The Revd Ralph John Stephens: 1925-2017
'Throughout his life he preached the Gospel of Christ with utmost vigour'
Ralph Stephens was educated in council schools and secured an engineering apprenticeship in Slough, pursuing part-time technical college studies. During his 18th year he was called to the Christian ministry and augmented his engineering studies with university entrance work by correspondence college. Being tutored by his pastor, the Revd Percy Crunden, he was accepted by the Rawdon Baptist College and later entered Leeds University to read philosophy and theology with classical Greek and Biblical history.
His first church was an initial pastorate on the new housing estate at Wheatley Park, Doncaster. In 1954 he moved to Somersham, Huntingdonshire, and later became the Association secretary. He served on the Baptist Union Council, the Lay Preachers’, the Young People’s and the Ter Jubilee Committees for three years. He set up the Hunts Association YP work, and the Hunts Rota of Lay Preachers whereby 12 country churches were regularly ministered to by a team of preachers on a six-monthly basis. This improved both the standard of preaching and the sequential teaching of the churches.
In 1959, Ralph returned to the Thames Valley and at Maidenhead doubled the church membership and established a thriving Sunday School together with young people’s work during the ten years he spent there and he also began counselling work for people with depressive illnesses.
Called to Clacton in 1969, with holiday makers in mind, he shaped the worship to include a strong Bible convention character. The large membership was maintained during his time; and youth work, especially amongst the fifth and sixth-formers, who, with the large Girls’ Brigade and Boys’ Brigade, formed occasional orchestras used in worship augmenting the two choirs.
With Phyllis’ teaching skills the nursery school was formed in 1973 and became a permanent aid to the local social services. House-to-house visiting, the use of Operation Mobilisation students, used in previous churches, augmented by the beach missions and various missionary conventions, kept everyone on their toes.
Moving to Gloucester in 1977, he began to introduce well-tried ideas but in 1982 had to retire due to a chronic disability. Throughout his life he preached the Gospel of Christ with utmost vigour.
His wife, Phyllis, his closest and strongest colleague in ministry, survives him, as do their three sons and a daughter, 13 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.