The Revd Margaret Piper (née Phillips): 1925-2016
A pioneer among Baptist women
Margaret Phillips was born in Caerphilly in 1925, the elder daughter of Jim and Gladys Phillips. Before the war broke out in 1939 the family, which now included younger sister Desrie, had moved to Bargoed where Margaret was baptised at Hanbury Road. They moved again in 1944, to Cardiff, and so began a long family association with Albany Road Baptist Church.
Margaret developed a very strong faith and sense of calling to Christian service early on, setting her heart on serving God on the mission field in Africa. She was accepted for training by the Baptist Missionary Society and spent two years at Cardiff Baptist College followed by a further two years at Carey Hall in Birmingham.
In the summer of 1950 - aged just 25 - Margaret sailed for Africa where she joined fellow BMS missionaries in Bolobo in the Belgian Congo. Specialising in women’s work, she led Bible studies, church services and taught practical skills to local people.
This work was not without its challenges. Margaret related tales of living near the rain forest, travelling up and down the River Congo in small dugout canoes, and regularly encountering the local wildlife. She travelled back to Congo from her second furlough in 1960, but was unable to land due to political unrest and had to return to the UK.
Margaret’s passion to share the Gospel was in no way diminished by this setback. She took three years leave of absence from the BMS and applied to be a Deaconess with the Baptist Union. She served at Kidlington Baptist Church near Oxford until 1965, building up the congregation, and encouraging them to start a building fund. When she left they were about to start on the construction of their first permanent church building.
The family have always understood that during this period (early 1960s) Margaret was the first woman to preach at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. At this distance it has not proved possible to confirm this but they would be very interested to hear from anyone who can shed any light on the matter.
Another year of training at Bristol Baptist College followed, from where she went on to take pastoral charge of Siloam Baptist Church in Cardiff. It was only in April 1970, following a change of rules permitting women to be ordained, that she was fully accredited and became Reverend Margaret Phillips.
From 1971-74 Margaret was minister of Beaver Park Baptist Church in Didsbury, Manchester, while also serving as warden of Linton House, a hostel for overseas students, and as a chaplain to students at Manchester University. The move to Manchester proved to be a life changing one, as it was at this time that she first met Norman Piper, a Baptist lay preacher.
There followed a brief spell in Baptist Union headquarters, at that time in London, as the national Secretary for Women’s Work. However, it turned out that God had other plans for the rest of Margaret’s life and in 1975 she returned to Manchester, having married Norman, a widower with three grown up sons.
In 1976 Margaret became minister of Middleton Baptist Church, serving there until retirement when she and Norman moved to Porthcawl and became members at Gilgal Baptist Church.
Throughout her married life Margaret continued to provide a wider, Christian ministry, leading services, preaching and visiting those who needed it. She had a great gift for creating a sense of worship in a service with, as ever, her own faith and commitment, and the genuineness of her experience, shining through. She continued to read theology, keeping up with the latest thinking and was always ready to engage in debate with her wider family on the issues raised.
In retirement Margaret and Norman often took services together and their ministry was widely appreciated. They continued to lead services well into their eighties in what they both insisted on calling old people’s homes despite, as time went on, often being older than their congregations. Throughout retirement Margaret continued to support local clergy, and would use every opportunity to encourage churches to embrace change and move with the times. She was incredibly passionate about the difference God can make in people’s lives. Margaret also worked in voluntary roles with the Citizens Advice Bureau and for ten years was Chairman of Crossroads, a charitable organisation based in Porthcawl which provides care services in the community.
Six years ago, Margaret suffered a stroke from which she initially seemed to make a reasonable recovery, but she soon began to go downhill and, in later years she suffered from dementia. At first Norman looked after her at home, needing increasing help to do so. In October 2015, just a week before their 40th wedding anniversary, she moved to Glanffrwd Nursing Home. Norman continued to visit her faithfully until succumbing to failing health and passing away in September 2016.
Margaret died peacefully at Glanffrwd on 10 December 2016. The funeral was held at Gilgal in Porthcawl, led by Revd. Martin Gillard, followed by the committal at Coychurch Crematorium. She will be sadly missed by her three stepsons, Richard, Adrian and Martyn, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, great grandchildren and her niece and nephew, Lynne and Gareth, and their families. We all rejoice that Margaret’s was a life well lived in God’s service.
If you have any information to confirm whether Margaret was the first woman to preach at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, please contact her family at: firstname.lastname@example.org