This afternoon, along with 500 others, I was in Trinity celebrating the life of Colin Phelps – and like everyone else, I was still shocked and saddened that we were there at all. Sudden death with no previous history is hard to handle anyway – but at 34, with a wife and three young children aged 5 and under, it’s particularly difficult to comprehend. It was, however, a privilege to be there.
Our vicar, Mark Bailey, described him as being at the heartbeat of life at Trinity – and that was hardly an exaggeration for someone who was so wholeheartedly involved in so many areas of ministry there, since arriving as a student. Will Hayes, one of those who had been in the youth group Colin ran, wrote on Facebook,
Colin – You were one of the most gentle, wisest, best youth leaders I have ever had or will have. A shining light in so many ways. You’ve been called home. You will be missed massively.
I did not know Colin well, and had had only the occasional chat with him. The last time I saw him was at the Element away day, when Colin gave an outstanding introduction to prophetic prayer – something he was deeply passionate about.
Actually, Colin was a passionate guy – as those who gave tributes to him attested. He had a deep love of God which he had a burning desire to share with everyone around him: indeed, he was inspirational in his faith and ministry and in his unquenchable belief in the power of prayer. He gave the impression (as Mark put it) of having one foot in heaven – but let this not misrepresent someone who was also very gregarious, with a huge sense of fun, and not much time for the more formal churchy stuff!
Next to Jesus himself, Colin’s greatest passion was for Caroline and his three kids. He was utterly devoted to them – and it would not take long for this to become apparent, whether speaking in front at church or in conversation.
Caroline herself gave one of the tributes – and if most of us there felt she was courageous even to attempt that, what she said was truly inspiring. She started by saying what an honour it was for her to stand there as Colin’s wife, and that for all the pain that she was now undergoing, she would not swap this for anything. She paid tribute to his total devotion to her and their children – a powerful legacy for him to leave.
She’d also had a powerful sense of Jesus’ presence with her, especially the night after Colin had died, when it felt as if Jesus was actually with her at the end of the bed, assuring her that “My grace is sufficient for you”. Her standing at the front speaking as she did was a powerful testimony both to Colin and the strength of her own faith in Christ.
This was not a time for either trite explanations or deep theology: there was instead a desire to express honest grief – and to do as Colin himself would have wanted us to do: to praise the God and Father of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. It was a privilege to be there.