The Revd David Harper: 1932-2020
David and wife Pat were an example of genuine faith, a loving marriage, wise parents and a couple who knew how to conduct an effective ministry
“The secret to an effective ministry” said David, pausing, “is that there is no secret.” Thus, spoke a pastor who had God’s blessing upon every ministry he was given.
David was born in Putney the youngest child to Bill and Edie Harper, brother to Charles, Doris and Raymond. From early on mother and four children attended Werter Road Baptist Church. In 1944 he joined the Boys' Brigade at Southfields Baptist Church and here found a new experience of life and church where he gained a confidence that he previously lacked. The arrival of a new minister, John Barker, from Spurgeon's College, who took an interest in the young people, encouraged them to attend the evening service. It was at this time that David began to see what a personal faith in Jesus Christ meant. Here he met Pat whom he came to love for the rest of his life.
Two Australian evangelists were invited to take some evening services and at one of these meetings he took his first steps to commit his life to God. That became complete when a student from Spurgeon's College came to speak at the Boys' Brigade Bible class.
Christian Endeavour then gave an opportunity for young people to take part, to pray aloud, read the Bible publicly and prepare some “papers” on given subjects. This was the context when David became convinced that God was calling him to be a minister. John Barker gave every encouragement to David to explore the call and David preached his first sermon at 16. He then contacted Spurgeon’s College to train for ministry but was delayed so that he could experience the working world and confirm the call, by leading others to Christ.
Then came National Service where he was stationed at Catterick and was taught certain skills and was perceived to be officer material. On advice from the chaplain, he declined so that he could be with ordinary people, a decision he never regretted.
In 1953 he returned home and was interviewed and accepted by Spurgeon's College. This was a very positive experience and thus began an appreciation, affection and support for the college, and it was a great joy when, in later years, he was appointed Chairman of the Council. His involvement with the college continued throughout his life and on retirement he became a field tutor supporting students in their placement churches.
In 1957 he became the minister of a new church at Temple Hill, Dartford. It was a new estate and he walked every day through the estate to the church, meeting people. Here Joy was born. She was not able to take nourishment and so David had to take her to Great Ormond Street hospital where a surgeon told him the serious risk of the necessary operation. In a miraculous way the problem cleared without any treatment and David and Joy returned to Pat who was unable to travel, grateful to God for His healing.
In 1961 David, their son, was born. Shortly after, David and Pat received an invitation to become the minister at Croxley Green, Watford. It felt right to move, and they started there on the 21st anniversary of the church.
They were good years for ministry, and it was here that David appreciated the fellowship of ministers from other denominations which became an enduring feature of his subsequent ministries.
After a successful five-year pastorate, they were then invited to Bury St. Edmunds in Suffolk. Here the plan was that David as well as pastor of Garland Street, he would include four other village congregations with an associate minister.
As a family they enjoyed the happiest period of their lives.
The church drew its congregation from the market town as well as from the surrounding villages. Preaching was a priority and there was a full programme for all. Over time the congregation grew, and it was a vibrant witness in the town and the county. David became involved with the local Council of Churches to produce a joint magazine and then for the churches with the local authority to establish a new ecumenical church in Southgate.
In 1972 David was asked to become the secretary of the Suffolk Baptist Union and thus he became a member of the Baptist Union Council and chairman of the Ministerial Recognition Committee. All the while the church flourished but David and Pat felt that after 13 years the time had come to move on. There were many offers but the church at Broadstairs was successful in their invitation and they moved there in 1980.
The church responded well to the new leadership. The changed atmosphere benefitted everyone, especially the young people from whom there came a steady stream of requests for baptism so that there was a baptismal service every month.
Hardly had they arrived, and David was asked to be General Superintendent of the Eastern Area and he accepted this new challenge. David and Pat chose to live in Colchester as being central for the churches in his area and with easy access to London. The day they moved was the same day as the birth of their first grandchild.
David’s witty summary of his work as Superintendent was “ministry, money and mayhem.” It was a work both demanding and rewarding. Here the churches found in David a pastor, preacher and peacemaker of the highest calibre.
David, always full of thoughtful ideas, sought to bring all the churches together one day a year and so began a gathering the seeds of which led to what became Leading Edge.
When David and Pat retired from structured ministry it gave him opportunity for other forms of service. They were both highly active in the life of the Colchester Baptist Church helping out at everything from evening Bible studies to washing-up! He was in great demand as a preacher and regularly preached at churches large and small as well as acting as a moderator for many churches in the region. His very great concern for people in need got him involved in Beacon House, a centre for the homeless in Colchester, where he was appointed a trustee and then chairman. His pastoral activities never ceased as he continued to visit and telephone people who were cheered by his kindness to them.
David had a prodigious knowledge of Scripture. He knew the text, understood, and sought the very best way to explain it to his congregation. He always had them in mind which made him an engaging preacher.
He was a man of study, of profound intellect, of prodigious effort and an insightful thinker.
He prayed in his study but also when leading in worship, in the homes of his congregation and hospital bedsides and when he prayed, every one’s soul filled with the light of Christ.
Being a sensitive pastor, he remembered peoples’ names. He had a system for doing that but he never divulged it but we all knew his name was er..., David. (That’s it!)
He and Pat were an example of genuine faith, a loving marriage, wise parents and a couple who knew how to conduct an effective ministry.
There are many more achievements, the virtues of which we can extol without straying into the wilderness of hyperbole but one more. David had time for everyone, and with his characteristic warmth we were privileged to have him as a friend.
The Revd Gregory Marlam and the Revd Terry Tennens