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The Revd Douglas Charles Sparkes MA BD: 1927-2020

The Revd Douglas C Sparkes died on New Year’s Day 2020 after a period of illness. He was aged 92 years

Douglas SparkesDouglas was born on the boarded Barns Estate on the north side of Chelmsford to Gurton “Bert” and Edith Augusta Jessie (nee Shipley). He had an older sister, Edna. He was educated at King’s Road Schools passing the Eleven Plus exam and proceeding to King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford.

His parents attended Market Road Baptist Church, now Central Baptist Church and when Douglas was eleven he made a decision to follow Christ following a talk by the then minister, J H G Adam. It was some years later that he was baptised during the ministry of Andrew Rattray Allan and was received into church membership.

On leaving school under the influence of art mistress, Connie Alderton, he was entered into an apprenticeship with architect A Eric Wiseman. Douglas enjoyed architecture immensely and throughout his life he took a keen interest in church buildings and architecture in general. Whilst serving his apprenticeship he began to serve as one of a group from the Christian Endeavour at the church who took services in the surrounding villages and Doris Spurling was one of the group. Douglas and Doris soon began what turned out to be a long courtship of eight years. At a Holy Week series of meetings in 1945 Douglas experienced a call to Christian Ministry, but progress towards this end was delayed by his being called up to the RAF in 1946 and the College requirement that students must be 21 years of age. Following his release from the RAF he applied to train at Spurgeon’s College, but he missed the opportunity to be part of the 1949 intake. The College suggested he should do a pre-Collegiate internment year on the Isles of Scilly, which he did. Eventually in 1950 he entered Spurgeon’s College where he gained a London Bachelor of Divinity degree. The College did not permit marriage during the course of study. At the end of his college course in July 1954 Douglas and Doris married in Chelmsford with the service conducted by the Revd Andrew Rattray Allan.

Douglas has always had a keen interest in Baptist history and did a post-graduate degree under Professor J H Y Briggs at Keele University whilst serving as General Superintendent in London entitled ‘Dissenters and the Government of the City of London 1661-1767”. It was submitted in November 1981.

Following his marriage to Doris, who remained a constant help to him during his whole ministry, and on leaving Spurgeon’s College he was called to the pastorate of Waterlooville Baptist Church in Hampshire, which he served from 1955 to 1962. Under his ministry the church grew from 120 members to 180. It was at Waterlooville that Douglas developed good relationships with the local Vicar and Methodist minister developing his commitment to the strengthening of ecumenical relations, which would stand him in good stead in later years. Three of their children, Graham, Hilary and Andrew were born during the ministry at Waterlooville.

There then followed successful pastorates in New Malden (1962-1966), where Elaine was born and Perry Rise, Forest Hill (1966-1976), where Claire was born. These London ministries established Douglas as a competent and gifted minister well known within the London Baptist Association. At Perry Rise he became a member of the Association Council and later on the Area Committee, a confidential group to support the General Superintendent. His gifts of ministry and his wise counsel were recognised by the wider Baptist community when he was appointed General Superintendent of the London Metropolitan Area, which he served from 1976-1982.

He was then called to serve as Deputy General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, which he did from 1982-1991. During this time he played a key role in the relocation of the national offices of the Baptist Union from Southampton Row to Didcot, Oxfordshire, sharing premises with the Baptist Missionary Society. This involved much behind the scenes negotiation with the contractors and with the BMS and this detailed work was something for which Douglas was noted. Doris served as Douglas’s Secretary during a large part of this time and they proved to be a very efficient duo in ensuring key Committees of the Union were efficiently run and serviced.

It is impossible to list all the Baptist and ecumenical organisations which Douglas was involved with, but he served as de facto national ecumenical officer for the Union during the inter-church process of the late 1980s. The engagement with other Christian denominations was always a positive experience for Douglas from his time at Waterlooville onwards. He formed close friendships with various national ecumenical leaders and at his retirement meal at Baptist House in 1992 those he had worked closely with in national ecumenical matters spoke with warm appreciation of the contribution Douglas had made in the journey towards the wider ecumenism, which was the goal of the Inter-Church Process.

Within the Baptist family and beyond the many committees of the Union for which Douglas had special responsibility, he was engaged with the Retired Baptist Minister’s Housing Society and chaired the Baptist Housing Trust, which made grants to retired housing complex’s within the English Churches Housing Group which had a Baptist beginning.

Throughout this time he served the Baptist Historical Society. Whilst at Waterlooville he began a critical work for the Society in producing over the years indices of the seven volumes of the Transactions of the society and the first twenty volumes of the Baptist Quarterly, which the society published in three volumes with Doris painstakingly typing every entry. He was soon a member of the Committee of the society and served as Secretary (1971-1976) and later a Vice President until his death. His output of Baptist research included an account of the life of Samuel Morton Peto and he produced a book published by the BHS entitled Hitting the Buffers. In his final years of service to the Union he was asked to research various aspects of the Home Mission Fund and he produced a series of booklets and papers on the work of Home Mission and the constitution of the Union.

Though formed and exercising his ministry in the south of England, he nevertheless engaged with Baptist life in the north, serving as an evaluator of the Yorkshire Baptist Association in the 1980s and as a Baptist Union representative on the Governing body of the Northern Baptist College.

In retirement, Douglas continued his preaching ministry and he and Doris entered into the life of Datchet Baptist Church. Douglas oversaw some extensions and improvements to the Datchet buildings drawn on his earlier experience in architecture.

Douglas is survived by his wife, Doris, their children Graham, Hilary, Andrew, Elaine and Claire and by 12 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren.

Keith G Jones, President, the Baptist Historical Society

Image | Douglas in 2018 outside the house where he and Doris lived during their first ministry at Waterlooville

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