Life of Methodist and missionary is celebrated
2010: Former missionary and well-known Norfolk Methodist minister Rev Stuart Luckcock died on February 17, 2010. Rev Andrew King, Superintendent of the Mid Norfolk Methodist Circuit, paid tribute at thanksgiving service on Saturday March 6, at Trinity Methodist Church, Dereham.
Revd Stuart Sydney Luckcock (28th May 1908 – 17th February 2010)
Today we come to celebrate and rejoice in the hope of the Christian faith as we remember and give thanks to God for the life and ministry of the Revd Stuart Sydney Luckcock.
Today we give testimony to the grace and love of God recalling how God used one of his most humble servants; these are Stuart’s own words, in such a wonderful and powerful way that through Stuart, the saving power of the Gospel impacted upon the lives of so many.
Stuart was born on the 28th May 1908 in Muswell Hill, North London, the eldest of five children to Sidney George and Emily Luckcock. He was baptised as an infant at the local Congregational Church on Alexandra Park Road.
Stuart always could recall many memories from those years such as how he would hide behind the sofa bed because he was so shy (we my find that hard to believe today!), how he tumbled down the stairs and was badly hurt, yet he was saved from the ordeal like a young Wesley “ a brand plucked” for a divine purpose. How his grandma taught him bedtime prayers, and sent him to chapel Sunday school, and of course his first girlfriends!
The Christian faith was taught and caught by Stuart from a young boy. Stuart said, “I came to love going to Sunday school and church. It was not long before I began to compare sermons and sometimes I found myself thinking ‘I can do better than that’! I knew God had given me a good strong speaking voice.” His call to preach came in his bedroom one night alone when he became aware of being surrounded by a dazzling light as Jesus drew near to him; and at the age of 17 he was challenged to take up preaching and he did – preaching on Luke 5:4 “He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.”
Preaching remained a passion of Stuart right up to the end of his life. It is said that if the house was burning down or the ship was sinking, the first thing Stuart would grab to save would be his boxes full of sermons. Each sermon numbered, with text and theme highlighted, listing each occasion it was preached. Stuart spoke with conviction and power yet he always found the construction and preparation difficult. When he took his last service on the Methodist plan 80 years later at Toftwood, his text was “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: you will find rest for your souls.” I’m privileged to have been given a copy of his final sermon preached in Eckling Grange in December 2007 to mark the 300th anniversary of the birth of Charles Wesley when Stuart was only five months off his 100th birthday. His voice was still clear, speech fluent, impassioned in proclaiming his Saviour and Lord to all, and not afraid to be controversial especially when he called John Wesley “a silly ass” for not proposing sooner to his loved one in America!
Since Stuart had taken commercial subjects at school including book keeping and accountancy he applied for a job with Barclays Bank and he took their selection test. To date he is still awaiting their call and the outcome of his test results! Instead he went to work for Treaty Reinsurance in the Salvage Corps at their office on the Strand where he began studying for the National Insurance Institute qualifications. During these 4 and a half years Stuart made lots of friends but he always resisted joining their betting syndicates for the Grand National and the Derby. Interestingly his job involved making many contacts and friends with overseas clients including from Asian countries especially India; as during this time Stuart explored the call to the Ordained ministry of Word and Sacrament. He was accepted for the Methodist ministry and trained at Didsbury College, Manchester and at Headingly College, Leeds, which was especially geared to preaching.
The summer of 1932 was the year of Methodist Union and being one of the last Wesleyan Student ministers to be trained, he was then ordained that September at Southfields Central Hall, London, before taking his first PandO liner bound for India. For Stuart this was a dream come true and the answer to a call that was first heard at Sunday School, when his Sunday School Superintendent frequently brought overseas speakers to talk to the children, whilst he collected fervently for the work of JMA.
Stuart heard of a great work of the Holy Spirit in India where a mass movement of new converts had turned to Christ; and he wished to be a part of it. It was Madras where Stuart was to be stationed as one of 20 MMS missionaries in the Madras District. His first task was to learn Tamil, which is said to be the third hardest language in the world. Stuart set annual exams for three years and not being a linguist he struggled. He got the required pass mark but preaching in Tamil was hard. However once again Stuart is a testimony to the amazing power of God, for after seven years in India, God opened up for him easier communication. His command of the language never left him and when we returned from Tamil Nadu in 2007 I showed him a photo of the church foundation stone in Tamil and Stuart read every single word!
During those early years in India Stuart combined preaching in the Madras English Circuit with his work at the Evangelists’ Training Institute; and then assisting at a boys boarding home where he taught at Tiruvellur High School whilst helping the Rev Harrison in village work at Ikkadu. However it was not all work for Stuart and during the hottest months, leave was taken in the cool of the hills, and here he was to meet Janet Ryder-Smith, daughter of the famous Professor and Principal of Richmond College. Stuart escorted her on various walks and they went punting on the Kodai Lake.
