Jim was among the first group of boys who began attending Bible study and fellowship meetings at our home in Chiswick, west London in the early 1960s. These meetings began in the autumn of 1961 with four 13 year old girls, all of whom were pupils of Grace at Hammersmith County School for Girls. The number of attendees grew but, for a while, continued to be girls only. In time, however, boys began to attend. As numerical growth took place the group became known as the Grange Fellowship.
Jim was invited by his best friend, David Burl. Both of them, along with another close friend, Ben Belsham, had hearts that were open to the Lord and soon received Christ as their Lord and Saviour. The promise of John 1:12-13 was fulfilled in their lives, “… to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
For these three teenage boys, there was no doubt about their commitment to the Lord Jesus and they have subsequently never faltered in their witness and service for the Lord. Jim and Ben received and obeyed the call to full time Christian ministry; David went on to serve the Lord illustriously in the world of academia. Ben conducted the service of celebration for the life of Jim on 27 January 2017 and David was present.
Like Adam, to whom the Lord brought a wife and soulmate in Eve, the Lord brought Jim the love of his life in Janet, who was one of the original four girls in the founding of the Grange Fellowship. My wife Grace has always been very proud of the fact that she had a role in bringing them together, with the help of David and, doubtless, the approval of the Holy Spirit! Many of you are familiar with the story of how Grace invited Janet, Jim and David to our house one Saturday evening for a time of informal fellowship. The agreement between Grace and David was that he would, under some pretense, leave at 9:00pm leaving Jim and Janet with us for a while longer. It was a dark night and Jim, being the young gentleman that he was, insisted on accompanying Janet to her home in safety. It was the beginning of their courtship and life together.
Their wedding took place on September 24, 1966, when they also became the first Grange Fellowship couple to marry. The Lord blessed them with two fine children, Craig and Lynne. Jim and Janet celebrated their Golden, 50th wedding anniversary in 2016.
Jim joined the staff of the Come Back to God Campaign, an evangelistic organization and trained for the ministry under its auspices. This included studies at Adelaide College and a comprehensive, “on the job” schedule of training at Highgate and Ealing. Incidentally, Ben took the same route in training and preparation for the ministry.
Jim’s first pastorate was at Underwood Free Church in Reading, Berkshire where he was also officially ordained. He remained there for 5 years, after which he became the pastor of Perivale Mission Church, taking over that responsibility from the Rev. Denis Paterson, the founder and director of the Come Back to God Campaign.
From Perivale Jim and Janet, and family moved north to Rochdale in Lancashire where Jim became manager of the Come Back to God Campaign Christian bookshop and also joined the pastoral team of Zion Baptist Church with Rev. Mansel Hiles.
In 1986, Jim became pastor of Fordham Baptist Church in Cambridgeshire and remained there until 2001. It was during these years that both Craig and Lynne were married. Subsequently, their children presented Jim and Janet with 5 grandchildren.
His final move took place in 2001 when he accepted an invitation to become the pastor of Bere Regis Congregational Church in Bere Regis, Dorset. He remained in that position until the Lord took him Home on January 2nd, 2017.
Jim loved being a pastor. Evidence of that can be seen in the fact that he never had any intention of retiring from pastoral ministry. When he celebrated his 65th birthday in 2011 he kept going and on his 70th birthday in June 2016, he was still “in harness” caring for God’s people and preaching the Gospel.
I have no hesitation in saying to any young man aspiring to the ministry, who wants an example of how it should be done, to take an earnest look at the life work of Rev. Jim Morris.
Before saying anything more, this is an appropriate moment to refer to the part played through the years by Janet, Jim’s soulmate and partner in the great work the Lord entrusted to them. Jim and Janet adored each other. They were perfectly matched and Jim would be the first to say that he could not have been such an effective servant of the Lord without Janet at his side.
Jim was a people person. He loved others and there was no limit to the lengths he would go to help and nurture people in their spiritual journey and overcome the challenges that they faced. He attracted people to himself and he was loved by them. A touching and tender example of this was the case of his mother-in-law. Her husband, Janet’s father, predeceased his wife and she, from then on confidently depended on Jim. When she began to slip into a state of dementia, it was Jim to whom she looked more than anyone else to comfort and help her. That care was given attentively by Jim and, of course by Janet too, until she passed away.
I remember him telling me once that he did not have the ambition to be the pastor of a large church with a multitude of people in his congregation. A smaller church in a smaller community fitted him perfectly.
Jim was a sound theologian and an excellent preacher. Through the decades of his ministry, his congregations were blessed by his teaching and counsel. The Holy Spirit was upon him and he spoke with authority. People sensed this about him.
