On successive days last week Liz and I attended the funeral/memorial services of two very special friends – Jeremy Clark and Tim Pidsley, aged 50 and 53. The sense of loss was heightened not only by their relatively early deaths (and in Tim’s case by its shocking suddenness) but also by the sheer quality of their lives.
Jeremy grew up in Christchurch, came to faith in early adulthood, and entered the Anglican ministry. After a curacy at St Stephen’s, Shirley, in Christchurch, he and his wife Catherine moved to England to be closer to her family. He ministered in parishes in the Wirral and Devon until a little over two years ago.
Liz and I were in England in September 2014 visiting family. We hoped to catch up with Jeremy and Catherine during that time, but it didn’t work out with our travel plans and his. He e-mailed me to say, “Don’t worry. I’m coming back to Christchurch in November. I’ll see you then.” We returned to New Zealand in early October, and the day after we returned Jeremy was diagnosed with terminal melanoma. He e-mailed me: “Won’t now see you in November. It will be at a later date, or in a greater light.”
Jeremy has now entered into that greater light, but during these last two years he has had an extraordinary ministry through his blog, Tracing the Rainbow through the Rain. The blog is remarkable – and it has had over 170,000 hits. It is movingly human and honest about the fears and struggles of terminal illness; and it is simply inspiring in showing the difference faith in Christ makes when facing the greatest challenges. (Within a few months of his own diagnosis, Jeremy had to also face the loss of his 23 year old son, Ben, who caught a rare virus and died after suffering repeated brain seizures.)
The trajectory of Tim Pidsley’s life was the exact reverse of Jeremy’s. He grew up in Devon, did a degree and worked in the UK, then came to Christchurch to live and work in the area of leadership and organisational development. As a director of Tricordant and Leadership Lab, his clients included NZ District Health Boards, The National Library, Shell, and the National Health System, UK.
Tim became a very involved and hugely loved member of the church I pastored in Sumner-Redcliffs. He had a great appetite for outdoor adventure and was an expert climber, skier, sailor, kayaker, and cyclist. It wasn’t long before he completed the Coast to Coast, the classic race from one coast of the South Island to the other. It was an enormous shock to everyone who knew him when he was found dead in his bed after completing the BDO Cycle Race from Wellington to Auckland in February.
Tim had a remarkable gift of friendship. Although single, he related to a whole range of couples and families with whom he was a great hit. He had a penetrating, thoughtful mind and was a stimulating person to talk with. Despite his physical strength and intellectual ability, he was gentle and humble in manner and very considerate of others. Calm and positive in outlook, he was an excellent person to have around in a crisis.
Everyone who knew Tim well saw that his character qualities flowed from his faith. He embodied what he believed. A close friend said of him that “his faith was under-stated and over-lived.” Another friend said that “he gave us a master class in living.” He walked humbly with his God and lived a life of love.
With the loss of Jeremy and Tim, the world seems a poorer place. Yet the quality of their lives and the reality of their faith were such that I am convinced that death does not have the last word over them. At Jeremy’s service, his father read the well-known passage from John 11 in which Jesus comes to Mary and Martha after their brother Lazarus has died and says: “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” (John 11:25). I’m a Christian because I believe that Christ, not death, has the final word over human destiny.