He said, “I was amazed to find that so beautiful and talented a woman, from such a different background to my own, was willing to become my wife. I was head over heels in love with her.” This passionate love Stuart had for Janet he never lost and I found it beautiful that even when Stuart and Janet were both in their 90s, he would embrace Janet just like a love-struck teenager.
They were engaged in 1937 and married the following year in the chapel of Royapetta Girls High School in Madras where Janet was the vice-principal. The wedding day itself was a bit unusual since Janet had to rise early to clean the chapel floor because it was in a bit of state, whilst Stuart had to rouse his best man who had slept in. Their first home together was at St. Thomas Mount just outside the city of Madras, whilst Stuart served again in the Madras English Circuit for a further year.
In 1939 their eldest Francis was born, but with the outbreak of World War Two, the family returned home in December 1939. Stuart was then sent to the Channel Islands but returned to the mainland just before they were captured by the Germans. Their eldest daughter Clare was born in London during the blitz whilst at Raynes Park, Wimbledon; and then Stuart returned to India alone leaving Janet and his young family in the UK as he ministered in the Poonamalee Tamil Circuit as well as being a voluntary chaplain to the regiments.
Another furlough resulted in Stuart taking pastoral charge of Cottenham Park, in the Upper Tooting Circuit; before moving to Coleford in the Forest of Dean Circuit where he stayed until the end of the war. I have with me the sermon Stuart preached on the 8th May 1945 – VE Day – giving thanks to God for the end of the war in Europe.
Returning to India from 1945 to 1949, Stuart went back to the Guindy Evangelists’ Training Institution but this time as the Vice-Principal teaching the Gospels and the Epistles in Tamil. These immediate post-war years brought tremendous change and Stuart and Janet were aware of the tensions leading up to Indian independence; for example messages were pinned to the gate of their house saying “Go Home” or “Depart” but Stuart remained firm under pressure even to a pleading note saying “Please go home Mr Luckcock.”
Independence did come which meant for Stuart another first. Not just was he one of the very first ministers ordained after Methodist Union, he became from its inception a Presbyter of the Church of South India being at the uniting service held in St George’s Cathedral, Madras. Stuart took great satisfaction that many of the lay evangelists he helped to train went on to become bishops of the CSI.
Training of others was a strong emphasis in Stuart’s ministry, and his greatest joy was seeing new converts baptised and new congregations established in previously non-Christian areas. Stuart ministered in India on three further occasions: between 1951-53 in the Madras diocese where he undertook village evangelism and was manager of a boys’ boarding school; from 1961-64 in the Coimbatore Diocese of the CSI where he was Diocesan Secretary for Lay Preacher Training holding monthly training camps in various parts of the Diocese, plus helping ministers in their Tea Estate Circuits plus chaplaincies.
His final return to his beloved India was to Coimbatore again between 1970-74 as the Diocesan secretary for Lay Preacher training, and he was secretary to the South India Language Board.
Stuart also had a varied and fruitful ministry in the English circuits; after London it was total change looking after 14 rural chapels in the Forest of Dean Mission, relying on his 24cc power bike to get him around. Stuart was very fond of his bikes and one in particular was lovingly called Jemima. In Bath had he one central and one suburban church, and a hospital chaplaincy at the Royal United Hospital.
Between 1953-56 he was at Totnes, Devon, looking after the town church and rural chapels scattered in rolling farmland by the River Dart. Another passion of Stuart’s ministry was the delight of working with young people and to see them come to faith. One youngster from those Totnes days is now the Revd George Courtney, who shares these memories:
“Janet and Stuart started a Manse Fellowship after evening worship and up to 18 of us would invade the Manse. From this group came initially five Local Preachers (one fell by the way side when she married a Baptist but went on the become a Leader in her church in Paignton). The other lady is still preaching as far as I know in the Totnes area, another lives in Bridlington and I think still preaches and another went on to Cliff College and has since been fully involved in another Christian Ministry.
The fifth one is me, and Stuart inspired me to become a Methodist Minister through his love for Jesus which shone in his whole life. (Stuart was one of the officiating Ministers at my Ordination in 1969) Janet encouraged me to go to Cliff College to help get some understanding of the Bible and Christian teachings. Things progressed and in 1963 Methodism accepted me for training and until my enforced retirement exercised my Ministry around the connexion. Stuart and Janet have always been regarded as my mother and father in God and I will always be grateful that they came to Totnes. So, one a manse fellowship was started and two, I was led into the Ministry. Stuart also led some super Youth Camps for the Buckfastleigh Circuit and we all had a great time.”
In Hartlepool, between 1965-70, Stuart was the Superintendent Minister, and many probationers were nurtured by Stuart and Janet including Malcolm Braddy a former Chair of the East Anglia District. Malcolm who cannot be here today but remembers Stuart with much love and fondness, and remarks that there now are many Hallelujahs being rang out in heaven!