He fitted well into a public setting and when he spoke to a crowd of people, they listened. He also had a great sense of humour. There was nothing dour or depressing about his manner. I told him that I believed that, if the Lord had not called him to ministry in the Kingdom of God, he could have succeeded very well as a stand-up comedian and entertainer. He had a great stage presence. On the occasions when Grace and I travelled to the UK, and there was a Grange Fellowship reunion included on the itinerary, we had no hesitation asking Jim to be the master of ceremonies at that event. Many will recall the easy, humorous manner in which he performed this responsibility. Who can forget him producing a packet of pills from his pocket and saying, “I think the average age of those attending this reunion is 55. Perhaps now is the time we should be taking our pills?” Then, taking pills out of the packet in his hand he would say, “These are my heart pills and these are for my cholesterol etc. etc.” Vividly imprinted on my memory is the hilarious rendition by Jim, complete with costume, hat and false beard, at the 2015 reunion in Gunnersbury Baptist Church in Chiswick of Fagan’s song from the musical Oliver, “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two.” Those of you who were there will remember and it is OK to laugh again right now.
This brings me to a very valuable comment that I want to make regarding Jim and Janet’s ministry. They did what Jesus did in a way that regrettably is not always seen in the work of pastors and their wives. While some of us busy ourselves setting up programmes in our churches and invite people to come to them (nothing basically wrong in doing that), we forget and fail to do what Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Jim did not make this mistake.
The Gospels tell of the Lord Jesus going to the people and mingling with them where they were, often to the disgust of the religious leaders of His day. Jim and Janet did what their Saviour did and became involved in their community. The people of Bere Regis have plenty of memories of Jim that will remind them that he was a man who loved them, a man who loved life, a man who not only wanted people to come to faith in the Lord Jesus but have fun and be happy. Jim and Janet could be found attending and active in events that included the whole community and brought people together.
I do not know of any pastor anywhere who regularly became involved in the presentation of an annual pantomime or musical production. Jim did more than get involved, he wrote the script, directed and played a major role in at least 9 major dramatic productions over the years. He will be sadly missed and long remembered with affection by the people of Bere Regis, a community Jim and Janet came to love.
King David is believed to be the writer of Psalm 37 and in verse 23 he says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in his way.” Jim was truly, a good man. If he were here and heard me say that, he would hasten to add that, if that were true it was due to the manifestation of God’s grace in his life. He would be right of course, in the way that it would be true for all of us who seek to follow the Lord Jesus as His disciples.
Grace and I are so grateful for some quality time that we were able to spend with Jim and Janet in 2007. Through a Time Share to which they belonged they were able to book a stay at a very nice location near Banff, Alberta and invited us to share it with them. It was a wonderful time of rich fellowship. Afterwards we drove home to Abbotsford where we had more time together. We shall not forget that special time.
Sadly, for us, we shall not have another opportunity here on earth to have good fellowship with Jim, or to sing along as he leads the singing of worship songs, strumming along on his banjo, or hear him preach, or watch and roar with laughter as we attend a performance of one of his pantomimes. We all mourn and grieve our loss of him. For Grace and me, his passing means another of our spiritual children has gone on ahead of us into the glorious presence of the Lord.
However, grieve though we may, that is far from being the whole story. Writing to the believers in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul said, “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.” We know by faith and the witness of the Holy Spirit that Jim is more alive now than he has ever been. He has seen Jesus face to face, and has entered into his eternal inheritance that the Lord has prepared for him and all of God’s people. Without any doubt in my mind, I know he was greeted on arrival in glory with enthusiastic rejoicing and heard the word of the Lord Jesus to him, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord.”
It is not easy for us to imagine what eternal blessings Jim is now enjoying. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), the Bible commentator wrote the following words as he neared the end of his life, and gave instructions that they be read at his funeral. Let us put these words into Jim’s mouth and give him the last word.
“Would you like to know where I am?
I am at home in my Father’s house, in the mansion prepared for me there. I am where I want to be – no longer on the stormy sea, but in God’s safe, quiet harbour. My sowing time is done and I am reaping; my joy is as the joy of harvest.
Would you like to know how it is with me?
I am made perfect in holiness. Grace is swallowed up in glory.
Would you like to know what I am doing?
I see God, not as through a glass darkly, but face to face. I am engaged in the sweet enjoyment of my precious Redeemer. I am singing hallelujahs to Him who sits upon the Throne, and I am constantly praising Him.
Would you like to know what blessed company I keep?
It is better than the best on earth. Here are the holy angels and the spirits of just men made perfect. I am with old acquaintances with whom I worked and prayed, and who came here before me.
Lastly, would you like to know how long this will continue?
It is a dawn that never fades! After millions and millions of ages, it will be as fresh as it is now.
Therefore, do not weep for me!”
Martin J. Gouldthorpe
January 22, 2017