Remembering Rev’d Stephen Brown
If first met Stephen in September 1985 when we both arrived at Luther King House in Manchester, the new home for Northern College. We made a connection straight away, not least because we were the only 2 students in our year who were studying for the University of Manchester Bachelor of Divinity post-graduate degree. This meant, thankfully, that we spent many hours together in lectures and student union coffee bars discussing life, the universe and my complex love life.
I must confess that I was initially somewhat in awe of Stephen. Here was a man with an infectious laugh and sense of humour; he was outgoing, intelligent, multi-talented with clearly a wonderful gift with both words and music, and he had a charming wife. He seemed to be what every church would look for in a minister. Soon, though, my sense of awe moved into a simple appreciation that he had so many good gifts but he was one of the people who helped me recognize that so did I – it was just that we were different, and that was a good thing. I also soon learnt that getting essays submitted on time or producing an order of service for Sunday worship for a pulpit supply secretary by the Wednesday before the service was not something that came so naturally to him. Clearly life would never be dull for any future Church Secretary who would work with Stephen!
During college years you spend a very intense time together before going your separate ways in ministry. It was testimony to Stephen that he was called to be minister of the church, Gatley, where he had served his internship year. It was most unusual for this to happen but the people of Gatley were not going to let him go anywhere else. Again, it is testimony to Stephen that when our former college Principal, Jack McKelvey, was nominated to be Moderator of General Assembly, out of all the students he had seen through college into ministry he chose Stephen to be his Chaplain – an obvious and good choice which brought Stephen’s gifts to the forefront of the wider church. When I heard that Stephen had been called to be minister of Purley URC I was delighted that my college friend would be following Rev’d Ray Adams, who had been so influential to me as I was growing up in Putney. Little did I know at that point that I would then be following Stephen in ministry here, but it was one of the things that made me appreciate that perhaps God really does have a plan which none of us can ever fully appreciate.
Like so many, I heard of Stephen’s death with utter disbelief. Surely the news couldn’t be true – but it was. Immediate thoughts turned to Jan, Cameron and Sheena. Then I soon became aware, both through conversations with people and through social media, that I wasn’t alone both in being in a state of shock but also having a deep recognition that I had had the privilege of knowing an exceptional individual. Stephen was a passionate character. He was passionate about his family (and it was no coincidence that we both had sons called Cameron), his music, his faith, the church and I am willing to forgive him his passion for Manchester United! He died making music, which is perhaps how it should have been. Whether he had his guitar in hand, his bagpipes to his lips or a pen to hand weaving more magic on paper with words, Stephen had a zest for life that was infectious. Rest in peace, dear friend.
With love and prayers
Russell J Furley-Smith