Fri October 20th, 2023
After the death of long time trustee, Graham Lawrence on the 3rd October 2023, we take this opportunity to remember him together.
For the Ark Church in York, Graham was not just a member, but a leader. He served faithfully as a Trustee on the board for nine years and brought fun to that board as well as to the church itself. He was looked up to for his service, but there was never anyone humbler – he never sought a title or any recognition. That is because he truly shared our ethos and saw service as the natural response of man to God. We never had a fall out – ever – he was a man who could see both sides of an argument, present them and help guide us to a good balance point. He was both trustworthy and trusting. He was what a number of people have described as a safe pair of hands, and perhaps for me the greatest complement that I have heard is that he was fallible but faithful – faithful in every sense of that word.
When I first met Graham, I recognised a commonality between us in that he had also served as a pastor. He served when times were hard and yet he really put his all into serving Jesus.
Having a background as a manual worker and welder, yet carrying a genuine call of God on his life, Graham went to Bible College in 1986 in Wales, leaving to pastor an Assemblies of God church in Guisborough (which is in the borough of Redcar and Cleveland in North Yorkshire). He worked in Guisborough establishing his ministry for 6 years, doing a lot of schools work and working cooperatively with other churches, especially the United Reformed Church. He told me some great stories about pulpit swaps and how he got to preach the gospel in the Roman Catholic Church a couple of times, which I know is both a great opportunity and an honour.
The reality was that times were indeed tough and Graham always took steps to make sure there was food on the table, despite it being hard work and sometimes cutting close to the bone.
There used to be a song we would sing:
“There is joy, joy, Joy in serving Jesus, Joy that throbs within my heart; Ev'ry moment, ev'ry hour, As I draw upon His power, There is joy, joy, Joy that never shall depart”
The reality is that when you are pioneering and working hard for Jesus you need that joy because there is often no money – but Graham stayed the test of time and no one can accuse him of anything less.
When their time was over at Guisborough, Graham wanted to go to university, but to do that he had to obtain A-Levels, which he did, then began two degrees, which he achieved, whilst doing any job he could find in his spare time. He knew the kitchens in most of the restaurants in town in those days, where he would wash up, or take out deliveries. especially the Blue Bicycle.
They also had to move and it was thirty years ago that they swapped houses and moved to New Earswick, which was the start of this new phase in their lives, whereupon they began trying out local churches. Eventually, we were their preferred choice for which we thank God.
Being qualified as a social worker, he was in demand and worked with the vulnerable, the disabled, the elderly and so many with diverse needs. He was able to advise, to direct and to support because he knew the system and understood how it worked. He also was able to advise people about the saviour to direct them to Him and to support their walk with Jesus because he had a good heart and understood what really mattered.
I always knew of his love of country music, but I only recently learned that he used to write reviews of concerts for a country music magazine and that he often used to get free tickets to performances on the back of that. Wow! A man of many talents!
We knew many of the same people, regionally and nationally, and when he been a Christian for 50 years, we invited Pastor Paul Weaver, the man who had preached on the weekend that he became a Christian, to the Ark. That was a great weekend to remember. I also remember Graham taking Pauline and myself and a whole restaurant of friends out for a meal at his own expense around that same anniversary. What a great night that was.
Over the years as a church we have had times where our finances have nearly taken us to the wall and I can say that the number of those times where the exact week that we needed it a cheque came from Graham and Margaret and saved our bacon. Without doubt, the pair of them were very generous and kind and listened to God.
Having only recently retired, due to health problems, we had all hoped that we would continue to walk together for many years, his last time at church was our 20th anniversary service, where he stayed for lunch before quickly ending up in hospital. It was an honour to hold his hand as I prayed with him in the evening before he died, and as much as I knew the seriousness of what he was facing, it was still a shock when I got the phone call at ten past six the following morning. I cannot shrug off the sense that he knew that he was going. He left a great word to the church on 1st October which was:
Thank you so much for your feedback and of course your love and support. I am in pain today due to lying on the bed and in the hospital then bed and this has injured my hip I can hardly walk today, so have not added my daily blog in which I try to encourage and be realistic as well as rejoicing in the situation I am in. I am as always in good spirits but I am not blasé I am aware that I have a condition, that is not unlike many of my age group but like all experiences they mould the character and provide insight into the suffering of others.
Tomorrow I would like to add a little bit of my light-hearted experience in hospital and I’m delighted that people are interested in what is happening to me. Thank you for a full guarantee of your support and blessing, sleep well everybody, I will speak with you tomorrow and always feel free to keep me up to speed with any developments in our wonderful church family God bless all Graham
I am glad that we can look back on our church website and listen to his preaching again. I am glad that we can still walk up to Margaret and give her a hug, even though we know that her pain is astronomically higher than ours. I pray that we will still remember her pain long after ours has past, because it is a characteristic of human life, that we never fail to miss those we love, irrespective of how much time passes.
I am so grateful for the power of human memory and I trust that you will join me in thinking of his face, his grace and his great sense of humour.
Today, I know that he would have wanted you to know His Saviour, Graham was so grateful for God’s forgiveness, for the sustaining power of the love of God in his life, for many answers to prayer for Margaret, himself and for his family. Let the fragility of life and the sudden passing of Graham remind you that we should all call upon the name of the Lord whilst we can.
Here are a range of messages that he has preached over the years: