The Revd Basil Amey: 1928-2014
Basil William Oliver Amey was born in 1928 in the Surrey town of New Malden. He and his two sisters worshipped with their parents at the Baptist Church. It was there Basil came to faith in our Lord, was baptised and became a church member, and his father became Church Secretary.
Throughout Basil’s formative years Frank Fitzsimmonds was the minister of the church and soon Basil sensed the call of God into Christian ministry. He entered Spurgeon’s College in 1950 where he early showed that independency of mind which, allied to his popularity and his well ordered way of life, led to his being elected Student Secretary.
Meanwhile his friendship with Barbara Hicks, also a member at New Malden, flourished, and they married in 1954. They then moved to the first pastorate, the joint care of Upwell and Stow Bridge, then known as rural Lincolnshire. In 1959 they moved to the city of Bristol, when Basil became minister at East Street. It was whilst they were there that their three daughters, Karen, Katherine and Katrina, were born.
When the General Committee of the Baptist Missionary Society decided to hold its meeting in Bristol, Basil was asked to take responsibility for local arrangements and his abilities led him to become a full time member of the Society’s staff, then based at Gloucester Place, London. In his eleven years there, 1965-1976, he served as Assistant Home Secretary and Editor of the various publications.
Then, in 1976, he left the BMS and for three years served on the staff of the Conference of Missionary Societies until, for a further period of eleven years, he served as Assistant General Secretary to the British Council of Churches (BCC). In the later years of that time he prepared the BCC for its own demise in favour of the Churches Together … ecumenical instruments of which the Roman Catholic Church became a full member.
Basil and Barbara, who herself was on the staff of the Free Church Federal Council, had made their home in Harrow, Middlesex, and became members of College Road. After he completed his service with the BCC, Basil became minister at College Road for three years until 1993, and thereafter they remained as loyal church members there.
Many people continued to benefit from Basil’s wisdom and involvement in the next twenty years. Numbers of churches in north London were grateful for his services as Moderator during pastoral vacancies. Amongst other work to which he gave his time and expertise were the Baptist Historical Society and the Retired Baptist Ministers Housing Association.
As health permitted Basil and Barbara enjoyed travel, though perhaps they found greatest pleasure in the simple things at home – reading, gardening and, above all, enjoying the family, especially the grandchildren. Although the family members saw the signs of Basil’s failing health, to others his last illness was brief and he left us in 2014.
We remember him as a man of constancy, of careful thought and judgement, of trustworthiness, of integrity, of wide interests, of humour but above all of abounding trust in the goodness of God whom he served so faithfully for so long. We commend to the grace of that same Heavenly Father Barbara, and all those who will miss Basil most.
Basil Amey - a memoir by the Revd R J Gardiner
Basil was a friend of ministers, a friend of churches and a loyal and committed servant of Jesus Christ. In particular, Harrow Baptist Church (or College Road) as Basil usually called it, owed him a huge debt of gratitude for the selfless service that Basil gave it over the years. But not just Harrow: Basil undertook moderatorships of some 17 or 18 churches in the North West district. No-one knew the churches of the district as well as he did from Pinner to Acton, Cricklewood to Kingsbury. He knew the secretaries, the treasurers, the ministers and large numbers of ordinary members.
It was so ironic that Basil became a bit deaf in his late years, because no-one was a better listener than he was. He also had a phenomenal memory. This was a wonderful asset in pastoral work at which he was so sensitive. It also enabled him to be one of the best chairmen of meetings I have ever encountered. Only Neville Clark stood comparison with him. His ability to sum up a discussion – find a consensus if there was one, or alternatively tease out where the difficulty lay, was quite uncanny.
When difficult decisions had to be made, he grasped them and made them – but so graciously that the minimum of damage was done either in terms of disappointment or perceived victory. Whenever the church had a major piece of work to be done I had no hesitation in suggesting Basil to chair the working party. And the job was always well done. When we looked for a chair for the working party planning the bi-centenary Basil was the obvious choice. But with typical deference to minister and deacons, he insisted that having drawn up the strategy for 2006, he should leave the implementation to others. He had no desire to seize control of the project.
He was a fine historian. In the last few years that I knew him I would suggest that there was scarcely anyone left in the denomination with so long and clear a memory of Baptist life, both in the Union and in the Missionary Society. He wrote an excellent workbook for the 200th anniversary of the BMS, successfully updated the old history of College Road, wrote a number of significant articles for the Baptist Quarterly, and spent many years researching and writing his unfinished history of the Free Church Federal Council.
He had a fund of anecdotes going back 70 years or more, and was able to give a marvellously lively but accurate reflection of an event or a sermon, or a constitutional issue that he had witnessed or read about many years ago. He knew the old congregation at College Road supremely well, and whenever I wanted to get to the bottom of an issue that seemed to be troubling someone – or that I felt I needed to know the background to, Basil was a well nigh infallible source of information and wisdom. And what he was to me in Harrow, because of his encyclopaedic knowledge of the North West district of London, he was also to those who drew alongside him in the monthly ministers’ meetings. And all this he managed to achieve with the utmost discretion. So that I felt I could confide in him with complete assurance that it would go no further.
