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The Revd Dr Steve Latham: 1957-2022


'A caring, compassionate and simply incredible man... a man who truly had the essence of God working through him'


Steve LathamThe following tributes were delivered at Steve's funeral service in April. The funeral was streamed on Youtube.   



Tribute from Mayowa Akinloye, Kings Cross Baptist Church 
 
It is extremely difficult to sum up such a caring, compassionate and simply incredible man in only three minutes, but Pastor Steve liked to keep to time and so I will do my very best. 
 
Pastor Steve first came to Kings Cross Baptist Church as a guest preacher, Easter Sunday in 2014 and then again in May 2014. I remember on both occasions his message was so engaging, grounded in the truth and as always, a proclamation of the gospel. On both Sundays he prayed for people (lots of people responded). I knew in my heart and even wrote down that KCBC would cross paths with him again and oh how thankful I am that they did, and that God brought him to us, and that he was called to be our Pastor in 2015.  
 
As a church, we all met Steve and were able to ask him questions about his ministry and what his vision was for our church. I asked, ‘How do you intend to support and disciple people after baptism?’ a question he would never let me forget. Soon after he suggested ‘a catch up/coffee’ and he would usually get a hot chocolate and then talk about how he should really cut down on the sweet stuff. We spoke about discipleship, and he suggested books for me to read wanted to mentor me every other week. This led to him asking me to join him to lead baptismal classes, discipleship training, 1-1 discipleship, Bible studies and growing a small team. Little did I know that he was equipping and encouraging me to be part of the answer to my own question. 
 
You see, Pastor Steve was a wonderful mentor and saw gifts and talents in everyone. He encouraged all of us, provided space for all of us to grow in our faith and developed our confidence so that we could serve fully for the advancement of the kingdom. 
 
Pastor Steve once said, ‘The key for me is to go where the hurt is.’ and this is what he truly did. He was actively committed to anti-racism, social justice and elevating and empowering woman leaders in church. He walked alongside people and loved and cared so deeply, especially for the marginalised. He wanted every single person in our church to feel cared for. This was so important to him during the pandemic, where he split the church up and asked different leaders to be responsible calling individuals so that no one was left out. Even then he would still call every single person in the church!

As leaders, we would have to tell him that he is doing so much for everyone and that it is not possible for him to call everyone personally, all the time… but he still did! Thank you, Steve, for your pastoral heart, for being such an amazing example of Christ’s heart and love for all people. 
 
Everyone in this room will agree that Steve loved books. He always had a book that tied in perfectly with any conversation or topic. It used to blow my mind about how much he just knew! He really was a wealth of knowledge and wisdom. Steve was a great teacher, who always challenged us as a congregation, and everything was grounded solely in the word of the Lord. He never shied away from addressing difficult topics - we all really appreciated being able to ask him any question about life and faith, and that literally nothing was ever off limits for discussion.
 
Pastor Steve was always such an honest man and shared that sometimes he was ‘discouraged by the lack of visible results to his preaching', the small scale response to the gospel or the way people would fall away. But he would also say that we are not told we will be ‘successful’ but we are called to be obedient and faithful. Obedient and faithful is exactly what you were, Steve. I am sure now as you sit with our Lord, you are able to see the visible results. The number of people you touched personally, led to Jesus and who, because of you are serving in various areas of church leadership, ministries and simply being lights in this world. I know the Lord delights in all you have done on this earth.
 
Above all, Pastor Steve loved his family. I remember during one of our coffee catch ups. We spoke about what would be the highlight of our up and coming week and you said the highlight was 'always your Fridays off with Sue’. He always spoke with such pride about his children Jo and Mike. Pastor Steve, you set the standards for Pastors incredibly high, there really won’t be anyone like you. 
 
We will all miss your wonderfully loud (and sometimes out of tune) singing. You would always say you don’t care if you are out of tune, because you just love worshipping the Lord. We will miss your fun nature and of course your dancing! I am sure you are showing off your moves in heaven. We will miss your humility, which truly blew us away. I will miss your advice, text messages checking in with the added ‘don’t worry, I don’t want you to do anything’ It has been the greatest honour to serve under your leadership (KCBC grew in number and depth because of you). I am so thankful. You touched our lives forever.
 
