Address delivered at the service to celebrate the life of Revd Alan Frost, formerly minister at St. Andrew’s URC Ealing, at Gloucester Crematorium Monday, 16th January 2017
Alan was born and grew up in Colchester where his father was in the building trade. He got a scholarship to Colchester Royal Grammar School: he always wanted to play the piano at his grandmother’s and could be heard practising from the barracks over the road. By the time he was 14 he was playing the organ quite regularly at the Headgate church. When he left school he worked for a while at the electricity board, did his national service and then worked in the admin department of Severall’s, Colchester’s big Psychiatric hospital. On Sunday morning’s he would play the organ for the Hospital chapel services. It was at the Headgate Church that he felt a call to ministry and with the support of people from the church went to train at Western College in Bristol. Right from the start he was outstanding as a student – in the sense that he stood out and was spotted – not by the College staff, not by the church authorities but he was spotted by another of the students who also started training for the ministry in 1956. That was Mary.
The two of them had sufficient A levels to do the degree course at Bristol University and so have a large part of their costs covered – Alan did Greek and not Hebrew – Mary did both, not that there was any competition. They made great friends at college and had great fun – not least on the day the College Council met when Alan and others made sure the toilets were suitably adorned to give the visiting dignitaries a memorable welcome.
Sundays they would be out preaching. Three was one memorable visit to Highbury in Cheltenham when Alan was senior student. He took the wrong train and was stranded at Gloucester station. He rang the Church Secretary. As it happened the Church Secretary’s son, Stuart had just had his first car, a bright red, 1934 Austin Seven – he was only too keen to do his very first pick up of someone from the station – as far away as Gloucester. He got there fine. Alan got in the car. But they ran out of petrol on the way back. Stuart the driver was quickly in a state of panic, but recalls the way Alan simply flagged down a vehicle, driven Stuart suggested by the Angel Gabriel himself because he had a tin of petrol on board! They made it to Highbury on time.
Another church he visited regularly was over in Pontypool. After doing a student pastorate with them they decided to call Alan to be their minister and so it was he was ordained to the Christian ministry and inducted to his first church in Pontypool in 1960. Alan’s church in Colchester had pioneered the Congregational youth movement, the Livingstone Fellowship. It wasn’t long before Alan had founded a group in Pontypool. Stuart Adams who was the chauffeur that Sunday to Highbury remembers the Livingstone Fellowship from Highbury going over to Pontypool to build up links and learn how better to organise themselves. Alan’s ministry got off to a wonderful start in Pontypool; Mary meanwhile had been ordained and inducted to the church in Newport Pagnell.
They were already, unbeknownst to many, ‘an item’. In 1961 Alan and Mary got engaged and kept it quiet.
In 1963 they married and Mary joined Alan in Pontypool. In 1966 they moved to the Central Congregational Church in Stockport where they were both involved together, though it wasn’t long before Mary had taken pastoral oversight of Buxton Road Congregational Church. By now Peter and Yvonne had arrived. They moved to Gerard’s Cross in 1973 where Alan was Minister for fifteen years. Dick Hall, the Moderator, was a personal friend and it wasn’t long before Mary went to Chesham. As they were on the move Alan took a sabbatical in Cambridge. With Mary they delighted in making friends wherever they went – and kept in touch with Mitch who was also in Cambrdige over from the States – the families have kept in touch ever since.
Given that the twins, Hilary and Kath had now arrived this was a busy home, but as they all recalled to me a lovely, welcoming home where people were always made to feel so very welcome. Come Christmas there would always be extra people for the day who would otherwise have been alone. Lovely memories of that family home together in Gerard’s Cross. Alan always enjoyed the fun of having people around and mixing with people. He had the gift of hospitality. Whether it was one of the twins going missing from the children’s group to end up with her Mum in the pulpit or the occasion son Peter borrowed Dad’s car and found himself being chased by an undertaker – Alan delighted in telling the tales of ministry and family. He would go out of his way to chat with and make friends with people behind the scenes, not least undertakers – hence the one who thought he would have some fun with Alan and follow him in the car not realising it was son driving!
Alan loved people and was always very involved in the community: in Gerard’s Cross he was involved with the National Society for Epilepsy and unofficial chaplain to the Leonard Cheshire home. He made a point of chatting with everyone – and everyone appreciated his company. It was as if he lit the place up.
In 1988 Mary and Alan moved to St Andrew’s Church in Ealing where Alan was very involved in a building project that involved rebuilding the church and creating the St Andrew’s Centre. Alan’s real heart for people and for the community led him to a serve as Mayor’s Chaplain and chaplain to the Police.
His heart was in local church ministry rooted in the community – he was once given the opportunity to become a Moderator but he turned that down.
In 1998 Alan and Mary retired and moved over here to Gloucester. Realising that quite a number of Elders from Ealing had moved to the Cotswolds it wasn’t long before Alan was getting them together in the ex-pats group as they called it. The Ealing years and those years in retirement in Gloucester were the years when the family grew again with the arrival of grandchildren, Judith and Chris, Andrew, William and Michael, Becky and Nick – and also the opportunity for Alan to have a lot of fun whenever they got together.
Once again, Alan and Mary’s hospitality came to the fore as they made a church home with the URC in Gloucester – having a garden party in their garden.
It has been a wonderful partnership that Alan has shared with Mary. Wonderful joys and over the years some darker times too. They saw each other through those darker times by talking together … sometimes late into the night keeping the youngsters awake.
It has been a struggle with Alzheimer’s for at least four years and especially for the last six months. Alan wanted to stay at home and it is tribute to that wonderful partnership and the lovely family spirit with those Saturday visits that were a lifeline that he was able to do just that.
It was also thanks to the friendship and support of neighbours in the locality. Each day Alan would go for his paper. Mary would give him 30 minutes and was pretty sure he would be all right because people knew him and were looking out for him. Only once, she said, did he get lost. And on that occasion he was spotted by the Postman who saw to it that he got home – and then was one of the first to call round on hearing the news of Alan’s death. That’s the community spirit we need to have in response to Alzheimer’s.
It was not an untimely death, Mary commented. It was a great release. The kindness, treatment and care at Gloucester Royal has been amazing.
One of the loveliest tributes came from Janet Sowerbutts, Moderator of the Thames North province who spoke of the outstanding Ministry Alan and Mary shared over the years – but then she went on to say what a great support Alan had been to her personally as well.
As someone else said, he was a gentleman’s gentleman.
There is much for us to give thanks for and so much to celebrate.
Rev Dr Richard Cleaves of Highbury Congregational Church, Cheltenham