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Philip Walter Withers: 1929-2013

Philip was born to Walter and Lily Withers in July 1929 in Wandsworth SW London.  Not too long after he was joined by brother John and later sister Betty. The family moved to Worthing in 1936.  They were involved in the local Baptist church. 
He attended Worthing High School where Philip was active in Crusaders.  On leaving School Certificate he was articled to a London firm of Quantity Surveyors, Bear, Bear, Leaning & Bear and he travelled up daily by early morning train from West Worthing.

He fulfilled his National Service in the Army from 1947-48.  Philip was a gunner and posted to Hong Kong.  On demobilisation in 1948 he returned to his London company but was sent to Peterborough where he met Sheila Brewin and each was impressed by the other.  Here they attended Park Road Baptist Church. 

He was called to the ministry in 1953 and attended the Bristol Baptist College graduating in 1957.  In the same year Philip and Sheila were married.  In his final year he was Senior Student.  Both had early sporting interests at school.  Philip was a rugby enthusast and Sheila played hockey in the county team.  At school he claimed to have played in every position on the pitch.  He enjoyed watching rugby and when it was on TV he had a special mat on which to stamp his feet during the match so he wouldn’t wear out the carpet!

In 1957 he was ordained and inducted as assistant minister to A B Jestice at St Andrew’s St Cambridge with responsibility for the church at Barnwell.  Philip and Sheila greatly enjoyed the happy, stimulating ministry at these two churches.  He served the wider Baptist family of churches as Secretary to the local Association.  It was during these years that children Andrew and Stephen arrived. 

The family moved to Gloucester in 1961 when he became pastor at Brunswick Road Baptist Church until 1967.  This church was quite different from Cambridge with an older congregation and significant history relating to the Sunday School movement.  It was here that Robert Raikes developed his work and the school hall carried the name Raikes Hall.  From 1965-67 Philip was Secretary to the Gloucestershire and Herefordshire Association.  During these years Rachel and Cilla were born.

As the years went by it was clear that Philip was a man who disliked unnecessary formality and bureaucracy. 

In 1967 Philip was appointed minister of the Mutley Church, Plymouth, and in this period accepted pastoral responsibility for the church at Saltash from 1974-84.

For several years he served as Chaplain to the local Branch of the RNLI.  This was a notable ministry in the Devon and Cornwall Association and exercised significant influence within the group of churches in the city.  The church served medical staff of the local hospitals and as home for Baptist and other students attending the St Mark’s and St John’s College in Plymouth.  Philip was influencial in the development of Hurrell Court in Efford a project of the Baptist Men’s Movement Housing Association and The Buckland Monachorum Hostel for young people in connection with the Devon and Cornwall Association.

He, Sheila and the girls moved to Basingstoke in 1984 to establish a Baptist Church in the town.  This ministry progressed successfully over a period of ten years until his retirement in 1994.

On his retirement they moved back to Plymouth to be close to Stephen and his family where he continued to be active and supportive in local Baptist circles.

They attended Crownhill Baptist as active members of the church family and then later moved to the Ecumenical Church, Christ Church in Estover which was a little nearer their bungalow.

His pastor at this time said, ‘Philip only ever sought to encourage and affirm my wife and me.  He sometimes challenged us and stretched us but was always supportive, kind and gracious. His approach was straightforward but in Philip and Sheila we found wise mentors and loyal friends for whom we will always be grateful.’

One of Philip’s great passions was of course preaching.  He continued to preach well into retirement and in these later years was greatly appreciated in a number of Plymouth city churches.

In his years of retirement Philip’s health could have been better.  He suffered a heart attack in 1996 whilst walking the family dog and underwent a heart bypass a year or so later.  He rehabilitated himself by taking on a newspaper round for exercise as he regained full health.  In 2011 he became seriously unwell impressing all who were near him by the way he approached these limiting changes.  As ever Philip was very self aware and expressed a profound faith in words and manner.  Philip and Sheila acted as co-ordinator for the Plymouth and District Group of Retired Baptist Ministers and Missionaries.

Philip died peacefully on 9th January 2013 aged 82 in the St Luke’s hospice, Plymouth.  There was a memorable Thanksgiving Service held at the Mutley Baptist Church.  His wife Sheila, sons Andrew and Stephen, daughters Rachel and Cilla and grandchildren have warm, loving memories of him.

He was not a man to sit down and do nothing.  He was a man of driving conviction who knew his own mind and brooked little argument, whether this was over his faith, beliefs, prejudices or more.  The influence of his personality will long remain, especially on the many hundreds who had cause to thank God for his generous interest in them and his unselfish friendship.

Derek J Keenan
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