The Revd Jeremy Sewell: 1960-2020
'A deeply missed husband, father, pastor and friend, now in his eternal home'
Many many people were shocked and devastated to learn of Jem’s sudden death, from a heart attack, on 16 November 2020. It was so utterly unexpected; for those who knew and loved Jem, he was such a reassuring, constant encourager and listener, that somehow one expected him always to be there.
The following tributes come from personal friends - two who knew Jem for many years, and others who have known him more closely in last eight years. The first tribute has been written by Jem’s dear friend Adrian Creedy and it formed part of the spoken tribute to Jem at his funeral service on 4 December.
'A much loved husband, father, son, son-in-law, brother, pastor and friend'
By Adrian Creedy
I first met Jem 34 years ago when we lived in London. Over those 34 years Jem became a very close friend and in recent years we spent many happy days sailing. The highpoint of our sailing experience was sailing around Britain last year during Jem’s sabbatical.
Jem’s death has been a great shock to us all, many tears have been shed and will continue to be shed. So this is a sad occasion - we didn’t expect to be here today and yet amongst all the sadness and despair there is hope and there is joy as we remember Jem's life. Indeed in his Will Jem said that he wanted his funeral service to be “a joyful occasion of thanksgiving to God for His goodness to me during my lifetime". And Jem knew many blessings from God.
And there is joy and hope even in death. The Apostle Paul says that being with God when you die is "better by far” than our earthly life. When we sailed we talked about many things including death. Jem was quite clear that he would be with God when his earthly life ended and he looked forward to that time.
Jem loved the Narnia books by CS Lewis and not only was he very good at reading them, he could also quote sections of the books. On the Sunday night before he died he and Hil went for a walk and one of the things they talked about was some friends who were reading the Last Battle to their children. And as they walked along Jem quoted from the final paragraph of that book which talks about some of the children who have taken part in the Narnia stories dying in a train crash, so ending their earthly life. But when they die they find themselves with Aslan. Jem quoted the final paragraph to Hil from memory. Luke is going to read that paragraph in his tribute. The paragraph reminds us that for Jem his life is indeed now better by far.
Jem was the first to say he wasn’t perfect and would hate to be idolised. But Jem was a lovely picture of what someone could be like as they walked in faith with Jesus and were transformed by the Holy Spirit. Jem was a much loved husband, father, son, son-in-law, brother, pastor and friend. And where there is much love there is much loss and much sadness and grief for those left behind.
But today, we can as Jem wanted us to do, thank God for his goodness to Jem during his lifetime and the blessing that Jem has been to so many people. So what was Jem like?
His faith in God and his walk with Christ meant that he had an underlying joy. That was communicated to you as you spoke with him. He would so often greet people by phone or in person with a cheerful “Hiya”.
He was good company, a great listener to other people, caring and supportive. An encourager. Very approachable. Jem had an amazing ability to talk to people whatever their background. When Jem talked with people they knew that he was interested in them and what they had to say. He had a great sense of humour, at times we laughed so much we had to wipe away the tears of joy. Jem was both a deep thinker and practical, willing to roll his sleeves up and help. A man of prayer reading his Bible and praying every day as we sailed round Britain.
As a husband, Hil would say that Jem helped her to be the person she is. But the reverse is also true, that Hil helped shape Jem as they lived out their faith in their marriage serving together in different churches over 34 years.
As a father to Luke, Bryony, Ruby and Lydia, Jem was wonderful - supportive, great fun, rejoicing when the children became Christians and good at letting them go as they grew up and became more independent. He was delighted to welcome Emily into the family when she and Luke married and equally thrilled a few weeks ago when Pete asked Jem if he would consent to Ruby marrying Pete.
Jem left school at 16 and went to work in a bank, from there he moved to working for insurance companies - L&G, Sun Alliance and Prudential - and it was at L&G that he met Hil. Having become a Christian in his teenage years, he grew in his faith and he also had a growing call to go into full-time ministry. After three years at London Bible College, Jem was called to be Assistant Pastor at Slough Baptist Church in 1992, becoming the Senior Pastor in 1998.
Jem's ability to teach and his caring personality meant that he was an excellent pastor, greatly loved by the congregation at Slough Baptist Church.
And then about nine years ago after 20 years at Slough, Jem felt that God was leading him to move to another ministry. Over time praying about the future and looking at different opportunities, God led Jem and Hil to Westbourne Park Baptist Church in Paddington. It was a mark of Jem and Hil's faith and commitment that they were willing to leave the familiarity and comfort of Slough and move to an inner city church.
God had a particular purpose in bringing Jem to Westbourne Park; the church needed a pastor but it also needed someone to help the church through the necessary process of replacing the post war church building with a building fit for the future. Jem was uniquely gifted by God to fulfil both these roles.
