The Revd Tasker Rhydwyn Lewis: 1925-2019
With the death, aged 94, of Tasker R Lewis, Yorkshire Baptists and the Northern Baptist College community have lost an outstanding minister and a loyal supporter of the work of the College. He is remembered with deep affection, especially in Yorkshire, where he worked and ministered for many years
Tasker was the third child of Jack and Bronwen Lewis, who were married in 1917 in Calfaria Baptist Chapel, Aberdare. The Lewis family were part of the mining community, though Tasker was named after an uncle who was a Baptist pastor. Tasker grew up learning both English and Welsh and the Welsh lilt never left his voice. His father died when Tasker was quite young and the strong male influence in his life was his grandfather, who suffered from silicosis as a result of mining and also died while Tasker was still young.
The family moved to West Bridgford, Nottingham, in 1936 as his older brother had found work there and his Auntie Nan had secured a teaching post. The church at West Bridgeford, to which they attached themselves, had a succession of Rawdon trained ministers and when Tasker felt a call to ministry it was to Rawdon he applied. After education at Nottingham High School Tasker was called up for national service and was stationed in Egypt, but Dr Underwood, Principal of Rawdon College, obtained him early demobilisation to begin his ministerial studies. He was followed shortly after by Jim Grenfell from Hunslet Baptist Tabernacle, who was to serve for many years with the BMS in Congo. They remained lifelong friends.
Life at Rawdon involved student preaches in the small chapels of the Pennine Valleys, most of which are now closed. Tasker retained a life-long affection for these causes clinging to the backbone of the Pennines and was always delighted to be invited to preach in them, from Dronfield in the south, through the Calder, Aire and Wharfe valleys to the mining communities of Durham and the historic border church at Hexham.
In 1948, while still a student at Rawdon, Tasker met Brenda at a Blenheim Baptist Church, Leeds, centenary event. Brenda was from Oldham and completing training at Beckets Park College (now Leeds Metropolitan University). At that time the Blenheim pastor was a young H Howard Williams, a man with a strong social conscience, an attribute that Tasker shared. On completion of his training, Brenda and Tasker were married and he was called to Woodseats Baptist Church in Sheffield in 1951. He entered fully into Sheffield Baptist life and, in due course, life in the YBA, serving on the Commission of Christian Witness and later becoming Association President. He supported the work of the legendary YBA Campaign Camp for young people, serving on the Team and then as Leader. His encouragement of young people proved an example which encouraged several into ministry and missionary service.
In 1958 he moved to Harehills Lane, Leeds where he did some part-time chaplaincy work in the Chapel Allerton hospital. In 1963 he moved to New North Road, Huddersfield, where he served during the demolition of the gothic-style buildings, the site being needed for the inner ring road and the building of the suite of contemporary chapel buildings which have served the church well in its central Huddersfield work. In Huddersfield he performed a part time chaplaincy role at Storthes Hall Hospital, one of the large psychiatric hospitals, and he deeply valued the ministry there. Engagement with the patients at Storthes Hall provided a feast of amusing anecdotes which Tasker would tell in gatherings of ministers in a gentle whimsical way to the delight of all.
In 1976 he was called to another central church, Blenheim in Leeds, where again he faced the challenge of how to adapt a large gothic structure for modern ministry and mission. The BBC took over the large chapel building and Tasker encouraged the church to worship in the adjacent suite of Sunday School buildings. A particular ministry was the Friendship Centre, open to homeless men and addicts, with Tasker on hand to provide warm clothing, sometimes his own, hot drinks and food. A lifelong teetotaller, Tasker developed a deep empathy with those who had fallen on hard times.
The development of these ministries at Blenheim was cut short because the General Superintendent for the North Eastern Area, Arthur Liston, died suddenly at an induction in Sheffield. There was a good deal of concern and distress in the north East Area of the Baptist Union following this tragic event. The joint Baptist Union and Area appointing group believed that Tasker could rise to the challenge of providing pastoral and mission leadership from the Scottish border to north east Derbyshire and from the Holderness Peninsula to the Pennine valleys and eastern Lancashire, and so he was approached with this call. Blenheim were angry that their recently appointed pastor should be approached and the General Secretary, the Revd Dr David S Russell, had to visit the church to calm the situation. Yet the churches of the whole area received, thankfully, the news of the appointment.
Tasker brought to the work of General Superintendent great pastoral care and an empathy with those who served in ministry in the challenging days of the 1980s. He was an ardent visitor, turning up on manse doorsteps whatever the weather, with a gift for children, a warm smile and a deep pastoral heart. In days when some churches had groups wishing to withdraw their church from the Baptist Union on theological or ecclesial grounds, Tasker would gain an entry to meetings and in his gentle way remind communities of their Baptist heritage and the value of associating. In all of this work he served as a Governor of Northern Baptist College and was constant in his support of the College and a succession of Principals – Michael Taylor, Brian Haymes and Richard Kidd. In his own quiet, but firm way, he supported women candidating for ministerial training and worked hard with the churches to encourage them to look at women ministers when seeking a new pastor in days when many were still prejudiced against women in ministry.
He participated in ecumenical gatherings, including the Northern Church Leader’s Consultation and was appreciated as contributing a free church perspective, along with his colleagues Trevor Hubbard (North Western General Superintendent) and Keith Jones (Yorkshire General Secretary) in meetings in which luminaries such as Archbishop Derek Warlock (Roman Catholic) and Bishop David Jenkins (Church of England Bishop of Durham) often shone and a different ecclesiology and mission perspective might have been overlooked.
Among children in manses a visit from Tasker was always welcomed. Somehow tubes of smarties and fruit pastilles would appear out of his pockets to hoots of joy. He was, however, somewhat notorious for owning cars which were not quite equipped for frequent journeys on the key trunk routes of the north east – the M1, M62, A1, A19 and the notorious A66. Regular attempts were made to convince Tasker of the usefulness of a vehicle upgrade and the YBA Car Loan scheme was commended to him.
That was a mark of Tasker. His own life, and that of his family, was lived quite simply. His upbringing in the mining valleys had bred in him an understanding of the challenges of the nearness of poverty and illness and how that can disrupt family life. He was always on the lookout for signs that a family or a church was struggling and would appeal to the Associations for help for those facing difficulties.
He set a first for the Baptist Union Superintendency in that five years before retirement he re-entered local pastoral ministry at Blenheim. Previously, General Superintendents had retired or died in the post. His modelling set an example for others. Blenheim were delighted to have him back and he felt it appropriate to complete his ministry there which had been prematurely curtailed when he responded to the call to the General Superintendency.
Until the end Tasker had an impressive memory for people and incidents from the stories of churches. Talking with him just days before his death we recalled people and churches from the 1980s and earlier, much to the amusement of his wife, Brenda. A packed congregation at Moortown Baptist Church, Leeds, gathered to remember his life with thanksgiving. An adopted Yorkshireman valued and loved amongst the churches and ministers of the region.
Tasker is survived by Brenda, their three children – Pamela, John and Rachel, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Keith G Jones