Farewell to Harborough minister who had the courage to write about his own death before his recent passing

Rev. Derek WilliamsRev. Derek Williams
Rev. Derek Williams
'A gentle minister, good listener, and wonderful communicator' - those are just some of the words used to describe Rev. Derek Williams, who sadly passed away on June 3.

His last published piece was in this newspaper just a month ago, when he had the courage to write about his own death, and encourage others with words of faith and hope.

Last November, Derek was told that he had Motor Neurone Disease.

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"In view of my rapid decline over the previous six months, I don’t have much time left on earth," he wrote in his last column in May.

Derek was an ordained Anglican who worked as an editor, writer and media relations adviser for a number of Christian agencies, including the Diocese of Peterborough and Billy Graham. He was the author of more than a dozen books, and has most recently served Churches Together in Harborough as communications officer.

In this week's Churches Together in Harborough column, co-chairs Jan Turner and Maureen Douglas said: "Our prayers are with his wife, Susan, and we thank God for Derek’s lifelong ministry, and for his time working with us in CTH. He was a great servant of God, gentle minister, good listener, and wonderful communicator."We thought it was appropriate to publish his last column once again in tribute to him.

Last column by Derek Williams

Last November, I was told that I had the incurable, untreatable and life-shortening Motor Neurone Disease. In view of my rapid decline over the previous six months, I don’t have much time left on earth.

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It was not a surprise. Clearly I had something more than age-related frailty. A simple internet search had already suggested something like MND. But it was a wake-up call. I am going to die. Soon.

So are we all, sometime. But we prefer not to think about it, beyond perhaps making a will and taking out life insurance “just in case something happens”. For me, the supreme question now is, “What happens next?”

In the short term, the NHS, Motor Neurone Disease Association, Social services, and our local charity and hospice LOROS (with its MND specialists) sprang into action. I couldn’t have asked for more. But what of the long term?

My Christian faith reminds me that “God so loved the world that he gave his Son Jesus Christ, so that whoever believes (trusts) in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That is a given for me, confirmed and reinforced by the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, which we celebrate at Easter. But what exactly does that eternal life – or Heaven, as we call it – consist of?

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Surprisingly, the Bible says very little about it. That is probably because heaven is a different dimension to the one we live in. We can’t imagine a parallel universe!

Jesus told us that we would be with him. St Paul positively looked forward to that while languishing in a Roman jail (but nevertheless, he concluded that continuing to share his faith and waiting for God’s timing was more beneficial to the people in the churches he cared for than his own comfort).

Paul also wrote that we (and the whole of creation) would be “redeemed” and changed – implying that there will be some continuity between this world and the “New heavens and new earth” we are promised at the end of the world. Until then, Paul suggests, those who have died “sleep”. (But “until then” might be a meaningless term when time itself ceases and melds into a timeless eternity.)

Contrary to some misconceptions, the Bible’s final book Revelation offers little more (it’s mostly about spiritual conflict in the present), except to emphasise heaven as a place of light, joy, peace and the clear presence of God. Our popular images are mostly pure speculation. So, I wait to see.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ death on the cross enables me to sing (in the words of a modern hymn): “No guilt in life, no fear in death… Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.” Think about it!