TRIBUTE TO THE REV JOHN W WATERHOUSE NCH PRINCIPAL 1950 TO 1969 on the occasion of the SERVICE OF GRATITUDE on 11 September 1971 at NCH HIGHFIELD CHAPEL HARPENDEN
I have in my possession a letter written in 1952 by Jack Waterhouse to the then Superintendent of the Bristol Branch. “I can now bring you one special piece of news which will rejoice your heart as much as mine. Mr Perkins of Texas, an oil magnate, has given me fifteen thousand dollars to provide a Little House at Bristol! I knew he would be in my congregation last Sunday night and I prayed the good Lord to open his heart to the needs of children in England and that prayer was wonderfully answered. The gift is worth £5,321. So we thank God and take courage.”
That was a quite ordinary letter written in his own hand but how much it tells us of the man for whom today we are expressing our gratitude to God for a life lived nobly and compassionately. It tells us of his enthusiasm – “A special piece of news which will rejoice your heart” and it tells of his faith – “I prayed the good Lord”.
Enthusiasm. I have good reason to remember Jack Waterhouse’s enthusiasm. Fifteen years ago, in a dark and dismal room in a school hall in Newcastle, Staffordshire, he spoke to me about the NCH and all that it meant to him at a time when it had been suggested that I might become his colleague. I thought I knew a lot about this great family but he made the story live as with excitement, affection and concern he spoke of the caring work with boys and girls and families. That was the first of many times that I felt the force of his personality and the extent of his enthusiasm about the work he led.
Of course, for many of us it is difficult to think of Jack Waterhouse as other than “NCH” forgetting his earlier life in College and Circuit work. At Cambridge University he must have been an enthusiast for work for he was the Gibson Greek Testament Prizeman and was awarded the Senior Marshall Scholarship in New Testament Studies. A year or two later as Assistant Tutor at Didsbury College, Manchester from 1931 to 1935 he must have been possessed of an enthusiasm for his subject as he introduced many a willing, and not a few unwilling men, to the fascination of New Testament Greek.
Who but an enthusiast could have written a book on Zoroastrianism – one of his earlier publications – whilst his enthusiasm knew no bounds when he spoke of his profound theological indebtedness to Charles Wesley’s hymns.
In light-hearted vein I would sometimes take him to task when he suggested that the only hymn writer of any note was Wesley. There were few situations in life about which he was not able to quote aptly from Wesley’s vast collection. In a letter written in 1970, when he heard of the safe deliverance of Miss Teite, one of our workers at Uzuakoli nursery at the end of the Civil War, he wrote –“Verse three of hymn 421 has been ringing in my mind:
Thine arm hath safely brought us
A way no more expected,
Than when Thy sheep
Passed through the deep
By crystal walls protected.
You see, Charles Wesley still has it!”
And if there is a hymn which Jack would have commended to us on this Day of Gratitude, it would surely be No. 105 and the second verse:
Yet when the work is done
The work is but begun.
Partaker of thy grace
I long to see Thy face.
The first I prove below,
The last I die to know.
Some of you in this congregation remember Jack when he was a Circuit Minister in Barnet and Epsom, and if so, you will know of the enthusiasm that he brought to the pastoral work of the Ministry. Principal of the NCH he became but first and foremost he was and remained a Methodist Minister who cared for the needs of his people as the true pastor of the flock. He loved to preach and like any preacher of renown, whenever he preached he gave something of himself. Just over a year ago, when another man would have left it to others who were fitter and stronger, he could write – “I preached last evening and only got stuck once, which is quite good for me. (Esther was with me and helped me out). Perhaps I should not have attempted a text from Zechariah!” I can see the twinkle in his eye when he wrote that and it was a twinkle which we all came to love. He could tell a good story and loved to hear one, and over the years some of us knew how to draw him out to relate some of his war-time experiences in the Home Guard. I am not sure whether “Dad’s Army” was one of Jack’s favourite TV programmes but if it wasn’t, it could well have been because he used to tell a marvellous story of the day when, as a part of his Home Guard duties, he had to disguise himself as a tree – and he had just the figure for it!
And what of his enthusiasm for photography and his skill as a photographer. How he used this enthusiasm and ability to further the work of the Home in annual publications which set a standard of excellence difficult to emulate, but a constant reminder to us today of the best.
Yes, a man enthusiastic about life, living to the full, helping others to find happiness and fulfilment. The enthusiasm of the one who was loyal to the loyal in himself and in others (Tennyson).
