John Chapman thanksgiving service
St Helen's held a thanksgiving service for the life of John Chapman on Friday 1 March 2013. You can listen and watch the Tributes, Reading, Address and Prayers by following this link. The Tribute given by Dick Lucas follows.
Special Teacher and Friend
It's a strange experience to spend Christmas Day in the air; but such was my lot in the mid 1970s. En route to Sydney, I was travelling by invitation of CMS Australia (Church Missionary Society: decisively more evangelical in New South Wales than in the UK) to speak at their Summer School. After time to recover from the long journey through the hospitality of Archbishop and Mrs Loane, it was announced that on the morrow a certain John Chapman was to drive me the fifty or so miles to the Katoomba convention centre in the famous Blue Mountains. No hint or warning was offered concerning the larger than life character I was soon to meet, known apparently to everyone as Chappo. Nor would it have occurred to me that this so called ‘Chappo’ was, in future years, to have a profound influence on a great company of people in this country, including myself, grateful both for his ministry and his friendship.
Understandably there are those who dislike eulogies. Nevertheless the apostles plainly instruct us to give honour to whom honour is due. So it is fitting, as well as a personal delight, to pay tribute to our friend John Chapman, who died this last November aged 82.
Hugh Palmer will say more about John as the superb evangelist he was. I have chosen rather to speak of the man himself.
When we recall John we discover a many-sided person; for this tribute, therefore, I have selected seven characteristics to celebrate. All seven, it seems to me, widened his appeal as well as his ability to reach his generation with the gospel.
First, he was a Practical man. John was brilliant with his hands. Trained in Manual Arts at Sydney Technical college, where he enjoyed what was in effect a liberal arts education, John went at graduation to teach in northern New South Wales. This, I gather, was a State requirement for one's first job, so that schools in the remoter areas could be adequately staffed. I know little about his brief teaching career apart from the hilarious stories that resulted; although I imagine that some of those children must still retain memories of the extraordinary character who once showed them how to make teapot stands, sugar scoops and toast racks!
All his life, to the astonishment of his friends’ wives, Chappo knitted his own voluminous sweaters, socks, gloves etc. Then there was the fine needlework and tapestries he carried with him on all his travels, quietly getting on with some delicate cross-stitching in any leisure moment. Was this, in part, a way he discovered to relax and relieve tension in an intensely busy speaking ministry? At any rate, many hostesses must have been pleased to welcome this expert in DIY.
Secondly, John was a man of Culture. Music was his first love. Having enjoyed lessons at the Sydney Conservatoire, he sang on local radio from the works of such as Schubert and the Englishman Roger Quilter. Also for three years he sang the bass solo in Handel’s Messiah at St Peter's Cathedral, Armidale. This may explain why John was such an easy guest to entertain, ready to follow any suggestion for a visit to a garden or a gallery, a concert or some sight of interest. He seemed interested in everything and everybody; and would talk to anybody about anything!
Thirdly, John was a Sportsman. I trust that this is the right word from the point of view of his opponents, for Chappo hated to lose whether at tennis or golf, and in fact very seldom did! Through his mother he inherited sporting genes from the famous Gregory family who provided men and women for the early days of State and Test cricket. Here his intense competitiveness came to the fore, a never-give-in quality that spilled over into his evangelism; if one avenue for the gospel closed he did not rest until he had found another. Chappo, as I have said, liked to win.
Next, John was a Politician. Had he not been won for the cause of Christ early in life I dare say he would have entered state politics. You'd certainly be glad to have him on your side. He entered fully into synodical affairs, where an attractive quality was an ability to sniff out injustice, and stand for his position at risk of unpopularity or misunderstanding.
Then Chappo was a true Friend. Many examples of personal support, encouragement and kindness will continue to be told among those who knew him. In bereavement or family crisis John would be there. I was impressed too by his concern for his brethren in preaching ministry, whom he did much to mentor and encourage.
But now we come to two characteristics that go a long way to explaining his wonderful ministry among us.
