Paul Montacute: 1946-2020
The former National Youth Adviser in the Baptist Union of Great Britain, who went on to become Director of Baptist World Aid, died on 20 February 2020 at the age of 73
Paul Montacute grew up in Chippenham, Wilts and later in Somerset, England within a Baptist family at Weston-super-Mare on the Bristol Channel. His father, Ray Montacute, was for many years Secretary of the Baptist Men’s Movement in the United Kingdom and one of the most prominent laypeople of his day within British Baptist circles. His mother, Nellie, served on various BU committees and the BMS General Committee.
Paul, his older brother John and his sister, Ruth (who survive him) followed their parents, Ray and Nellie, through baptism and into church membership. Paul and Ruth continued a lifelong commitment to Baptist church life. Ruth served with the Baptist Missionary Society for many years in Zaire (Now D R Congo)
Clarence Park Baptist Church in Weston-super-Mare had a Boy’s Brigade Company, of which Paul became a member and this Christian youth movement with its motto “Sure and Steadfast” could be applied to Paul throughout his life. Paul was baptised at Clarence Park on 30 October 1960. He led the youth work at Clarence Park for a number of years. Paul’s work took him to London where he lived at West Ham Central Mission and helped lead the Youth Club.
Though Paul left school at 16 and joined HMRC as a collector of taxes, his foundation in the Boy’s Brigade led him into youth work as an adult and he underwent training, in Leicester, in Youth and Community Work. One of his college placements was to a Roman Catholic Boys’ Approved School where Judith’s father taught and Judith’s father introduced them.
Paul and Judith married in 1972 and lived in Cardiff where Paul was the Youth Officer of the Cardiff Battalion of the Boys’ Brigade. After a few years Paul was asked to go to Canada to revitalise the Canadian Boys’ Brigade and he and Judith lived in Montreal for two years travelling the country, visiting churches and running training courses.
On their return to England, Paul continued in Youth work in Yate and two years later he was appointed to the post of National Youth Adviser in the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB).
During his time with BUGB he enhanced the portfolio of national youth work creating the Alliance of Baptist Youth (ABY). Paul studied the methods of decision making within the Union and was adept at getting youth issues discussed by the Baptist Union Council, even when they were not, technically, on the agenda. This did much to advance youth issues in BUGB, but did not always sit easily with his line manager or the then General Secretary.
As Paul developed the structure of ABY he took a particular concern for advancing the place and image of young women both in the core Committee and events structure and helping younger women on the Council of the Baptist Union find their voice. He was a strong advocate of lay leadership within the denomination, as his father had been.
In his BUGB role he was a member of the EBF Youth Committee and also the BWA Youth Committee. This opened for Paul an international stage and he was soon a leading figure in both spheres, being a key mover and supporter of the BWA Youth Congress held in Glasgow in 1988 which, thanks to the hard work of the assembled team, proved to be a great success.
This exposure to international Baptist youth work brought him to the attention of the BWA Youth Director, Dr Denton Lotz and following the tragic death of the BWA General Secretary Gerhard Klaas and the appointment of his successor, Denton, the BWA approached Paul to ask if he would consider succeeding Denton as BWA Youth Director.
He was part of the new team Denton assembled including the Revd Tony Cupit from Australia as Director of Study and Research and Ms Wendy Ryan from Trinidad as Director of Communication. These three were appointed to serve at the BWA General Council in Zagreb, Croatia in 1990 and Paul, with his wife Judith and sons Pete and Tim moved to Vienna, Fairfax County in the USA to live. There they joined the Vienna Baptist Church where both Paul and Judith made a lasting contribution, even though Paul was often travelling.
Paul ultimately became Director of Baptist World Aid in 1993 and, as with his time in BUGB and youth work, he developed BWAid in both its methods of operation, the scope of its work and its place within the world of aid and development agencies. He took time to understand the best practice of other aid and development agencies and build those structures of application, evaluation and verification into the BWAid model, thus strengthening confidence in the Department.
Yet despite his insistence on doing things properly and to the highest standards within the sector he never lost sight of the real issues at hand, as he was compassionate and generous to those who were disadvantaged and struggling. He would make demanding journeys under challenging conditions to see for himself what the real need was and how the world Baptist family could assist. He also kept a keen eye on ensuring that those applying for aid received help in a form which was most useful to them and which they had requested, despite sometimes suffering pressures from BWAid committee members from the first world who had an agenda driven by their own political, and sometimes “imperialistic” agenda.
A classic occasion was the support of BWAid for a project begun in Europe called “Eurolit”. A principal action had been to ask Baptists in the former Soviet Union what help they might need for pastors. In the communist era the challenge was for Bible resources. The leadership in Moscow asked for translations of William Barclay’s classic commentaries on the Bible because Barclay illustrated the Biblical account with helpful stories which were of great use to local pastors in preparing sermons. Funding the initiative fully was beyond the scope of Eurolit and BWAid agreed to help, inviting support from Baptist communities around the world. In one BWAid Executive committee meeting the funding of the commentaries was challenged by a formidable woman appointed to the Committee by the Southern Baptist Convention. She was the wife of the President of a large seminary who was at the heart of the fundamentalist resurgence within the SBC. She demanded this activity be stopped as “William Barclay is a known liberal scholar”. Paul firmly reiterated the principles of BWAid of responding to the request and stood his ground. To this day the treasured possession of many a senior Baptist pastor in the nations of the former Soviet Union is the full set of Barclay translations.
Paul could also see initiatives worth supporting whilst others were still making a provisional assessment. From an early moment he backed the vision of Hungarian Baptist Aid and enabled the young, new leadership to have mentoring and support. A by-product of this proved to be gaining access to North Korea. In the post-communist era a building was returned to Hungarian Baptists which had been the North Korean Embassy in the cold war era. Hungarian Baptist Aid and Paul took the opportunity to create friendships with the North Korean Ambassador and his staff which opened the door to Baptists being allowed to address some of the needs in what many people regarded, then, as a pariah state.
Paul faithfully served the BWA from 1990 until 2012. He mentored several younger BWA staff, including Emmett Dunn, who succeeded him as Youth Director. As in his time within the Baptist Union, Paul was an acute observer of the internal tensions and dynamics of the world Baptist family and learnt to achieve his aims to promote BWAid and make it more effective with astute footwork. None of this was for himself or his position, but always motivated towards the poorest and the least. It was no mean feat in a world community always attracted by the words “evangelism” and “mission” and not nearly so focused on “aid” and “development”, and in a world where being ordained and having a doctorate was seen as a necessary attribute, Paul made his mark on the causes nearest to his heart and his deep understanding of the Gospel without either.
All this, whilst, with Judith providing a loving home and strong support for their sons, Pete and Tim. Later, two grandchildren Kailyn and Beckham. In recent years the grandchildren were the loves of Paul’s life and they had a special bond with him.
Paul was a big man in many different ways, warm hearted and hospitable, but he also had a determined streak to push forward his agenda in the world of ecclesial decision-making, knowing that without steely determination the concerns of what were often seen as non-core issues such as youth and international aid could easily be side stepped by the core movers and shakers.
Keith G Jones, President, the Baptist Historical Society, United Kingdom