The gates of heaven swung wide open for you – and you danced right on in, while the lord said ‘ Well done, my good and faithful servant!’ 
 
Our dear Pastor Steve, rest now. Rest peacefully until we meet again in glory. 

 


Tribute from Elizabeth Welch and Geoff Biggs, Westbourne Park Baptist Church

We first met Steve in 1999 when he joined us to speak on a church weekend. It was a significant weekend for many, and when we entered an interregnum later that year, the Elders at the time, were led to propose Steve as a new pastor. Steve joined us early in 2000, and was our pastor until 2011 when he was called on to Spurgeon’s College. 

A fleeting event on the weekend that set the tone for Steve’s ministry: on the Saturday morning he was speaking when Sue and, much younger, Jo and Mike, arrived. Steve stopped midway through his sentence, his face lit up, and he proudly said, “this is my wife and children”, clearly setting out the importance of his family to him.  

He continued this when he accepted the pastorate at WPBC, requesting and planning his timetable to enable him to be at home when Jo and Mike got home from school. It became apparent how much Sue’s quiet support underpinned Steve’s public ministry. Among the memories of Steve as our pastor, his role as husband and dad was always very distinct, and a great role model to others. 

Steve encouraged individuals and the church to dream dreams and created space to do things differently.  In 2003, Westbourne Park Family Centre was set up to support and strengthen local families. He was chair of trustees throughout his ministry, nurturing its growth and impact which continues to thrive today.

He was concerned about the limitations of the 1960s building, in particular its lack of accessibility. He was frustrated that some disabled and elderly couldn’t enter without help. So, he formed a church group to explore what could be done to initially adapt and then redevelop the whole site. There were so many hurdles to overcome, no money, little expertise among the elders, but a growing sense that this was God’s purpose.  After a tense church meeting in 2006 it was agreed by the necessary majority to go ahead. Steve’s vision and collaboration got the project off the ground and through the later ministry of Jem Sewell the realisation of the vision was complete in September 2019. Jem was called heavenwards in 2020, so I am sure Steve and Jem are now swapping notes.

Steve was always willing to get involved and have fun. At a youth fundraising event he volunteered to get his hair dyed for the cause, little realising that it would be bleached bright yellow and take months to grow out.  Particularly bad timing, as the following week, he was due to host the induction of David Coffey to President of Churches Together in England with all the national church leaders in attendance. Never once did he complain, taking it all in his stride.

There is so much we could say about the 11 years Steve pastored us at WPBC, and his ongoing support after that, especially in the last year.

However, we will sum up with comments we have received in the last few weeks:  encourager; listener; had time for everyone; teacher/preacher; great communicator of deep biblical and theological principles to groups of people that helped everyone understand despite language; a true Pastor; significant prophetic words spoken into people’s lives; showed an honesty about his own struggles that gave permission to others to be open and vulnerable in return; a wise counsellor; an intentional heart to strengthen cultural diversity in the church; someone who stood strongly against oppression and discrimination in any form; an encourager of critical thinking; a man who truly had the essence of God working through him. 

We give thanks to God for Steve’s life.


This tribute was subsequently received in June 2022, and documents Steve's involvement in securing sanctuary for a Nigerian family in the 1990s. 


Ian Rathbone, former Chair of the Ogunwobi Family Sanctuary Campaign, writes:

For us in Hackney, Steve Latham has a very special memory as the church minister who took the risk of allowing a sanctuary to take place in his church, in the 1990s, for a family under threat of deportation, who had been living legally in the UK for a number of years.

This meant he persuaded the church council and others in the congregation to allow the building, the Downs Baptist Church, to be used for sheltering a family of five – the children all British born, the parents from Nigeria. They were given ‘sanctuary’.

It was a wonderful gesture of solidarity and faith, and a wonderful demonstration of how the church can meet people at their point of need and stand up for justice and against wrongful and discriminatory legislation.

