I have reflected here twice before on the subject of grief regarding the passing of our dear friend James Witham. In 2016 I wrote a post entitled Grieving for a friend (marking 2 years since his death) and then in 2018 I wrote again entitled Reflections on James (marking 5 years). Over the past few weeks I have found myself reflecting again on the subject of grief following the passing of another friend of mine, Thompy Wright on Monday 6th May 2019. In my original posts my reflections centred on 1 Thessalonians 4:13 where Paul writes to the Thessalonians about their concern for those who had already passed away. Why does he do this? “So that you [i.e. the Thessalonians] do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope”. It was not an easy lesson to learn at the time but I am so grateful to be able to reflect on the loss of a number of loved ones with ‘hope-filled’ eyes and the knowledge that each one is now with Jesus.
Thompy worked with the Navigators for 39 years and was a colleague of mine for about 20 years. Following a stint in the British Army Thompy was recruited to the Navigators by a couple leading the work in Reading (1973) and then spent time in Edinburgh (1974), Newcastle (1975-80), Glasgow (1980-86) and Southampton (1986-2019). While in Southampton (33 years) Thompy was primarily involved with making disciples in a church context but he was always a huge help, resource and encouragement to us as we led the Navigator student ministry. On numerous occasions Thompy spoke to our student groups and was always received well and greatly appreciated.
Thompy was a very kind and thoughtful man who encouraged me greatly. A few examples of this would be that back in 2007 I received some difficult feedback about a resource I had put together. Thompy was brilliant at encouraging me and helping me see the wood from the trees. In 2012 Thompy and I were asked to co-lead a seminar on Leading Small Groups and he very much took me under his wing and helped me find my best contribution. Working with Thompy was a real joy! Then in 2013 after the tragedy concerning our friend James, I received a lovely message of encouragement and an offer of help from Thompy.
In more recent years I finally succumbed to Thompy’s invitation (which he had been making for some years) that I might do Formation School (link). This was a one year discipleship programme run through Above Bar Church that Thompy helped initiate, lead and develop over the past 7 years. It is designed to help grow leaders who make disciples. I had great fun participating in the course in 2017-2018 and met regularly with Thompy (who was my assigned mentor) throughout the year. Having a drink at Coffee #1 will not be the same without him!
One of the reasons for doing the year was to get a better understanding of what Formation School was all about and it was no surprise that at the end of the year I joined the Formation School Team. Thompy had been praying about this for some time and spent a lot of time helping, training and preparing me for greater involvement in the future. Thompy was due to step down from his role as co-director of Formation School this summer ahead of his official retirement next Spring. In essence our Navigator ministry has always been about training the next generation and Thompy worked hard to give me opportunities to lead, to speak and to serve in this context over the past year often at his own cost.
As I reflect I am so grateful for Thompy’s investment in my life. He has been a great friend, colleague and mentor. I will miss him greatly and he leaves a big gap in my life as I continue to make a contribution within Formation school. Having been at his thanksgiving service today it is also very clear that Thompy was involved in all sorts of ways with a huge group of people from over the years: people that he worked with, lived with and opened his life to. The church was full today, full of people who Thompy had touched in some way. My heart goes out to his close friends and family who have lost a husband, father, grandfather, friend and neighbour. Surely we are all much poorer without Thompy in our lives.
For Thompy however I expect that he has now seen just how right Paul was when he wrote “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Thompy has lived out all of the days ordained for him and the works God prepared in advance for him to do. Now God has taken him home to begin working on all that He has planned for him in eternity…
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”Psalm 139:16 and Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
So as we remember Thompy’s life I am encouraged amidst the sadness to celebrate all that God did in and through Thompy’s life. He leaves behind a huge legacy and it is a massive challenge to give our lives too in such a way that we also leave behind a long line of individuals in whose lives we also have invested, encouraged and inspired to live for Jesus.
So we do not grieve without hope. No we have a hope in Jesus for all that awaits us. My prayer is that many would come to know and understand that hope through the inspiring story of Thompy’s life. My prayer is that his life would serve as an inspiration to me (and many others) to go on and make the kind of contribution to the lives of others that he did. I will really miss him but I look forward to one day sitting down with him again and catching up over a hot drink in the ultimate Coffee #1…