It was with sadness, but not surprise, that we learned of Michael’s death in the early hours of 24 March. He had been suffering bravely from mouth and throat cancer for several years, and has finally been released by His Lord to a place of no more tears or pain or suffering. Well done, good and faithful servant!
I first met Michael in 1992 when he was pastor of Shirley Baptist Church, and I started coming back to church because my daughter, Judy, was getting baptised. As a member of the Young Peoples Fellowship, and a great friend of Jane P who was instrumental in introducing her to Christ, it was a really blessed occasion. I was thrilled to know that she had committed her life to Jesus, and it made me realise how far I had gone away from walking with the Lord.
With Michael’s encouragement and solid Bible teaching (and also with support from the wonderful Evelyn Overton) I re-committed my life to the Lord and realised that God was a God of 2,3,4 etc chances, and that it was never too late to come home to Him. Michael was quite rigid in his theology, and soon convinced Pete and I that we could be no more than friends, (divorcees should not re-marry) if we wanted to walk Gods path. We accepted that, and in 1994 Michael baptised Pete. We both, at different times, served as deacons under his authority, and tried our best to serve the Lord wherever He showed us the opportunity. His leadership of the Church, and especially of church meetings if there was disagreement or dissension, was characterised by a willingness to listen to other’s points of view, backed up by strong principles and an overriding love.
Michael then made the decision to leave SBC and go to be the Luton Airport Chaplain. His heart had long been with the Aviation Mission Fellowship, and he felt God was calling him to this new work with great excitement. For many years I was his prayer secretary, distributing his news and prayer requests to all who wanted them, and many of you remember receiving them regularly and praying for him and the work. God certainly blessed and built up his team of chaplains during that time; also, I noticed a mellowing of Michael’s rigid Biblical scholarship as he grappled with the real-life problems of thousands of people working at Luton airport to whom he ministered with real grace. None of them could be solved in the black and white terms he had previously held. Pastoral concerns had not been his forte at SBC, but God showed him a new way.
During this time Michael also led several travel trips to the Holy Land. Pete and I joined him (singly) on one of these, and had a most blessed and uplifting time. Michael’s Biblical knowledge was tremendous, and he really brought the trip to life.
It was later, in 2000, after my father had passed away and my ex-husband had re-married, (scripturally setting me free), that Pete and I started to think and pray about what the future might hold. We now had Martin Smith as our minister at SBC, and his take on how best to serve the Lord as a couple rather than as two singles, and how God wanted us to have life in all its fullness, swayed us to deciding to marry in April 2001. I was so pleased that Michael was able to come back to SBC and take part in that ceremony. It was the affirmation from the Lord that we were doing the right thing! Michael and Martin shared the service, and it was the best day of my life. Since then Pete and I have sought always to honour the Lord in our home, singly and together, and know we have done more together than we could have done alone. We had the best guidance at the right time when we needed it from both Michael and Martin.
I will therefore remember Michael Banfield with real gratitude and affection, and as an example of how God can still teach us new things even at the latter stages of life when we think we know it all. Please lift up Linda, his wife, and Claire and Jenny his children, as they mourn his passing. We know that God will comfort them and give them His joy at a life well lived serving the Lord.
Yours in the Lord,
“Our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NIV)