The Revd Ronald Rivers: 1932–2021
Baptist minister and linguist who led churches in Bexley, Exmouth and Felixstowe
Ron was born in Woolwich on 19 November 1932. Apart from a brief period of wartime evacuation to Devon, he spent his childhood in nearby Plumstead and attended Haberdashers’ Aske’s School, Hatcham. He then studied German and French at the University of Nottingham. Ron greatly valued his undergraduate years being the only member of his family to attend University. He maintained long-lasting links with the University and an enduring interest in the city of Nottingham.
Ron’s family were not church attenders and his journey to faith was strongly influenced by the time he spent in the Boys Brigade. In 1958 having taught for two years, he felt called to the Baptist ministry and joined Spurgeon's College. During this time Ron led a group of young people attending a BMS summer school near Bognor Regis, and met Sheila, a fellow group leader and his future wife. Sheila and Ron (pictured) married in 1962 at Main Road Baptist Church, Romford. They went on to have three children and eight grandchildren and had recently became great-grandparents for the first time.
Ron’s ministry involved three churches, the first being Albany Park, Bexley which he joined in 1962. Here he oversaw sufficient expansion in membership to allow the church to become financially self-sufficient for the first time. In 1967 Ron moved to Victoria Road Baptist Church, Exmouth where he stayed until 1975. During this time he gave new impetus and leadership to a fledgling building project to build a church on the new Brixington housing estate. In 1973 the official opening of Brixington Baptist Church was celebrated. The church now has over 120 members. Ron would regard this church planting as one of the most important aspects of his ministry.
Ron became minister of Maidstone Road Baptist Church in Felixstowe, Suffolk in 1975, staying until 1989. He oversaw a major building programme to modernise and extend the church which allowed the children’s work to expand significantly. To celebrate 200 years of a Baptist congregation in Felixstowe, Ron explored the history of the church and authored a booklet. In 1982 he was inducted as president of the Suffolk Baptist Association.
He was a strong supporter of Baptist churches across the county and continued to undertake preaching engagements in many of the small rural churches long after his retirement. He was also instrumental in founding Felixstowe ‘Churches Together’ and involved with many town-wide ecumenical events. Ron’s other great interests were in the work of the Baptist Missionary Society and the Bible Society.
Ron’s language skills and interest did not end with gaining his degree but were lifelong. He taught himself various languages including New Testament Greek, Arabic and Italian. As a fluent German speaker, Ron was a valued member of the town Twinning Association which paired Felixstowe with Wesel and Salzwesel where he and Sheila made several reciprocal visits. Ron also developed links with the Lutheran Church in Ipswich, and relished the challenge of translating their newsletter. He translated several other texts only published in German and was occasionally called upon to interpret for sailors accessing the Mission to Seafarers at Felixstowe Port.
Ron had a keen interest in music, particularly choral singing and for a time sang with the London Emmanuel Choir. He greatly enjoyed taking part in concerts with a local choir and choral events at church. He followed various sports including Ipswich Town Football Club, rugby and cricket. Despite deteriorating physical health, he continued to play chess, take on a daily crossword, and read avidly as well as discovering a late talent for drawing. Ron passed away on 5 January aged 88 at Ipswich Hospital, following a fall at home. He was much loved and will be greatly missed by his family and friends.