The Revd Clifford James Thomas: 1927-2020
A fine preacher, and a pastor who cared for people both in and outside the church, Cliff was warm and affable, always ready to engage with others in sharing Christian faith
Born in Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, on 9 February 1927 to Graham and Gladys (née Morgan) Thomas, Cliff had two older sisters, Joyce and Edna. When he was seventeen years of age, Cliff’s mother died and later, when his father married again, Cliff had three step-sisters, Audrey, Ceridwen and Gwyneth. Brought up in Ebbw Vale, Cliff’s early education was at the Briery Hill School. He then went to the grammar school in Ebbw Vale.
When he was a child, Cliff was taken by a neighbour to Zion Baptist Church in Briery Hill, Ebbw Vale. Here, Cliff came under the influence of the Revd M. J. Williams and then the Revd N. Leslie Stokes, both of whom helped to form his understanding of Christian faith. He was baptised and received into membership of the congregation at Zion when he was 15 years old. Believing that he was called to ministry (a conviction that was confirmed by the congregation meeting at Zion), Cliff went to the Baptist College in Cardiff where he spent a year before he withdrew from his studies in order to do his national service. Joining the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm as a radio mechanic, Cliff was stationed at Skegness, Warrington and Inverness. When he had completed his national service, he returned to the College in Cardiff for ministerial training and, beginning the course again, he completed his studies (BA, BD degrees) in 1954.
While he was a student in College, he went most weekends (riding a Norton 350 motor bike) to preach to congregations in the Welsh valleys. It was during this time that he met Grace (née Chard), a bright, deeply committed Christian young person. She was only 15 and he was 21, but three years later, when she was 18, they were engaged to be married. When he completed his course in College, Cliff sold the motorbike (in order to help pay for the wedding), and they married on 17 July 1954. Cliff and Grace moved to Abertillery where they served among the Blaenau Gwent Baptist congregation from 1954 to 1964.
They then moved to Neath (now with two young children, Karis and Mark) where Cliff served as pastor of Orchard Place Baptist Church from 1964 to 1992. In retirement, Cliff served as pastor of Ebenezer English Baptist Church, Herbert Road, Melincryddan, Neath from 1993 to 2010.
Cliff was warm and affable, and always ready to engage with others in sharing Christian faith. He served as President of Christian Endeavour while in Abertillery and, in many other ways, always tried to bring the Gospel to bear on day-to-day life. Likewise, in Neath he was known as a fine preacher, and a pastor who cared for people both in and outside the church. His love for preaching and concern for others was evident by the fact that for many years, on a Sunday afternoon, he could often be found preaching to small congregations in the valleys; he exercised a special pastoral role among those who worshipped at Bethany Baptist Chapel in Seven Sisters. The manse in London Road, Neath, had an open door to others as Grace and Cliff welcomed friends and strangers who came needing help or advice. For a few years, Cliff, also, taught English as a second language to international students at Neath Technical College, and students benefitted from the kindness and wit of ‘Snowy’, as they affectionately called him.
Cliff’s contribution to denominational life stretched beyond Neath. Together, Grace and Cliff were involved in the BMS (now BMS World Mission) summer schools that met at Cilgwyn and Wotton-under-Edge. He also served as Vice-President (1976-77) and President (1977-78) of the West Wales (West Glamorgan) Association and then, as Secretary of the Association from 1984 until the change of association structures in 2002. During his time as Association Secretary, he served on the Council of the South Wales Baptist College in Cardiff. He also represented Baptists in West Wales at the Council meetings of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. On a local level, he always encouraged ecumenical endeavours and supported Christian organisations in Neath, such as the Neath Ministers’ Fraternal, the Free Church Council, the Sunday School Union, and Churches Together in Neath.
Those who knew him as a pastor appreciated his good-natured conversation, and valued his wise counsel and comfort in times of trouble. His colleagues in ministry knew that they could speak confidentially to him, and he could be trusted to listen and then, with care and humour, offer them support and guidance in difficult moments. People of all faiths, and none, appreciated his openness to others, as well as his kindness and care. Many owe their development in faith and in ministry to his kindly, but insistent challenge that issues of faith must be wrestled with, and the truth of God’s love must be demonstrated in the world. His much loved and oft-quoted benediction, ‘God bless us all’, will stay with many who were encouraged and helped by his ministry. While he will be much missed by his family and all who knew him, there is cause for great thanksgiving to God for the life and witness to Christ, over so many years, of the Revd Clifford J. Thomas.
K. E. Smith