First, there was his keen Intelligence. Yet not having been to university John was initially shy of speaking to students. It was a strange misunderstanding in one normally confident of his commission. For in fact he was just the man for the job on the Campus. What university students require is to be treated as sinners like everyone else, in urgent need of salvation. Yes, skill is necessary in presenting reasons for faith in Jesus, as well as the enormous issues at stake; but who better to do that than John Charles Chapman? Swiftness of repartee, a unique capacity for searching out the heart of the matter, unsentimental realism, with brilliant shafts of humour, attracted and awakened the careless and the cocky, the ignorant and the confused. Even so, John remained humbly amazed that the Christian Unions at both Oxford and Cambridge asked him be their Missioner.
Then John was the Supreme Communicator. This must be clear from what has already been said. But it was not just in a Christian meeting or on a platform that this was the case. It did not matter where he was, or what he was doing. If, on arrival, you took him to the Post Office his chatter would begin five yards from the counter; others nearby would turn their heads and listen in, the girl behind the screen would begin to perk up and smile, and by the time you reached the counter a conversation was already in full swing about his sciatica (or whatever) with a response from her on similar aches and pains, after which talk might range anywhere in the wide world before the business of stamps and parcel weighing was reached. For destroying barriers and building bridges to all sorts and conditions of people our friend was matchless. At first this particular Englishman blushed at Chappo's more astonishing sallies, but in company with him one had to lose one’s inhibitions very quickly!
In truth John's communication skills amounted to a kind of genius. You could not copy, but you could learn from him, for the sake of the gospel.
Before I get down from my perch (a characteristic Chapman saying) I wish to say something about John’s humour, his spirituality (a tiresome but unavoidable word), and his singleness.
His humour was an inborn gift inherited from his father and his eccentric Aunt Millie, his father’s sister. John was not a joker in any professional sense - behind the mask of comedy such men often appear to be depressives, and in a preacher self-conscious jokeyness can repel rather than commend the message. But there was a sense in which John could not help himself. Humour and wit was not an extra stuck on to his personality. It was just the man himself. Amusing statements and stories simply poured out, usually quite unpremeditated. Meeting him at Heathrow, John tired after a long haul flight, his conversation was such that l could barely hold on to the steering wheel for laughing. I recall a description of the antics of the diocese of Darwin, from where he had just come, that was not only excruciatingly funny - but also exceptionally shrewd! In a recent letter to me Rico Tice recounts exactly the same experience on a car journey with Chappo in Australia when he reckoned, in his own words, that he would ‘suffocate with laughter’ if John did not stop.
None of us has met, or is likely to meet, anyone comparable to John in this regard, and we know well that we make fools of ourselves if we attempt to copy him. I think we must say that God gave him this unique ability in part to blow away the preposterous notion that the glorious gospel of Christ means the repression of all the goodness of life as God has made it. In addition, with this sword, John pierced so many of the follies and absurd pretensions of liberal unbelief. Best of all this key opened many a locked door to the truth of the gospel.
Regarding his spirituality, I will simply say that John won his way from an exaggerated holiness teaching to achieve a down to earth godliness that told no lies and avoided all preciousness and false piety. What God called him to be and what God called him to do meant a daily dependence on the mercy and grace of God. In his excellent writings John describes both the struggles and the joys of Christian living.
As to his singleness, there was nothing of the solitary in John. He was unquestionably a social animal. It is probably the case that his astonishing workload, out night after night gospelling, as well as his worldwide travels, might have made family responsibilities a challenge. On the other hand he needed and loved his friends just as they held him in deep affection.
Let the last word be with the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen:
"I had taken a friend of mine to church at St Barnabas’, Broadway. My friend, although warmly disposed towards the gospel, had not at that stage been in the habit of church going for quite a number of years. John was the preacher and, as I remember, expounded Romans 6. It was a fine sermon, characterised by all the usual Chapman traits. It would have been easy to respond to the sermon by being fascinated by the power and personality of the preacher. Instead, my friend turned to me at the conclusion of the sermon and said, “What a great passage that is”. I thought that nothing could illustrate better the essence of a fine preacher. It was not that the personality of the preacher had been hidden or down-played; it was rather that his personality had become the servant of the passage that he was expounding and in the end the hearer was focused on the Word of God, not on the servant through whom the Word came."
When someone has so strong and interesting a personality as John, it would be easy to turn Christian ministry into a personality cult and create disciples. John has managed to combine his strengths with service in such a way that he points to the true Master rather than to himself. For this we thank the Lord our God.’