The Revd Reginald Charles Dalton: 1922-2014
'A gracious servant of God who knew that each are called by God to bring their unique gifts to the service of the Master'
I am grateful to Reg’s family for the opportunity to record a little of his life and service as tribute to a true gentleman, caring pastor and loving family man. I have been greatly helped in the task by having a copy of his autobiographical memoirs, This is My Life written in 1998.
His early years were spent in South Woodford and Wanstead, and he speaks fondly of growing up with his brother David and sister Edna in a loving and Godly home. Reg remembers the family being involved in the Baptist Church in George Lane, South Woodford “from the word go”. His parents were converted and baptised here and so it is no surprise that the whole family soon became fully involved in every aspect of the church’s activities.
At the age of 12 he secured a place at the Coopers Company School at Bow, and so followed his father who had attended the same school in the early 1900s. It was during this same year that Reg recalls his decision to follow Christ. He remembers with fondness a ‘special’ Sunday School teacher Jean McDermid: her telling the story of Jesus dying in Barabbas’ place was the moment Reg knew his need of Jesus as His own personal Saviour. He was baptised 2 years later at the age of 14, and became a church member at age 16, the year he left school.
He remembers that his baptism had a profound effect on his behaviour, especially at school. Reg says that “to love Jesus and to live as He wished was a most natural thing for us children, having lovely Christian parents, with family prayers every Sunday morning a must”.
Life in the YPF and Boys Brigade continued the positive influence on his young life, and he remembers with deep affection the 2 ministers Revs Alan Sears and Herbert Hunter Leaving school in 1938 Reg progressed from office boy to junior audit clerk during the 2 years before enlisting with the RAF. The declaration of war in 1939 obviously brought profound changes to life in London, with memories of the blitz; whilst his brother and sister were evacuated, Reg found himself joining ‘Dad’s Army’, and fire watching at his place of work after the dropping of incendiary bombs. He registered for military service in July 1941, and on his own admission, to avoid the army, he volunteered for the RAF!
It was at this point that he discovered he was colour blind, and that this was called ‘Daltonism’ after the doctor who discovered it. This meant that he was enlisted as an instrument repairer, and with hindsight Reg believed that this was the Lord’s protection; he might have joined aircrew with the dangers that entailed.
Reg remembered being a part of the VE Day celebrations in Trafalgar Square on 8th May 1945, with ‘demob’ for him coming in September 1946. He recalls that the thought of returning to ‘civvy street’ and accountancy, was viewed with ‘uncertainty and even panic’. At the base of Nelson’s Column he offered a prayer; ”What is my life to be? What purpose have You for me?” Little did he know then how God would answer that prayer.
But at the beginning of 1946 Reg began to see God’s answer during his posting overseas, which took him to the Holy Land, and the RAF station only 12 miles from Nazareth! Being in the places associated with the Lord’s earthly ministry was a great thrill for Reg, and must have given him a wonderful preparation for what God had in store for his own ministry. These experiences brought the Bible to life for him. He says of the spiritual impact of this time;
”My life changed, and my aim for the future became clear. God had a plan for my life and He would make it plain to me.”
Initially he wondered if God was calling him to a role teaching RE. After ‘demob’ he returned his old firm of chartered accountants and was offered a two year position as an ‘articled clerk’, to be paid for by the government. He was very unsure about this but on the Sunday before signing the contract someone at church offered the invitation to join him in the wholesale business. So for 18 months Reg found himself, in his own words, “trying to sell things few wanted to buy, a very good training for the ministry!”
Soon after this he met Janet who was to become his life partner; a wonderful wife and mother, and a tremendous support through his entire ministry.
The call that Reg was expecting came soon after through the preacher one Sunday at Claybury Park Baptist Church, the Revd Eric Worstead a tutor at Spurgeon’s College. Reg asked Jan if she would wait for him to finish college; she did not give him an immediate answer, but when it came it must have been ‘yes’! Reg entered Spurgeon’s College in September 1948, and in 1951, his last year at College, Reg & Jan were married at their home church, George Lane Baptist, South Woodford. The Revd Herbert Hunter officiated and the Revd Eric Worstead gave the address.
Reg was ordained by Dr F Cawley, and received a unanimous call to his first pastorate at Chiswick Baptist Church in June 1952.
Straight from college Reg remembers the ‘shock’ of having to prepare two new sermons each week, and a Bible study for the midweek prayer meeting. However he remembers the time at Chiswick as both ‘hard and rewarding’. It was whilst here that Reg was challenged over the work of the Holy Spirit; a personal challenge that was to lead him to ‘seek and to find’ God’s blessing in the years ahead. Together with Jan who began a girl’s Bible Class, they developed a YPF, and soon rejoiced in seeing young people commit their lives to Christ and be baptised. It was during the years of this pastorate that their children were born; Martin in 1953 and Susan in 1956.