From October 2012 to the new building's completion in autumn 2019, Jem’s project management skills, problem solving abilities, attention to detail and calm personality were a crucial ingredient to seeing through the redevelopment of the building - the result of which is amazing. Saturday 23 November 2019 saw the official re-opening and dedication of the new building. A neighbour put it like this:
“The whole neighbourhood will remember Jem with such fondness and admiration. Admiration especially for the years of patient, skilful work to get the building to actually happen.”
Proverbs 13: 20 says: “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm." I count myself fortunate to have walked with Jem as a friend and because of that become a little bit wiser. I’m sure all of you who knew Jem have become wiser for spending time with him. We can indeed be thankful to God for Jem’s life, a life with much experience of God’s goodness, a life lived well in God's grace.
The Slough Baptist Years 1992-2012
By Carol Rhodes
I first met Jem and Hil in 1992 when they came to live next door to me. I had been praying for Christian neighbours and they were the most wonderful answer to that prayer!
The church had made the decision in September 1990 to appoint an Assistant Minister, and there followed two years of searching for God’s choice. Jem, fresh from London Bible College, together with Hil, had much experience in working with young people and made a favourable impression on the Church Council at their two interviews. I am quoting here from the book The People of Windsor Road:
“But it was the youth of the church who finally clinched the matter - they took an immediate and proprietorial interest in the young couple and made it known beyond all possible doubt that these were the young people’s choice.”
Jem was inducted on 3 October 1992 as Assistant Minister with responsibility for Youth and Evangelism and was ordained a year later. He worked closely with The Revd Keith Moyes who was senior pastor. New life was instilled into the youth work and many of the young people who were so vociferous in their support of Jem’s calling have gone on to take their place amongst the leadership of SBC today.
Projects such as the youth-led “Christmas Cracker” in 1992 and 1993 made a big impact on the town - a vacant shop was leased from the Town Council over the Christmas period, fitted out as a cafe and light refreshments offered to the public at attractive prices in aid of third world relief and development.
1993 was also the year of the 40 Day Mission; a period during April/May when Berkshire Baptists were encouraged to make a united effort to reach out to the public with the message of the gospel. Slough Baptist Church and Dedworth Green Baptist Church jointly staged a musical “The Witness” which was presented for two nights in Windsor and a further two nights in Slough. It was a time of great spiritual blessing which brought many people to faith and subsequent baptism.
1994 was Slough Baptist’s centenary and Jem’s friend and colleague, Wayne Dixon, recalls that it was Jem’s vision, following a presentation to local schools to mark this milestone in September of that year, that has led to what is now known as ‘Christmas Unwrapped’ and ‘Easter Cracked’. These events are highlights for many local schools and have resulted in literally thousands of young people hearing the real good news of Christmas and Easter. This vision has expanded and developed over the years and now happens in nine local churches in Slough, Windsor and Maidenhead plus numerous locations - from Altrincham to Woodley; Gravesend to Glasgow.
Jem oversaw a relatively small building project at SBC between 1997 -1998. This involved the removal of the two wooden front doors to the church and the dark lobby. The space was transformed by the installation of glass front doors leading into a light and airy reception area. The windows at the back of this space ensured that light flooded into the sanctuary area and enabled the worship space to be seen from the street; a theme Jem was later very keen to replicate in the huge building project at Westbourne Park.
Jem was appointed as senior pastor in 1998 after Keith was called to the pastorate of Kenton Baptist Church. Over the next 14 years the ministry of Slough Baptist Church continued to thrive. There were many Alpha courses, Christianity Explored, CAP money courses, listening courses, Freedom in Christ and Growing Leaders courses to name but a few. Home groups flourished as did the ministry amongst children and young people. A 20-30s group was established. Marriage courses and parenting courses also sought to support and disciple young families.
During their time at Slough, with young children of her own, Hil initiated and developed the ministry of “Tuesday Break” - an opportunity for parents or carers with pre-school children to enjoy a morning’s break from their caring responsibilities and to listen to a talk each week - always with a Christian theme. The children were cared for either in the creche or in a separate space where they enjoyed play, crafts and Christian input through stories. This group has now been in existence for over 27 years and continues strongly as an outreach ministry in the town.
Jem was a strong supporter of the Cluster Group of local Baptist churches and also established a Town Centre Ministers’ Prayer Group which embraced the local Anglican, Methodist and United Reformed churches. Matthew and Pauline Scott arrived at SBC in 2006 and this led to Matthew’s placement as minister-in-training at Slough during his time at Spurgeon’s College from 2007 - 2010. Upon graduation Matthew was called to the pastorate of one of those local cluster churches; Dedworth Green Baptist Church in Windsor.
The joyful co-operation between the two fellowships means that the youth work of SBC and DGBC is even today run as a joint venture. In 2008 Andy Perryman was called to be assistant pastor at Slough with responsibility for youth and, when Jem and Hil were called to Westbourne Park, Andy was called to be senior minister at SBC.
I left corporate life in September 1999 and began work at Slough Baptist Church as Jem’s PA and latterly as office and church manager. I worked with Jem for 12 very happy years. I count it a huge privilege to have worked alongside him; an apprenticeship in pastoral care, practical service and the joy of serving God’s people, mentored and encouraged by a truly God man.