Basil’s conduct of worship was what he would have called traditional. He liked extempore prayer: the old hymns: indeed the old hymn sandwich. He had no love of screen and power point. But during my ministry, he loyally came morning and evening on Sundays. Sometimes I think he preferred the evening service, which was more traditional ‘50s Baptist, with a more exegetical sermon, to the more liturgical morning worship.
If I needed a Sunday off he was always prepared to stand in for me. But he was a popular preacher throughout the area – not just in Baptist churches, but also in St Johns Congregational, Kenton, and Trinity. Basil’s preaching style was quietly stretching. He was no Donald Wolfitt in the pulpit. But his sermons were clear, concise and often more challenging than they sounded. His prayers penetrated to the core of concern. Basil’s large study was full to overflowing with books: he avidly read the expository times, a periodical designed to keep busy pastors up to date in theology with reviews and articles and sermons on the lectionary: he had a complete set of Baptist Quarterly going back to the very origins of the publication. He kept up to date with commentaries and Biblical studies. All this, and his pastoral ear informed the way he led worship.
Before I came to College Road in 1998, Basil submitted a paper to the deacons calling for a more radical use of the church’s financial resources. This again was typical of him. Having served so many churches he knew that College Road was in a comparatively strong financial position in comparison with others. He was concerned that the church was leaning back on its assets more than living by faith and knowing that raising that issue would be unpopular in some quarters he wanted to deal with it before a new minister came in. He apologized to me that he had not been able to see through the reforms before I came.
As it happened the big readjustment in the stock market and the flatlining, if not fall, in commercial property values, and the stabilization of commercial rents made some of the reforms no longer relevant. Above all the acquiring of the neighbouring post office sorting office by Dandara and concerns about the potential costs of redevelopment put radical decisions about restructuring the finances on the back burner.
Basil had worked for some years in the British Council of Churches and was thoroughly knowledgeable about ecumenical matters too. He served on the Ecumenical Steering Group of the North West London diocese, and regularly supported all the ecumenical functions it and the Council of Churches in Harrow arranged. When that latter organization was looking to restructure itself, Basil was immediately brought in as facilitator. There are some nuts, though, too tight for any amount of WD40 to loosen them. This sadly was one of those.
Basil loved his garden. When the Sunday School had about 40 names on its registers, Basil and Barbara gave a barbecue every summer for all age groups, with lots of fun and games for the children while Basil stood behind the barbecue cooking and serving excellent food for all. When the Sunday School was no longer so strong, he similarly entertained the ministers of the North West Region with equal generosity.
Fairly early in my ministry I invited Basil and Barbara to dinner at the manse. After dinner, Basil and I retired to the lounge for a private chat; I felt that I was never going to be able to unite the church and that the lobby which wanted a more charismatic worship style than I had the gifts to bring, and which a large number of people in the church did not want anyway, would never be happy to support me and that therefore I should look for another church. Basil quietly said to me, “I was hoping that you were going to provide the church with the long sustained ministry that it needs.” I was astounded. I pointed out my age. He said, “There are 14 years before you retire.” Of course the period of Norman’s captivity was seminal. And strangely the last 6 were the best years of ministry I enjoyed.
Much of Basil’s life was spent serving, in one capacity or another, the BMS. He had friends all over the globe. When the Mizoram choir came to Harrow at the time of Baptist World Alliance Assembly in Birmingham, Basil told me about how he had preached to thousands in a stadium, in that most Christian of states. The affection, in which he was held by the most senior members of that touring party, was evident to all.
It was people like Basil who never allowed any church with which he was associated to become inward looking, or proud of its self-sufficiency. For all the effort and skill with which Basil blessed the churches he served ultimately he was focused on the kingdom of God, as it impinged on individuals, churches, denominations, and the world. I remember having a typical conversation after an evening service with him just after the outrage of 9:11. G W Bush had that day made a call “for a war on terror”. Basil with that elegant logic which informed all his comment, said simply, ”How can you make war on terror? That way you can only increase it.”
This does not pretend to be an adequate obituary of Basil. 70 years of his life had gone before I knew him. I hope others will be better placed to write authoritatively about some of those. But may I be permitted just one more observation? From my observation I was most impressed by the way he and Barbara worked as a team: by the way Basil encouraged her to develop her gifts. He was so encouraging too of his grandchildren and supportive of more elderly members of his family. Committed as he was to the kingdom, that kingdom needed to come in his own family first. Basil did all that he could as well as he could; and that service of love began at home.
Memoir compiled by the Revd R J Gardiner