Rev E Gwynfai Jones MBE
Rev E Gwynfai Jones MBE
Born 20 May 1937. Died 28 January 2006.
In the tragic death of Gwynfai we have lost a very dear friend personally and a good friend to Sandyford. He was not the sort of person you noticed by his high profile, but the kind of rock-steady quiet support whose service was more many-sided than most members will have realised.
Born in Aberystwyth in May 1937, Gwynfai was brought up first in Llwynhendy in Carmarthenshire and then successive Welsh villages according to the calling of his father, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of Wales. Welsh was the language of the people and of his home and it was not until he was six years old that Gwynfai learnt English. All his life, on first waking he would speak in Welsh.
In 1953 the nationwide interest in the successive visits of Billy Graham to the UK to preach the Gospel led to Gwynfai’s own conversion at the age of sixteen. To the end of his days he stood firm on his trust in Jesus as his saviour and in holy Scripture as the very Word of God. Yet he was no narrow or difficult evangelical but altogether human, relating harmoniously with people of every faith and none.
While still at school he was accepted as a candidate for the Christian ministry. In 1956 when he was 19 the family moved to Gateshead and Gwynfai to King’s College Newcastle, then to Cambridge to study theology at Westminster College. On 14 February 1964 he was ordained into the Presbyterian Church of England.
A year earlier while they were both leaders at an Evangelical Movement of Wales camp Gwynfai had met Elspeth Harris and they were married on 21 April 1965. That date is the Queen’s birthday; they used to joke that the BBC played the national anthem for their wedding anniversary each year!
In August 1967 Gwynfai accepted a call to St Rollox where he served for 35 years, retiring on 31 August 2002. It was typical of him that he was preaching again on 1st September: ministry was his life, not something time-serving that he was doing for a living.
Concerned that new converts did not have suitable Bible reading notes Gwynfai started to write them himself in 1993. They were at first simply part of his ministry to his St Rollox folk, but now 500 go out each month and a further 500 copies are printed as part of the monthly Sandyford Record, of which 350 are posted worldwide. How many Christians first learned to love reading the Scriptures, and the daily walk with God which that helps, from ‘Lifelines?’
A lifelong interest in politics flowered in 2000 when Gwynfai’s parish started to receive asylum seekers. They possessed nothing and Gwynfai and Elspeth were soon mobilising congregations all over Glasgow to send every kind of goods: clothing, prams, furniture, whatever they might need. They needed support in their asylum requests and Gwynfai provided it, harassing his MP Michael Martin, finding them lawyers, helping them in their contacts with officialdom. In 2003 he and Elspeth were awarded the MBE “for services to race relations and for years of service as parish minister in Sighthill, Glasgow”. It was typical of him that when I congratulated him on this recognition he said, ‘Oh, anyone would have done the same.’
But there was another feature of Gwynfai’s kindness to the asylum seeker community. There was something about him that made them ask about his faith. It wasn’t that he was pushy, but the very opposite. His caring was genuine, it was done just because he cared; and not a few of them started attending St Rollox to see what made the man tick. They asked him to share his faith with them, and some wanted the same Saviour who made him so remarkable. A group of the younger ones recently led worship at the monthly meeting of Glasgow Presbytery.
Gwynfai was the most unassuming man and you would never have guessed, meeting him, what a driving force he was. Actually nor would he; his humility was totally genuine. But his ideas were definite, his beliefs and ministry staunchly evangelical and if he started a job he finished it. It was typical of him that his reading for relaxation was Christian theology and that if a person needed him the idea of a day off was completely irrelevant: Ministry was his life. No wonder his life was a ministry.
It was characteristic of his willingness to serve that for years he convened the Presbytery’s committee on church readjustments. It has been called the most unpopular post in Presbytery but Gwynfai had broad shoulders, a reasonable approach and, I suspect, sometimes his hearing aid switched off! No wonder, when he completed that task, he was asked to remain on the overseeing Presbytery Council. He was a man who could be trusted.
Gwynfai and Mr Philip were longstanding friends and used to sit next to each other at Presbytery, occasionally passing comments of a typically pithy and often humorous nature, sotto voce, on the business in hand. Steadily Gwynfai became a feature of Sandyford’s life and the vacancy committee formed after Mr Philip’s retiral found him a hardworking, helpful and balanced interim moderator.
Gwynfai and Elspeth joined Sandyford on Gwynfai’s own retirement and we owe him a happy debt for all sorts of service. In preaching on Sundays and Wednesdays, in caring for the congregation and leading the first communicants classes during my study leave, in his support and friendships he was a boon to our congregational life. Often his preaching would have a heavenward focus.
Another feature of Gwynfai’s life mentioned when ministers have contacted me in these weeks, is their appreciation of partnership in prayer with him. We as a congregation can say the same. It says something about the man, that he was killed while waiting quietly for opportunity to finish crossing the road so as to be at the appointed meeting for congregational prayer.
Gwynfai had a delightful sense of humour. One day he called from the kitchen to Elspeth ‘I’ve spilt the milk.’ ‘Get the dog to lick it up,’ she replied. ‘I can’t,’ he said, ‘I’ve spilt it on the dog!’
On a personal level Gwynfai was a loyal friend with a natural wisdom that many were glad to turn to. He loved his successive dogs and had gone down to Wales for the next Welsh collie pup just days before the accident. He loved his wife and children and delighted in his two grandsons who adored him back. Their loss was sudden and cruel and we extend to all the family - to Elspeth, to Catherine and family and to Helen - our distress for them at this premature bereavement.
C Peter WhiteView All Letters