80 years a church member
A Baptist Church member in Luton shows that there need be no such thing as retirement in God's kingdom
In March, Luton Central Baptist Church celebrated a significant anniversary. It had nothing to do with the date of the church building, or a significant event in the church’s history. It was about a man who had joined the church at the age of 15. That was in 1935 and he still remembers the exact date he was baptised – 17 February. A few weeks later he was officially welcomed as a member of the congregation.
Tom Mowers is now 95; he has been a member of Luton Baptist Church for 80 years. That is a special achievement in itself and perhaps he could feel well entitled to take it a bit easy. But what makes it more remarkable is that Mr Mowers is still very much involved in the life of the church. In fact, on his anniversary Sunday, he gave the message.
“I wanted it to be all about Jesus and not about me,” he says.
His life story is certainly an example of what it means to have Jesus at the centre. And it’s an example of what it means to serve.
Although the outbreak of the Second World War interrupted Tom’s involvement in church – he was called up for six and a half years – he has used his gifts in numerous ways throughout his life. (For most of Tom’s early life the church was in a different location to the current one; a merger 30 years ago created one church out of three). He was in charge of the Lifeboys for 23 years (the name at the time for the junior section of the Boys’ Brigade); in 1950 he was president of the Luton Christian Endeavour chapter; he taught in Sunday School and was a deacon for three years before the churches merged. This he combined with being a husband, father and working in his father’s hardware store.
His introduction to preaching and ministry began at just 15, when a teenaged Tom joined Christian Endeavour, an organisation which trains young people for Christ’s work. He found it an excellent foundation for future ministry in the church. “Once a month we had to prepare a paper, then present it from memory, and we were then given feedback. It was great training.”
It was this training that incited his love of preaching. In 1960 he was registered as a lay preacher. “I started off in village churches; the smallest congregation I had was three, the largest was 500.”
Tom’s passion for quality preaching is perhaps best highlighted by his fondest memory to date of his time at the church – the day that Hugh Redwood, a journalist, author and celebrated preacher of the mid-20th century, came to speak. “He came for a Christian Endeavour anniversary,” Mr Mowers recalls. “Every seat was taken. The sermon lasted for one hour and no-one moved. I remember thinking ‘what a shame he’s stopped’. It was real preaching; something happened while it was going on. You felt you had to respond to what he was saying.”
Not only was Tom a lay preacher, he was also a skilled organist. He started playing in 1948 and continues to play today. Last year he even rewrote the music for an old hymn.
“It was from an old Baptist Hymn book with very good words which take you from the cradle to the grave. But the original tune was very sad, written in a minor key. So I wrote a brighter tune.”
Not only was the hymn sung at his anniversary service but a local headmaster whom Tom met when he was playing the organ at a different church taught the song to his school choir. They recently performed it during a service at Tom’s church.
Eighty years on from becoming a member Mr Mowers plays the organ weekly, at one of four churches in the area, and at a praise service at a local nursing home. He preaches three times a year and has just completed writing a training course for lay preachers. “It’s not theological stuff but practical, drawn from 50 years of experience. It was good for me. A good mental exercise.”
In those 50 years, Tom has seemingly just got on with living a life of faith, being obedient to what God is calling him to. “We need to show people through our lives what being a Christian is all about,” says Tom. “We’re not going to win anyone over by arguing.”
Tom tells the story of how, recently, friends of his were at a wedding in the north of England. When the vicar found out they were from Luton she asked if they knew Tom. She told them that he is the reason she became a Christian. “That was 50 years ago,” explains Tom with some surprise. “I never knew. You don’t know the influence you might have on someone.”
“I don’t need any persuasion that the Lord is real,” Tom confesses. “I’m aware of it every day. I’ve had so many blessings over which I’ve had no control. I know in my spirit that God is not far from me.”
One of those blessings was his wife Betty whom he married in 1954. Sadly she died a year off their 50th wedding anniversary. When asked for his favourite Bible verse, Tom quotes Psalm 4:8 because his wife used to read it each night before they went to sleep.
‘In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.’
“When you’re sleeping you’re in God’s hands,” says Tom. “If you wake up you’re still in his hands. And even if you don’t wake up you’re still in God’s hands.”