The Revd Peter David Manson BSc BD: 1938-2020
'Local church pastor, college tutor, area minister, and former President of our Union - in all this diversity of ministry, Peter knew the favour of God on his life'
Peter David Manson was born in Leicester on the 17 October 1938. He attended Wyggeston Grammar School, the same school as Sir David Attenborough and his film producer brother, Lord Richard Attenborough. The crime novelist, Colin Dexter, was assistant classics master at the school in the 1950s.
Peter’s home church when he was growing up was Evington Strict Baptist, Leicester, and this is where he was baptised. Although his early ambition was to become a gardener, he opted to study maths at Bangor University, which is where he met his future wife Ruth Rowlands, the daughter of a Manse family. He loved telling his grandchildren that as a student, he had seen one of the world’s first computers in Manchester, and it filled a whole room.
After gaining a BSc at Bangor, Peter studied for a BD at Cardiff Baptist College (1960-63). Roy Jenkins, Baptist minister and broadcaster, interviewed Peter while a cub reporter still at school. He recalls Peter as ‘massively tall, dashing and an inspirational student’.
Peter and Ruth were married at Station Road Presbyterian Church, Treorchy on 10 August 1963 and in the same year Peter was called to the pastorate at Hope, Canton Cardiff. The vibrant youth group at Hope was led by ‘Uncle Peter’, and its members from the 1960s still meet occasionally as the Senior Youth Group.
It was during the1960s that Peter was first diagnosed with diabetes, a health condition he lived with for 60 years. In later years he formed a strong partnership with King's College Hospital London and took part in various medical studies with Kings. He became a trusted friend and confidante to many of the staff, forming life-long friendships.
In 1967, Peter and Ruth had the joy of the birth of their beautiful daughter Christine, and three years later in 1970, he received a call to Woolwich Central where his gifts as a bridge-builder proved fruitful and timely. In 1969, two congregations, Woolwich Tabernacle and Conduit Road were united into one membership. Those who followed Peter in pastoring at Woolwich freely praise his pastoral gifts of welding a diverse congregation into a united family.
Soon after arriving at Woolwich, Peter and Ruth faced the devastating loss of their daughter Christine. It was a particularly challenging time having just moved away from a close-knit church community in Cardiff, but in Woolwich, they formed new friends who encircled them with loving care and support.
Their son, Chris, was born in 1974, and the following year at the invitation of Dr Raymond Brown, Peter was appointed as Tutor in Pastoral Studies at Spurgeon’s College, a position he held for 16 fruitful years. For a brief period during his years at the college, he pastored Gypsy Road Norwood (1976-1982). After the announcement of his death, there was a remarkable outpouring of loving appreciation from his former students revealing the long-lasting legacy of his ministry as a mentor and friend.
Debra Reid was a student under Peter and later served alongside him as a member of the Spurgeon’s faculty. She recalls Peter’s very deliberate focus on students' pastoral needs: ‘He built up the confidence of those students who were struggling the most or felt that they were not good enough. Academic credentials were not important to him, nor did it figure in the way he assessed the lives of others. Peter looked beyond that to the spirituality and sense of calling and where that was present, he invested his life and energy to ensure it blossomed and bore fruit.’
Richard Starling was another former student who spoke with warm gratitude for Peter’s friendship: 'As a mentor, you gave freely of wisdom, allowing the fledgelings to learn to fly. So many learned from you, and then gave away what you had taught. A fine epitaph indeed- "He shared Jesus! So shall we."'
Peter excelled in pastoring local churches. He was a wise and trusted shepherd to ministers. This love for the local church and its ministers meant he was ably qualified when in 1992 he was appointed General Superintendent for the South Wales Area and his years of service are fondly remembered. The recurring word in numerous tributes to Peter is the word kindness. He built up the confidence of pastors who were struggling and instilled fresh hope into the life of failing churches.
Gareth Evans was chair of his Support Group: ‘Peter was a man with a real pastoral heart for churches and their ministers. Through his preaching he encouraged churches passing through difficult times’.
Richard Lewis served alongside Peter as a Missioner and Association Secretary: ‘He had the ability to come alongside both churches and ministers without favour, which was something to covet. Unafraid of the difficult he would seek ways forward for all involved in the challenging situations they were facing’.
