I recently learned of the death of an old friend. Stephen Chilcraft was born in Southend 1952 and was based there until the late 1970’s, from whence he went on to travel a lot further afield – and would have been known by many. In later years, he lived in Milton Keynes, with his wife Ruth, who died some three years ago, which no doubt left a big gap in his life. While Steve was approaching his threescore and ten, his death still came as a shock. I understand he died soon after having been diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
Many will know Steve for his tremendous contributions to different Christian enterprises and his missionary zeal. After completing his ‘A’ Levels, Steve studied at Birmingham Bible Institute. I remember him as a genuine, decent chap, who was very bright, but shunned the limelight, who loved God, his family and cricket (in that order). Steve was the same age as me and my first recollection meeting him was on an Operation Moblisation crusade in Belgium, just after we had left school. The last time we met (as I recall) was at a Brethren Historians Conference, where we both presented papers. Steve’s was on the remarkable missionary pioneer: Anthony Norris Groves.
In between, we bumped into each other on odd occasions, like (as I recall) a Spring Harvest holiday conference where, true to his “working in the background” remit, he had helped organize, including preparing some of the teaching materials used in the seminars. I also recall he was involved in helping to establish a missionary organization, International Teams, in which I had taken an interest. Besides Operation Mobilisation, where Steve served a term in Bangladesh, there were other Southend related activities around the 1970’s in which we both had some involvement, although not necessarily at the same time: Essex Christian Camps, Kings Road meetings, Operation Jerusalem, house meetings in Paul Bullivant’s home and Castlerigg in the Lake District camps. For a short time, while I was working in Milton Keynes, I had lodged in Steve and Ruth’s house and there met their very young children.
I am pretty sure, among the many lives Steve touched, there were mutual friends who could no doubt fill in some of the many gaps I am barely aware off. His parents, Winston and Miriam, were members of the same church as me (Coleman Street Chapel) in their last years. They were a kindly, wise, godly, gracious, hospitable couple. No doubt some of that character rubbed off onto Steve as did some of his refreshingly, unusual sense of humour. And it wasn’t just Winston, I saw some of Miriam’s gentleness in Steve. Winston, more than any, inspired my interest in the Hebrew prophets. Like him, Jeremiah was my favourite! An interest all three of us had was cricket, and I recall conversations on the finer aspects of the game with both Steve and Winston. More than this though, they were more interested in advancing the cause of Christ and, as I wrap up this short tribute, that is what I remember best about Steve.
I understand there will be a funeral (date to be announced), involving his church (Stony Stratford Community Church), but because of Covid restrictions this will only involve close family, but later when restrictions are lifted there will likely be a memorial service. His remaining close family, his two sisters (Julia and Esther) and two children (Andrew and Rachel), are in our thoughts and prayers. All that is left is to thank God for Stephen Chilcraft, who to be with will be far better than anything he has known.