Jem was a remarkable man in so very many ways. While we miss him every day we thank God for the certainty that he is now delighting in and worshipping in the very presence of the Saviour whom he served with such joy and devotion. Well done, good and faithful servant.
Carol Rhodes served as Jem's PA for 12 years at Slough Baptist Church
'Jem thrived on seeing people grow in their faith'
By Elizabeth Welch, Westbourne Park Baptist Church
Jeremy Sewell, known as Jem, was born on 25 December 1960. Jem became a Christian as a teenager, having experienced the love and care of a church family during a difficult childhood. He would later refer to the example of that church in Sussex as an example of the lasting impact people have on each other’s lives.
Leaving school aged 16, Jem started working for a Bank and later for Insurance Companies in London. It was while working for Legal and General in 1984 that Jem met his future wife, Hil, marrying on 25 October 1986.
During this time Jem felt God calling him into full time ministry, and he studied, with Hil, at London Bible College from 1989-1992. Jem and Hil moved to Slough Baptist Church in 1992 where he started as the Assistant Pastor. Jem was later called to be the Senior Pastor in 1998 and he served the church for 20 years. During this time Hil and Jem had their four children, Luke, Bryony, Ruby and Lydia.
At the end of 2011 Jem felt that God was calling him to a change, and after a period of praying and exploring different options, he responded to an approach from Westbourne Park Baptist Church during early 2012. With confirmation of his calling to the pastorate, Jem began his ministry on 1 October 2012; his formal induction taking place on 14 October 2012.
The church had been exploring a building project for a number of years, looking to resolve the difficulties of an inaccessible post war building and to replace it with premises that would enable the church to reach more people with the gospel. Jem quickly picked up the reins of the building project, and his background in project management, combined with his problem solving skills, attention to detail and calm personality brought the unique gifts that progressed the building project to demolition of the old building in early 2016.
Jem was an enthusiastic follower of the building process, and could be found most Saturdays on the building site, in his hard hat, capturing the whole build in photographs. He loved showing people around the site, sharing his excitement as the building gained form.
Jem balanced the emotional and spiritual needs of the church membership during this time, with the legal, financial, and technical decision making. He was consulted regarding every detail about the building, from bricks to light switches, making decisions on a daily basis. The results are evident, and the building is a significant part of Jem’s legacy to the church. The keys to the building were handed over on 13 September 2019, with Jem leading the opening ceremony and first service on 15 September; a special day for him and for the church family.
Jem offered support throughout his ministry giving time, practical help, sharing his wisdom, prayer support and a listening ear. From the start of their ministry, Hil and Jem welcomed people into their home, providing hospitality regularly, offering space for connecting and developing relationships with each other. One of the quiet acts that Jem did faithfully during his ministry at WPBC was to write to all church members each year, sending a few cards each week, offering words of encouragement and support.
Jem’s ministry at WPBC involved nearly four years without a church building. Jem did not outwardly waiver over this time. His energy seemed endless. It was a great encouragement to him that on the first Sunday’s meeting in the local community hall, a new person joined us, and from then on we had visitors almost every Sunday.
Being placed within a different part of the community, albeit just across the road, made ‘church’ more accessible to some people, which was significant for Jem. He threw himself into the practical running of church during this time, being found most Sundays initially organising the move of equipment to the hall, and mopping the hall floor after the party from the previous night, then transitioning into sharing God’s word to build up the church spiritually. He did gradually allow others to step into these roles to support him, but he did like to be hands on!
Jem thrived on seeing people grow in their faith. He loved running Alpha, provided Alpha in Farsi (with help from a translator!) for a new group of people attending our services, and met with individuals seeking God for regular discipleship conversations. His other joy was baptising 21 people during his time at WPBC.
Jem could have legitimately slowed down after the building opened. But that was not his style. He was very clear that the building was not an end in itself, but a tool for WPBC to reach the community for Jesus. With that in mind, Jem launched into new programmes, new ideas, hopes and dreams for the next few years of his ministry. COVID-19 interrupted these plans, but Jem was not thrown off course. He helped the church transition to zoom church, connecting virtually. His main grievance in this was that the church was not physically present for new people passing by.
After his love for God, Jem was committed to his family life, prioritising time with them amongst his ministry. He also loved reading, cycling and sailing, completing a sail around Britain with a friend in 2019 during his last sabbatical.
Jem died on Monday 16 November 2020 having collapsed suddenly at home. His funeral was held on Friday 4 December 2020. Due to COVID restrictions the service was live streamed, and the recording is available on www.wpbc.co. A service of thanksgiving will be held in the future when it is possible to meet together in person.
Jem is a deeply missed husband, father, pastor and friend, now in his eternal home.
Elizabeth Welch, Assistant Pastor and Parish Nurse, Westbourne Park Baptist Church