I’m not a member of the Baptist denomination, and Steve called me up and asked me if I could help because of my political experience, something he felt he was not strong on. I said I would advise for a couple of months but he, along with Sunny Ogunwobi, persuaded me to become Chair of the Campaign Committee and then things just ran on. Steve could be quite persuasive and encouraging in a quiet way.

Steve had an adventurous idea if the authorities should ever try and break in to the church. We all agreed we would be having a prayer meeting and they would have to break up our prayer meeting to take the family. It never happened but we had a lot of prayer meetings, including surrounding a car which contained immigration officers, parked in the road outside the church, early on in the campaign with a very loud prayer meeting - they were just sitting in the car doing we don’t know what. We never saw any immigration officers again.

Because of his action – which some church members objected to so he had to ride a wave of criticism – not only did that family achieve justice and indefinite leave to remain – many churches, individuals of other faiths and none, came together to support the Ogunwobi Family. It became an ecumenical, and political, struggle as MPs, local council and church leaders, and even Church of England bishops, came to support, and understand more of what we have to do to love and care for people..

We had to come to grips with something some church people put to us about what it means in Romans 13 about ‘submit to the authorities’. Steve was eloquent at reasoning out that there are authorities who are not Godly, who are not showing love, and introduced the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, who decided to defy the Nazis (and who incidentally had East London connections as a pastor in the 1930s).

Sunny should have been given leave to remain when he reached his tenth year of being in the UK, during the early part of the sanctuary, but just before that point, the Government upped that boundary and kept on periodically upping it, just out of our reach.

And they also passed messages back to us that they would not recognise the sanctuary or its case, and the family should leave the church building. Steve spoke of the ‘moral authority’ of the church to protect those unjustly accused.

The sanctuary lasted three and a quarter years, and at one point Steve decided to bravely fast for seven days (continuing to drink) to try and make a break in the deadlock in what was a stalemate between the campaign and the Government, in negotiations for the family. After that, in 1997, with the election of a Labour Government, we saw the sanctuary brought to an end and for the family to be welcome to stay.

At one point, Steve went to the Home Office with the then Bishop of Stepney, the Moderator of the Baptist Union and the local MP to see the then Minister for Immigration at the Home Office.

He used the time of the Sanctuary to work with young people to help them to understand more about political involvement, the theology around it, and what is justice. He always seemed to have an affinity with young people – particularly teenagers and twenty somethings.

On a personal level, Steve and Sue also became my neighbours, and helped support me through a personal crisis and befriended myself and my children in the process with many shared meals and children in and out of each house.

Steve was also interested in prophecy and I remember that later, after the Sanctuary, as part of his doctoral thesis, he visited the US and came into contact with a number of people with varying views on prophecy, of which he related some fascinating stories of their ministries.

During one Sanctuary meeting, he prophesied that the present Government who would not give the family leave to remain, would be brought down with a crash. And that did happen in 1997, with a Labour Party landslide victory. But he reminded people, he did not personally bring the Government down, only signposted its future demise if it did not change its ways!

Three months after the Labour Government came in during 1997, the family were freed from sanctuary and able to return to their normal lives with indefinite leave to remain.

Steve Latham was the right man for that moment in Hackney in 1994, and we will always be indebted to him and Sue for their willingness to take such a dramatic step into the unknown.

 
Sunday Ogunwobi adds: Steve was a Christian who demonstrated his faith by his actions. My family and I will always remember and appreciate Steve and Sue for their support while we were in Sanctuary.


John Stewart, a member of the campaign committee and Hackney resident, writes: 'I hadn't seen Steve for many years but this is still a bit of a shock. He was such a kind and caring man, always so encouraging of others. I will always have very fond memories of him, not just from Sunny and Bunmi's campaign but also from the Bible reading classes he organised in the late 1980s / early 1990s at his home in Downs Road.

Somewhere, I think I will still have some of the articles he wrote about the role of Christians in opposing racism within the church and within wider society and the role of liberation theology in making a better world.

 

 

 

 

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