Dad chose his friend and colleague Rev Wes Blakey to write his obituary for the Methodist Conference. The family is thankful to Wes for performing this service and for allowing us to publish it on the blog. I’ve done so today, because it would have been Dad’s 86th birthday.
JOHN GORDON MITCHELL was born in Greenock, Renfrewshire, on 3rd July 1929, the eldest of four children of John and Annie, and baptized in the Church of Scotland where he attended Sunday School and the Life Boys. In war-time he went with school friends to Salvation Army and played baritone and trombone in Junior Band and later went with one of his sisters to the Junior Christian Endeavour in Roxburgh Street Methodist Church. His time at the Methodist Church had a profound influence upon John, where he became a member of the Sunday School, Youth Fellowship, and Lance Corporal in the Boys Brigade leading a regular Bible Class in the latter. Here, the ministry of Rev Ivor Seeley was a huge influence upon the young John.
On John’s 14th birthday he left school and began work for meagre wages and long hours on a farm in Kilmalcolm, which left no time for church or much else. Two years later he returned home and eventually gained an engineering apprenticeship. He was able then to return to Roxburgh Street Church where he was immediately welcomed back and was active again in Youth Club, Youth Fellowship and became Sunday School Superintendent.
Following a call to preach he became Fully Accredited in 1949 and then went on to answer a call to ordained ministry and, when accepted in 1950, began his studies at Wesley College Headingley.
John’s love of sport continued through his 3 years of college, becoming the football team’s goalkeeper, and in 3rd year he was team captain and General Sports Secretary.
During his candidating process a friendship grew between John and Chris, who was a member at Ardgowan Methodist Church, Greenock but, as was the custom then, marriage had to wait until August 1956 after ordination. That began a strong and loving partnership of mutual support which enriched John’s ministry in every respect.
John served in North of Scotland Mission 1953-56; Haltwhistle 1956-62; Sunderland North 1962-68; Newcastle Mission 1968-73 ; Consett 1973-80. In the latter two he served as superintendent and in 1980 was appointed as Chairman of Newcastle upon Tyne District. During these years he held many District and Connexional roles ~ both Assistant Synod Secretary and then Synod Secretary; and both times of the Methodist Conference being held in Newcastle in his ministry he was very involved as Assistant Secretary then Chairman of the Arrangements Committee.
John and Chris’s daughters Anabel and Elspeth were both born in Haltwhistle, and ultimately they were to introduce sons-in-law John and Winston and then granddaughters Harriet and Cassie; he took great delight in them all, each adding a joyous dimension to his life.
Above all else, John was an excellent pastor, always approachable and, no matter how busy he was, he made time for people. He was blessed with an astonishingly good memory for names and details about people, and in any gathering – Church, Circuit or District – he consequently knew the people with whom he was meeting and could tell almost to the minute when some ministers were going to sneak out of Synod, thinking they had missed his eye. Sometimes a conversation with them in the following days would kindly remind them that he knew!
His preparation for meetings was immaculate, and always began with prepared devotions that were thoughtful, helpful and set the right spirit for that which lay ahead, many of which he recorded in his book First on The Agenda which inspired many of his peers and those he ‘took under his wing’. Throughout his ministry, his administration and business acumen enhanced each meeting and led the church wisely and well.
John’s leading of worship and preaching was inspirational and never skirted around thorny issues, even his rocking backwards and forwards on his toes and using some lesser known Scottish phrases, endeared him more to his congregations and made his words even more memorable. When he decided he would not lead public worship any longer he started to write his blog, where his pearls of wisdom and rich experiences continued to inspire.
Throughout all he was a great ecumenist, working well with church leaders to bring about better understanding and closer working between denominations. As a District Chairman he made a huge contribution to the Connexional scene in many ways, but always stressed he was a minister of the people and that was paramount.
A man of many parts, who loved and was loved by his family; respected and admired by his colleagues for his support, which was second to none, and his immense quiet wisdom.
Tidy to the last, he died on the last day of the quarter having finished his blog, the last post in a trilogy, between watching the Scottish and English Cup finals on TV the day before. He died on 31st May 2015 in the eighty-sixth year of his age and the sixty-second year of his ministry.
Wes Blakey, June 2015