And what of the faith of Jack Waterhouse – a very simple and uncomplicated faith. I quote from the letter once again – “I know he would be in my congregation last Sunday night and I prayed the good Lord to open his heart”. What could be more simple and trusting!
So, too, were those times when he would say a prayer in his Office at Highbury before some difficult interview, when it was desperately important that he should say the right thing in the right way to some erring or burdened member of staff. The words of Micah (Chapter 6, verse 8) seem particularly appropriate – “What doth the Lord require of me but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God”. Jack Waterhouse was fair and just in all his dealings – he was gentle almost to the point sometimes of being misunderstood – but it was a gentleness not of weakness, but of a man who was passionately interested in people, who loved them and yearned for them, and longed to build them up.
Because God was so real to him he was able to give richly of himself in friendship and leadership. Lovingly and warmly helped by Esther, their home was “open house” for students and visitors, but most of all, for anyone needing comfort, support or advice in time of difficulty.
In his own home he was the loving father of his own family, and in that larger family of the NCH he was truly “father and friend” for the nineteen years of his Principalship from 1950 to 1969.
But a Principal has to be more than a “friendly person”, more than a fatherly person”. He has to lead and to invoke loyalty. Jack Waterhouse had the charismatic gift of calling for intense loyalty from members of staff to himself personally and people would never let him down.
I adapt slightly those words of Donald Hankey on “The Beloved Captain”. “We were his men and women and he was our leader. There was a band of mutual confidence between us which grew stronger and stronger as time passed. The fact was that he won his way into our affections. We loved him. And there isn’t anything stronger than love when all’s said and done. That was how we looked upon him – he was our leader and we loved him and we would have done anything for him – we loved him not just for himself and his qualities but because we recognised in him a “man of God”.
Will members of staff ever forget Jack Waterhouse’s devotional sessions at Convocation, or the sermons he preached when he ordained Sisters to his beloved NCH Sisterhood?
He led us by the sincerity of his own convictions. He held the view shared by many, including J S Stewart the great Scottish preacher, and one greatly admired by Jack – “If these things in which we say we believe are more than pious sentiments, if they are facts – they are incomparably the most important facts with which every one of us has to reckon, implying nay demanding, that we make religion the master force of all our life and God in Christ the burning centre of our being”. Yes, Jack would have applauded that statement and belief for that was clearly where he stood.
A man of enthusiasm – a man of faith – a man greatly beloved.
And how did all this affect his image outside the NCH and outside Methodism?
We remember how he served on the Home Secretary’s Advisory Council in Child Care and the Central Training Council; how he helped found the National Bureau for Co-operation in Child Care (now the National Children’s Bureau); was Chairman of the National Council of Associated Children’s Homes in 1957 and the first Editor, with Alan Jacka, of the Council’s journal “Child Care”. He was justifiably proud, not for himself but for child care and for the NCH, when in 1958 he was awarded the OBE.
Success and recognition came his way and many outside the NCH are grateful for what he said and wrote and for the appropriateness of his contributions to important committees, which helped to fashion the child care policy and practice which we know today.
But am I not right, too, in believing that there are those in this distinguished congregation, not of the NCH, who remember him most of all for some thoughtful word or generous gesture, or some helpful discussion at a time of personal distress or tragedy, and who found strength themselves as he shared the strength of his convictions with them.
We remember Jack Waterhouse today in different ways according perhaps to some personal recollection of him, or some special connection we had with him. But whatever our picture of him may be, we know that for Esther, David, Robert, John and Joy the memories will be all the more vivid - happy, joyful memories, such as can only be known within a united and affectionate family.
We of the NCH and beyond owe you, Esther, so much – you shared Jack with us and denied yourself. Our “gratitude” is deep and lasting and in “gratitude” expressed in this way there is indeed “great comfort”.
2The love of all thy people comfort thee,
Till God’s love set thee at his side again.”
I wear today with pride the red scarf of the Principal of the NCH – I wear it in honour of my friend and former Principal. I wear, too, as he did the badge worn by our founder. They said of Stephenson that the children caught hold of his coat-tails as he walked along.
Our late Principal seldom wore coat-tails but children would run to him to have their photo taken and in that eternity of God towards which we are all moving (which sometimes we call heaven) which we believe Jack Waterhouse has reached ahead of us, he will be found, I am sure, in the place where the children are, rejoicing in the reality of the words of Jesus which were his inspiration – “As ye did it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it to me.”
Our hearts are filled with gratitude and we use his words –
“We thank God and take courage”.
C:\Users\User\Documents\NCH\JWW Tribute at Service of Gratitude 11 September 1971 4713 CGW.doc