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The Revd Michael Banfield: 1948-2020

Michael Brian Banfield was a Baptist minister and Senior Chaplain at London Luton Airport (he admitted to being ‘a man with a dream job’, having been an aviation enthusiast since the age of 11)

Michael BanfieldBorn on 1 August 1948 in Clapham, Michael Banfield was brought up in the manse in an atmosphere of strenuous activity, for his father Dennis Banfield was the new minister of Lordship Lane Baptist Church, Dulwich, its building a bombed-out wreck in urgent need of reconstruction. The family moved to Middle Wall Baptist Church, Whitstable, when he was six years old.

Michael’s lifelong gifts of leadership, enthusiasm and utter commitment showed early. They were first focussed on Whitstable railway station, where the staff resolved his ubiquity by making him a junior porter, allowing him in those pre-Tannoy days to hone his public-speaking skills by announcing the trains in a shrill treble. All the neighbours were obliged to turn out to see the first electric unit go through in 1959.

The move to Union Baptist Church, Eastleigh that summer occasioned a decisive shift from trains to aeroplanes, for with Southampton (Eastleigh) Airport only 10 minutes’ walk from home, even before teenage Michael was often to be found helping the baggage loaders or washing light aircraft in return for a free ride! This, and the vibrancy of Eastleigh Baptist Church’s young people’s culture, sealed his future. At 16 Michael was baptised, and shortly afterwards began preaching and taking services in local Baptist churches. Having met Linda in their Sunday school class, he and his future wife also formed a musical duo which expanded to a pop group for youth evangelisation purposes.

On leaving school Michael worked at Southampton Airport as a passenger services agent for British United Airways but was soon accepted for a general apprenticeship with BOAC at Heathrow. This was a comprehensive training in all aspects of the airline’s work leading to the position of station manager. But Michael began to feel a call to Baptist ministry, and after three years and completion of the BOAC course found the airline very understanding in releasing him from employment for training at Bristol Baptist College instead.

Study and work experience were needed first, and Michael and Linda, married at Eastleigh in 1970, lived in Bournemouth while Michael worked for Hants and Dorset as a bus conductor. It was the year of decimalisation—not the best time to be on the buses! This engagement with a third form of transport (a fourth was yet to come) often found him studying in the canteen during his breaks, and he had many a conversation with staff about why he was working on the buses, why he was busy reading, and why he was called to Christian ministry. The move to Bristol came in September 1971. During his last year at college Michael was house president. 

Leaving college in 1975, he accepted a call from Cosham Baptist Church, Portsmouth. When he arrived the congregation numbered around 60 with a predominantly elderly diaconate. Coffee after the service was seen as an innovation. As the ministry progressed, new families were drawn in and the diaconate got younger. The church took a leap of faith, redesigned the worship area, and put in place a project to link two parts of the building and create new rooms. As a first ministry it was challenging but exciting. Michael, focussing on the pastoral role as well as preaching and teaching, offered the church a new beginning of powerful witness both locally and regionally which continues today. It was at Cosham that Michael and Linda’s two daughters Clare and Jennifer were born.

During 1980 an invitation from Minehead Baptist Church arrived via Michael’s ex-college principal, the Revd Dr Leonard Champion, now a member, asking him if he would meet with the church leaders as they were seeking a new minister. At first Michael declined, feeling that his work at Cosham was not finished. Nine months later, however, when a further invitation arrived he felt it right to accede. A call eventuated, and Michael served at Minehead until l986, concentrating once more on worship and preaching, pastoral care and leadership but also on the church’s holiday ministry. The Baptist Holiday Fellowship was based in Minehead, and he enjoyed visiting Westholme, their hotel, on a Saturday evening in the summer months to welcome guests and invite them to the service the following morning. For the BHF Michael and Linda also led pilgrimage tours over some years to the Holy Land and Oberammergau. In the church Michael was kept on his toes by having six retired missionaries and seven retired Baptist ministers in the membership.

In 1986 Michael accepted a call to Shirley Baptist Church, Southampton. This was a flagship city church with a large group of young people and many organisations for all ages. New initiatives were started, including Communicare which has grown and is well known across the city for its work offering support to the people of Shirley. An eldership was set up in addition to the diaconate. Michael again had a preaching and pastoral ministry but also focussed on discipleship training for all ages. Masterlife courses were held and many benefited from these. As the church grew, a building project was launched and completed. Several enjoyable church holidays were held in Minehead. Michael also served on the Southern Baptist Association Ministerial Recognition Committee, becoming secretary for a period of time, sharing this role with Linda as minute secretary.

During the latter years at Shirley, Michael was drawn back towards Southampton Airport. Very much at home involved in its chaplaincy for a few hours each week, when he saw an advert in The Baptist Times for a full-time chaplain at London Luton Airport in 1995 he felt that God was calling him to apply. He saw his appointment very much as an extension of his Christian ministry. His arrival coincided with a period of rapid airline growth for Luton and it was clear that further chaplains were needed to cover three the site’s many companies and employees, so a volunteer team was established and over 18 years Michael recruited, trained, pastored and led an ordained and lay team of up to ten (including Linda), he being the one ecumenical full-time chaplain. They were all very much involved in the work. A chapel was built and dedicated in 2000 and a multi-faith airside prayer room opened in 2010, both used for private devotions by many passengers and staff and also for services. Combining his aviation and ministry experience, Michael described his time at the airport as ‘the most privileged and enjoyable ministry’. It was hugely appreciated, to the extent that on retirement he was treated to a surprise circuit of the airport in a Tiger Moth, the same make of aircraft his father had been thwarted from learning to fly through illness in the RAF in 1941. All of London’s air traffic was on hold for two minutes.

Within his time at Luton he was secretary for the British Isles and Eire Airport Chaplains’ Network for six years, and he helped set up a number of other airport chaplaincies at home and abroad. From 1995 until his death he was a member of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains, serving on the board and becoming vice-president for a period of years. He was also chaplain to the de Havilland Moth Club, naturally taking delight in attending their flying events.

On Michael’s retirement in 2013, he and Linda moved to Basingstoke to be nearer their daughters and two grandchildren, Jericho and Rose, with whom he had a close and very loving relationship. Linda and Michael enjoyed a happy married life of nearly half a century and would have celebrated their golden wedding this year. From Basingstoke, in addition to working with local funeral directors by taking services and pastorally caring for bereaved families, Michael retained his interest in aviation, still involved in chaplaincy both at Southampton Airport and Goodwood Aerodrome. But a final chapter in his transport odyssey also opened up: for five years from 2014 he and Linda were involved in cruise-ship chaplaincy with Cunard, leading Christmas and Easter services and having a pastoral role to guests and crew on the ship. From 2018 until his death Michael was additionally part of the team ministry at Christchurch Chineham, the ecumenical church (Anglican, Baptist, URC and Methodist) which he and Linda attended.

Michael bravely and cheerfully fought three different cancers between 2006 and his death on 24 March 2020 and was a faithful servant of God throughout his life.

A committal service has been held at Basingstoke Crematorium for close family. A thanksgiving service will be arranged at a later date. 

Stephen Banfield (brother)

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