and jags and plenty of fags…’!!

At the launch of Youth Praise 1 in March 1966 Richard was the main guitar player (there were only two!) plus my wife Myrtle on the banjo and a guy with a side set of drums. Later in the launch of Youth Praise 2 in the Royal Albert Hall in November 1969 Richard conducted 100 guitarists.

In Manchester I had pioneered a ‘Sunday School of the Air’ on local radio every Sunday after lunch. When I moved to London I was approached by BBC London and invited Richard to join me in putting the proposal of a Sunday-school-of-the air to them and called it The Orange and Lemon Club. Children came on the programme each week. 

Eclectics was a group of clergy under the age of 40 led by John Stott when he was under 40. It was liberating in that it took Scripture’s authority as given but then was open to challenge and develop interpretations, some of which were almost law in evangelical circles. 

The need and demand were so great that we were setting up groups, which I led when in Manchester and later Richard took over the London side. It produced not least the turning point of the Keele Congress.

The Keswick Youth Meetings, especially in the Centenary year, were high peak memories. They had to put guards on the tent to stop older people trying to get in!

We were each other’s greatest friend and introduced one another in those terms. A great man of God has now gone home to the Lord, who carried a Bible in his pocket, and Jesus in his heart. “

Canon Vinay Samuel, former EFAC General Secretary from Bangalore, India notes: “Richard contributed significantly to the evangelical movement across the Atlantic and in the Church of England. Recognised globally as a wise senior leader, his advice and support was sought by evangelical leaders and organisations. I benefitted much from his wisdom and courageous support when addressing challenging issues of faith and practice.”

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Raiwind, Pakistan, and of Rochester writes: “Richard was always concerned for the unity in biblical truth of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He showed this with his presence and active involvement in efforts to encourage Anglicans to remain faithful to the Bible and the Church’s teaching down the ages”.

Archbishop Peter Jensen notes from Sydney: “Whenever I think of Richard, I am reminded of Nathaniel, ‘one in whom there is no guile’. He served the Lord with all his heart, was gentle, full of cheer, but never frightened by opposition.”

A funeral service with thanksgiving and memorial will be held at All Souls, Langham Place, on 7 June at 2pm.

Chris Sugden

A photo taken at Vivid Productions, Broadbridge Heath, Sussex, recording programmes for ‘The Sermon’ with Richard Bewes.

Some other sermons preached by Richard Bewes at Christ Church, Virginia Water