Ian Tait, a pastor and teacher of God’s Word, died on 17 December 2013. He was formerly pastor of Welwyn Evangelical Church, Hertfordshire. He was also a visiting lecturer at Covenant Theological College, Tennessee, and Covenant Theological Seminary, St Louis, Missouri.
Ian was born in 1918, ten months before the end of the First World War. He grew up in Kettering, a choirboy in the local church. His mother died when he was only nine. In 1937, at the age of 19, he joined the Royal Engineers and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Conversion and lay-preaching
While on leave that year he heard an Australian evangelist preaching the gospel and was born again.
In 1941 he responded to an appeal by the RAF and was commissioned as a pilot officer. He was responsible for the safe landing of aircraft badly damaged in the conflicts of World War II. However, in 1942, suffering from acute tuberculosis (TB), he was invalided out of the forces and given 12 months to live. During convalescence in Hove he met May Evershed, a night sister at Hove hospital.
He was often called to preach at the armed forces church parade and it was not unusual to find him preaching in uniform. Other invitations to preach followed. During this time he became aware of a strong call to the ministry.
Though he had set his sights on the mission field, TB closed that door. His theological training was pursued under E. J. Poole-Connor, Ernest Kevan, J. B. Tupman and others.
Ian and May were married on 3 September 1944, thereafter enjoying their work together in the Lord, until May died on 17 October 1997. Four days before his wedding, Ian preached ‘with a view’ in the FIEC church at Hurstpierpoint. He then served as their pastor from 1944 to 1950.
Ian Tait was inducted into the pastorate of Welwyn Evangelical Church (WEC) on 29 April 1950. Dr Ernest Kevan gave the ‘charge to the church’ and J. B. Tupman the ‘charge to the minister’.
In 1954, under an amazing providence of the Lord, accompanied by Ian’s vision and prayers, a large property in Welwyn was acquired to be used by WEC. ‘Guessens’ became the home of the Tait family with their six children. They were joined by a large number of students and other local young people, who also shared the Tait family home. As a result, many were converted, instructed and discipled for later enthusiastic church and missionary work. Elderly friends were also cared for there.
For 15 years, the Westminster Fellowship (WF) met at Guessens during the summer, with Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the chair and John Caiger as secretary. The morning would be given over to airing a theological problem and the afternoon to working out its practical implications. Eventually 230 were meeting together at WF.
Ian Tait saw Guessens as a valuable resource given by the Lord for gospel work. The building is now the headquarters of the European Missionary Fellowship.
Early encouraging growth at WEC required the building of a new chapel there. This was opened in 1959 and extended in 1968.
The focus of Ian’s ministry was the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was the gospel of amazing grace in Christ Jesus that characterised his wide and deep expository preaching, as he opened up the pages of the Bible. This was enjoyed by a congregation from all walks of life. By 1965 a steady ingathering of souls was reported.
Ian retired from WEC in 1980. His ministry, under the Spirit of God, had been the means of transforming the church from a small work to one of vigour and effectiveness in the service of the Lord. Under his preaching many were brought to faith in Christ. The church grew from 35-40 at the beginning to 230 in the late 1970s.
Quite apart from his gifts as an expositor of the Word of God, Ian Tait was deeply committed to the mission field. Prevented as a young man from offering himself for service overseas on account of ill health, he still devoted a large part of his energy to helping mission.
He served on the home councils of the Nilgiri Medical Mission, the North Africa Mission (three of his ten years as chairman) and the Hebrew Christian Testimony to Israel. Evangelical Times reported in 1977 that 10 per cent of WEC’s church membership was involved in overseas gospel work and the church had sent nearly half its annual income to missionary work.
In 1965 Ian Tait was publicly criticised in the local press by a local Roman Catholic priest for discouraging Christians from supporting local ecumenical meetings. He explained his position in the Welwyn Times with grace, yet standing firm in the truth.
After this series of articles by Mr Tait saying ‘why we cannot unite with Rome’, he was invited to expound his theology to a considerable number of Roman Catholics in the district — an opportunity for which he praised God.
Ian Tait served on the national council of the FIEC. In 1969 he was elected as its president, telling delegates at the FIEC’s three-day assembly at Weston-Super-Mare that ‘unity was essential, not an optional extra’. He saw disunity as a disease, not just the result of faulty organisation. Evangelism is a primary responsibility, but we discredit the gospel if we overlook unity based on the truth.
We cannot mention the name of Ian Tait without also mentioning his love of books. He was an avid reader and student of biblical wisdom. He assembled one of the best private theological libraries in the world — 8000 books, embracing Puritan and Reformed literature published over 400 years.
For many years he was a trustee of the Evangelical Library founded by Geoffrey Williams. He had particular responsibility for their rare books section, and also served as curator of the Rare Book Collection at Covenant Theological Seminary.
USA and retirement
After leaving Welwyn in 1981, Ian was called to teach at Covenant College and Covenant Theological Seminary, USA, over the next six years.
He taught theology, English literature and Puritan history. The Chancellor of Covenant College wrote of him: ‘Apart from his expository ability, and his knowledge of the Reformers, Puritans and Covenanters, his understanding of the theological books of the 15th and 16th century is considered to be without parallel in this country. We therefore eagerly anticipate his ministry to the life, work and outreach of Covenant College’. His teaching of post-graduate students so impressed Drs J. Oliver Buswell and James Montgomery Boice that they awarded him a doctorate.
Ian and May retired to Budleigh-Salterton, Devon, later moving to Stowmarket when May became ill. She went to be with the Lord on 17 October 1997. Subsequently, Ian met Patricia Merminot, a former theatre sister at St Thomas’s Hospital, and they married on 20 February 1999.
Ian was indeed grateful to God for the fruit of his ministry, constantly aware that he was but a minister through whom others believed, and only as the Lord gave the increase. ‘So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters; but God who gives the increase’ (1 Corinthians 3:7).
Aubrey J. Roberts