‘A great servant of God and of the British Baptist family’
Tributes have been paid to the Revd Douglas Sparkes, who died on New Year’s Day aged 92
Douglas was called to serve as Assistant General Secretary and then Deputy General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, which he did from 1982-1991, supporting the then General Secretary Revd Bernard Green.
Prior to this his gifts of ministry and wise counsel were recognised by the wider Baptist community when he was appointed General Superintendent of the London Metropolitan Area, which he served from 1976-1982.
He had trained at Spurgeon’s College, before being called to the pastorates of Waterlooville Baptist Church in Hampshire (1955 to 1962), New Malden (1962-1966) and Perry Rise, Forest Hill (1966-1976).
Throughout his time Douglas served the Baptist Historical Society (BHS), as one time Secretary (1971-76), committee member and later a Vice President.
In sharing news of his death on the Baptist Collaboration Facebook page, current BHS President the Revd Dr Keith Jones, described Douglas as ‘a great servant of God and of the British Baptist family.’
Responding to the news General Secretary Lynn Green described Douglas as ‘a wonderful, wise man of God.’
‘He contributed so much to Baptists and the wider church and we are so thankful for his life and ministry,’ she said. ‘He will be missed but we are glad to think of him now, worshipping face to face with His Lord.’
In a tribute shared with the Baptist Historical Society Committee in London last week, Keith said it was ‘impossible to list all the Baptist and ecumenical organisations which Douglas was involved with.’ He highlighted how Douglas served as de facto national ecumenical officer for the Union during the inter-church process of the late 1980s; he was engaged with the Retired Baptist Minister’s Housing Society; and chaired the Baptist Housing Trust, which made grants to retired housing complexes within the English Churches Housing Group, which had a Baptist beginning.
In his tribute Keith spoke of the key role Douglas had in the relocation of the national offices of the Baptist Union from Southampton Row in London to Didcot, Oxfordshire, sharing premises for the first time with the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS).
‘This involved much behind the scenes negotiation with the contractors and with the BMS,’ Keith said, ‘and this detailed work was something for which Douglas was noted.’
Douglas’s interest in Baptist history was another feature of his ministry. He undertook a post-graduate degree under Professor J H Y Briggs at Keele University while serving as General Superintendent in London entitled Dissenters and the Government of the City of London 1661-1767, which was submitted in November 1981. He researched the life of Samuel Morton Peto, producing a book published by the BHS entitled Hitting the Buffers in 2013.
In his early retirement Douglas authored The Home Mission Story, a history of Home Mission which was published in 1995. ‘My hope is that, whilst these pages record our debt to our fathers before us, they will explore the richness of our heritage in Christ,’ Douglas wrote in the book’s introduction.
The Home Mission Story was referenced by former General Secretary David Coffey, who paid the following tribute:
'Douglas Sparkes was my Area Superintendent in the 1970s when I was the minister of North Cheam and I soon came to value his warm approachability and pastoral wisdom.
‘When I became General Secretary in 1991 and Douglas was given the post of Historical Research Scholar, it was a joy to have access to his vast knowledge and experience as well as receive his warm-hearted encouragement. He served for many years on the Baptist Union Council and I came to appreciate his wise counsel on procedural matters during difficult moments of debate and decision making.
‘I was privileged to write the foreword to his book, The Home Mission Story which was published in 1995. I paid tribute in the foreword to the meticulous way Douglas sorted through the numerous historical documents and how he judiciously selected those elements which enabled the inspiring story of Home Mission to unfold.
‘I then added this sentence:
‘What matters is how we handle everything entrusted to us during the King’s absence and how we put everything to work for His Kingdom’s purposes.’
'I suggest this sentence is a concise summary of the dedicated life and ministry of Douglas Sparkes.’
Keith also described Douglas as ‘a great supporter and encourager of those in ministry.’ His Baptist Collaboration post featured numerous comments from those whom Douglas had impacted personally.
Douglas died on New Year’s Day 2020 after a period of illness. He is survived by his wife, Doris, their children Graham, Hilary, Andrew, Elaine and Claire, and by 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Of Doris, Keith wrote: ‘A prolific worker in his time with the Baptist Union, Doris served as his Secretary and together they made an impressive team.’ Graham, an accredited Baptist minister, was head of the Baptist Union’s Faith and Unity department before moving to Luther King House as President.
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