A thanksgiving service for the life and ministry of Mike Ovey took place on Monday afternoon, 13 March, at All Souls, Langham Place, in London.
A packed church of about 800 people joined Mike’s family, together with friends, colleagues, Oak Hill students and alumni, to pay tribute to Mike’s exceptional gifts, which he offered in the service of the people of God, and to thank God for his life as a teacher, educator, and leader.
The service included four appreciations of Mike’s life and work, delivered by Dr Dan Strange, Acting Principal of Oak Hill; Efrem Buckle, Pastor of ecclesia in Lewisham, South London; Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of Christian Concern; and Revd Nick Tucker, Vicar of St Bartholomew, Edgbaston.
Dan Strange, who worked closely with Mike on the educational direction of Oak Hill, borrowed from Homer’s Odyssey to describe how Mike had ’captained the good ship Oak Hill in a swashbuckling but expert way. I had the great privilege of being his first mate on the adventure.’ He expounded the vision of theological education they developed together at Oak Hill.
‘Our mission centres around the pattern for gospel ministry set out in Ephesians 4:11-13. The ascended Christ has given gifts to his church. These gifts are people: gospel ministers. Our pattern is a virtuous circle of servanthood between Oak Hill, its students and our churches. Oak Hill’s task is to serve students by enabling them to become the best possible gifts of Christ to his church.
‘We live and learn in community, offering students essential time to listen, debate, reflect, pray, and grow in love for Christ in the fellowship of others. This is not a time out of ministry. Rather it is a redirection of ministry for a time, for long-term gain and resilience: Lifelong skills, lifelong habits, lifelong relationships, lifelong learning.’
Dan Strange described the mission of the college, which Mike Ovey served for almost 20 years, as a gospel response to the urgent needs of today’s secular culture: ‘Men and women are still dying in their sins. The world is fractured, fragmented and fragilised. We have an incredible message of hope for a hope-less world. For that we need more training, not less.
He concluded by asking the congregation to mark Mike’s legacy by giving generously to the Mike Ovey Fellowship Fund. The fund has been set up to support a Research Fellow at Oak Hill, with teaching and tutorial responsibilities. It will also support other promising evangelical postgraduates in their doctoral studies, making it possible for them to develop as future theological educators.
Peter Jensen, former Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, gave the address, preaching on Philippians chapter 1, focusing on ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’ (Philippians 1:21). He paid tribute to Mike by saying: ‘The Lord has suddenly removed one of the chief captains among the people of God at a time in our judgment when we needed him most.’ He went on to say, ‘Loss is loss. And yet God is God. We trust his wisdom. We believe he works all things out in the counsel of his perfect will.’
Andrea Williams spoke of the profound influence of Mike’s contribution to the work of Christian Concern. ‘Whether he was drafting, briefing, lobbying, leading, or cajoling, this most brilliant of legal minds, shaped by stunning theology, captured all ideas for Christ under God’s lordship and sovereignty.’
Efrem Buckle, who studied at Oak Hill under Mike, appreciated the way he was just as keen to listen and learn as any of the students he taught. He said, ‘Mike’s love for the Lord was not merely sentimental, and he has inspired me to love the Lord with all my mind.’
Nick Tucker spoke of Mike’s constant care for the wellbeing of others: ‘Over and over again from friends and fellow students, I have heard the same testimony: we will remember Mike even more for his kindness than his brilliance.’
The service was led by Revd Hugh Palmer, Rector of All Souls. It also included sentences from scripture read by five current Oak Hill students; the reading, given by Col Edward Armitstead CBE, former Chair of the Oak Hill College Council; and prayers led by Drs Andrew and Annie Gemmill.
A video of the thanksgiving service will be posted here in the next few days.