The church also received blessing through its involvement with the Billy Graham Crusade of 1954, seeing the building filled for one event and 12 people respond to the call for commitment to Christ.
There came a time however, when Reg felt God calling him to move to a new challenge. This led to an invitation from Claremont Free Church (Baptist) to become their minister. The family moved to the Golders Green Estate, Cricklewood, North London in May 1957.
Because of its establishment as a Free Church, members had come from a variety of church backgrounds, but not all evangelical. Reg encountered some tough situations theologically over such issues as the divinity of Christ and his vicarious death. Through much prayer and the support of faithful believers, Reg saw blessing in the form of baptisms, and people coming into church membership. This helped to bring a balance with the hurts that Reg and Janet suffered in these days..
Reg says that it was “(here) that I had to face up to what is really basic in the life and witness of the church, and it was later in my next church that I saw how God had been preparing me.”
The call to Claremount was for five years only and Reg reflects that “some would be glad to see us go at the end of that period.”
Around this time Reg & Jan contemplated moving to Wales – New South Wales in Australia! Despite the inducement of a £10 ticket, God had other plans, and Reg visited West Wickham and Shirley Baptist Church in South East London. Initially he thought nothing would come of it as they were already approaching someone else.
But the call came. Reg says, “So as Claremont voted me out, West Wickham voted me in, and for us began the happiest time any minister could hope for in service for the Master.”
They moved in 1962, little knowing that they would remain there for 25 years until Reg’s retirement. Reg recalls the work prospered ‘from the word go’, and from a membership of 120 in 1962, grew to 350 over the 25 years.
During his first pastorate at Chiswick Reg had been challenged about the person and work of the Holy Spirit and in 1965 this ‘came to a head’ for him. He was reflecting on his limited academic abilities, and during the lead up to Easter spent three months earnestly at prayer. On Good Friday in his morning devotions he recalls that “it seemed that God said ‘Take it’, and my being was flooded with joy, and I praised Him as never before. I could now understand Peter when he said ‘We rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1 v 8).”
It did not matter if it was called the ‘baptism of the Spirit’, or a ‘Second Blessing’, or ‘Fullness’, what did matter was that it met his need and transformed his ministry. He remembers with fondness, Mrs Knight, back in Chiswick who first challenged him about the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.
Growth in the church followed, not only numerically, but spiritually, with a thriving YPF and Brigades. Extensions to the building were completed, and God’s blessing on the fellowship was evident.
Youth holidays and church houseparties became much loved and fondly remembered parts of church life for all those fortunate enough to be involved.
Alongside the ministry within the fellowship Reg became involved as Free Church Chaplain at the local Bethlem Royal Psychiatric Hospital, resulting in many conversations, and God’s comfort being brought to troubled minds.
In 1981 I was privileged to join Reg on the pastoral team, and work with him until his retirement in May 1987. This was to extend the churches work and witness on the local Shrublands Estate, and would lead shortly after his retirement to the planting of Shrublands Christian Fellowship.
It was during this time that Reg would regularly challenge us about our personal witness for Christ. He had joined the board of the Pocket Testament League, and carried their John’s Gospels wherever he went – and wanted to make sure we did the same. He became chairman of their board of directors, and through his challenge, I too joined the board.
Reg also served the wider Baptist community as President of the London Baptist Association in 1979, Moderator for two local churches looking for new ministers, President of the East Surrey Group on 2 occasions, and President of Spurgeon’s College Conference in June 1981. He also served or several years on Spurgeon’s College Council.
Reg will be remembered by many as a faithful preacher of God’s word, and a loving pastor to those God placed in his care. This same love was shown at home, and we remember him as a loving and faithful husband, father and grandfather. His latter years were affected by ill health, which he bore stoically, and we give thanks to God for the way Janet cared for him until the last. Both Reg and Jan have been blessed by the warmth of the fellowship they settled in at Findon Valley Free Church.
For Reg family life and the family of the church would always be of supreme importance in his life.
If I might be permitted a personal comment, I will always remember his words of encouragement to me as I set out on the road of pastoral ministry; “Always be yourself.”
That might not seem a suitable way to conclude this tribute, but I believe sums up this gracious servant of God.
He knew that each are called by God to bring their unique gifts to the service of the Master, and he led us by personal example in this.
The Revd Graham R Woolgar
Brighton Road Baptist Church