Away from ministry Stuart was a man of many parts, and these wise words are for all of us especially ministers: “I just don’t know how I came to do so many things in my spare time, because missionary and ministry life has been so busy; or maybe it was my attempt to achieve balance.” From a child Stuart loved Scouting, and he became a patrol leader. He loved making models including toys, and an extension of this was how Stuart turned the bungalow and then his room into a Christmas grotto every year, with the lovely things he had like the carousel down to home made cribs made out of old tissue boxes. Amateur dramatics and comic operas with Janet; not forgetting what was called “Manse Frolics” at Bath where concerts were put on to raise funds to refurbish the circuit manses, and in one act Janet came as Katherine Parr whilst Stuart was King Henry the Eighth!
Gardening was another big thing whether in India or the UK, and his children remember Dad always having a shovel and bucket in the car whilst out visiting just in case he came across horse manure on the way which he would scoop up and take back to tend to his roses. In retirement the garden at their home called Longford on Runton Road, Cromer was created into a blaze of colour. You would see him trimming the lawn’s edges with scissors it to get it just right. At the Grange, Stuart cared for what he called the pudding, the circular garden at the back of the bungalow. I remember his prized geraniums, and even in his late 90s how he could still bend over and plug in the lawn mower to cut the grass.
I could say more about photography, and lantern slides created for his many missionary deputations, painting in water colours and oils which he developed in India. His “Rotang Pass” painted in the western Himalayas which hanged on his bedroom wall. Stuart even though fall of life and love was also mild and unassuming, which was seen in the way you never saw him complain and the positive way he approached life and his faith, yet he would show his demonstrative side whilst in preaching and when confronting social issues. He was a life long campaigner against alcohol abuse and gambling, and he would challenge newsagents over some of the magazines they had on sale that would degrade women. Most of all he was a notorious campaigner against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and in the 1980s he joined a party of “wire cutters” at Lakenheath were he was taken to the local police station, charged, given a warning and fined.
Yet Stuart for all his remonstrating believed in reconciliation and forgiveness. Sometimes Janet told him off for being too strong in his approach, and Stuart immediately sought forgiveness from the one he was in discussion with. On an occasion in India when tempers flared between church leaders at Synod, Stuart fell to the floor and grasped the feet of the protagonist in order to restore relations. Stuart was also a globe trotter, and with family members spread far and wide he visited them in places such as Cyprus, Spain and South Africa. He did ministerial exchanges in Ireland and the USA, visits to nations whilst on route to India; and to America travelling by Greyhound bus across the states at the age of 77; not forgetting the most memorable holiday with Janet as she researched her PhD by travelling to Australia and the Pacific islands, which included for Stuart preaching in the royal chapel with the king of Tonga in the congregation.
Retirement to Cromer and then to Dereham at Eckling Grange resulted in new interests, including allowing more time to be with the family. Stuart and Janet had four children in total, the youngest two being Bernard, like his brother born in India, and Susie born in the UK. Each child, grandchild and great grandchild was greeted with such joy, and regular contact was always relished. To mark Stuart’s birthdays, including his 100th and 101st the Scout hut at Toftwood was hired for the day and the whole clan descended.
Looking back upon such a long life and ministry perhaps these things summarised Stuart’s longings and the source of his prayers. That the church in the UK, especially Methodism, will become responsive to the expansion of the Christian faith to evangelism as it was in India, rather than just trying to “hold the line” against secularism. He encouraged his churches to engage in crusades and local evangelism. Stuart saw the gifts of leadership to be used to resource mission rather than to manage decline. He was committed to training lay people for evangelism and preaching, and to ecumenicism. He believed in cross-cultural mission and he was strongly against narrow nationalism. He was youth oriented and would challenge my ministry to develop upon the many baptisms we have into creating young people committed to the Lord and membership of the church.
Meticulous in presentation, yet humble in service since Stuart later reflected on his ministry by saying, “Once as a young man I thought; “What can I do for God?” but later I came to realise that truth is “What God can do for me.” Socially conscious, Stuart very much saw his ministry as a partnership with Janet. Also he saw an urgency to get back to basics: firstly his thinking and his impetus was evangelical and that the Divine Commission was mandatory and pressing now as ever. Secondly he yearned for a return to Wesley’s class meetings centred on Word, prayer and worship to deepen fellowship, and he would be an advocate of Cell Church. Thirdly, he and Janet came under the strong influence of the Fountain Trust which led them to seek a move of the Holy Spirit within Methodism and they supported Charismatics within the connexion. He earnestly desired the wider use of gifts within the Methodist Church especially in worship.
Life in the grange – A rascal on a Rascal
Final communion and covenant service
Praying together before being called home 17th February 2010.