For several years Peter served a secretary for the Superintendents' Board which involved not only administration but also serving as a bridge link with senior staff at Baptist House. Colleagues who worked with him on the Board remember his unique contribution. Roy Freestone said, ‘Peter was a big man in many ways, body, mind and spirit. He had a "presence" which was unmistakable - one always knew when he was present!’ Gwynne Edwards recalls ‘observing both strength and gentleness in Peter. He was strong in advocating the cause of those ministers who were his concern, and gentle in dealing with those who were struggling’.
Peter was a maverick in the sense he was independently minded; loyal to the establishment, but never blindly loyal; capable of strong opinions, even if it left him as a minority of one. He had a deep sense of injustice of any kind and could be fiercely robust in what he believed to be the right way. Theologically he was rocklike: able to sniff out all that is not holy, all that is not true. He was a passionate preacher, with a fidelity to the scriptures as his benchmark.
Peter was compassionate to those with broken hearts and full of understanding with those who battled with any disability. His resilience was born of his struggle with physical weakness. His empathy came from his and Ruth’s experience of personal grief.
The Manson ministry was a team game. It was Peter and Ruth. In the home, exercising hospitality with their consistent friendship expressing love and grace. This fruitful partnership came to the fore during Peter’s year as President of the Union in 2004-05. Their extensive journeys to many Associations and churches enabled the national Baptist family to be enriched by their lives and ministries. Peter chose ‘Jesus’ as his Presidential theme and in the printed Assembly programme explained his choice: ‘My strategy will be to get Jesus so central that the church can’t help but grow. It is hard to be boring about Jesus, so let’s catch hold of him.’
During his year as President, he placed a particular emphasis on the ministry of chaplains and the global mission of Baptists, visiting Brazil and Romania. Peter and Ruth accompanied a Free Church leaders’ delegation to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He was the Baptist Men’ s Movement President in the same year as his BU Presidency. For many years he had been a keen supporter and (as a keen gardener himself) was a strong advocate of the project, Tools with a Mission. Peter served on the Council of Middle East Christian Outreach from the 1970s to its amalgamation with Serving in Mission in 2016.
His final years working in South Wales coincided with changes in denominational life arising from the findings of two reports, Transforming Superintendency and Relating and Resourcing. Peter faced the challenge of leading churches and ministers into the creation of one large South Wales Regional Association, and personally transitioning from Area Superintendent into the role of Regional Minister Team Leader.
Andy Hughes was a local church minister during this time of change, and he observed: ‘The role of the Area Superintendent was significantly different from the current role of Regional Minister Team Leader. In his role as the Superintendent, Peter always made a point of reminding us at Association meetings that he was only there by invitation as he made his report. In many ways, he could only seek to influence the priorities of each association’. But the role of Regional Minister raised the level of leadership responsibility, and Peter played a pivotal role in bringing the three associations together. He supported the working group tasked to create the South Wales Baptist Association.
After retirement, Peter and Ruth returned to Selsdon Baptist Church, Surrey where they had enjoyed many happy years during their time at Spurgeon’s College. They once again became valued members playing a full part in the life of the local church. Beyond the local church, Peter devoted himself to gardening, woodturning and enjoying the company of their five grandchildren.
Peter’s son Chris gave a warm-hearted and humorous tribute at his funeral. He said: ‘My children’s memory of Grandpa is that he was always happy. He would pull their leg. They would love spotting his obscure comment or wordplay, catching his eye and sharing those special moments one to one’.
When the Corona-19 pandemic arrived, and lockdown became the new normal, Peter was very busy in the garden planting the many things he’d mail ordered through the winter. Despite having been active during the Spring, he had several falls, and it was diagnosed he had sustained a series of strokes. During his last few months, Peter and the family were supported at home by excellent NHS staff, carers and the team from St. Christopher’s Hospice. During his final days, his faith was strong, and he would say: ‘My times are in His hands and they are safe there’. Peter went to be with his Lord on 21 August 2020.
Chris Lee, a close friend of Peter for over 45 years, gave the address at his funeral service and said his life could be summarised in the phrase, preacher, pastor and man of God: ‘He was passionate about preaching because through the proclamation of scripture people come to faith and grow as disciples of Christ; he was at heart a pastor who cared for those under his care and with compassion he shared their journey; his faith determined the way he lived as a husband, father, grandfather and friend.’
It has been observed that pastors are shaped for their ministry by the hand of providence in the arena of experience. God certainly guided Peter into ever-widening arenas of ministry. Local church pastor, college tutor, area minister, and as President of the Union the national and international arena. In all this diversity of ministry, Peter knew the favour of God on his life.
David R. Coffey
General Secretary of the Baptist Union (1991-2006)