It is a great privilege and a heavy responsibility to pay tribute on behalf of Christian Care, to our extraordinary Founder and Chairman, Bert Hyde. As I started to reflect on what I should say, almost immediately three characteristics of his life came to me. Then I thought - they are marks of the life of Jesus too. Of course, Bert was a servant of Jesus Christ, the Servant King.
I want to say first of all that Bert was a man of vision. In 1967, he led a Merton Park Lent Group and they had all seen the shocking drama/ documentary about housing conditions in Britain, Cathy Come Home. Challenged by Jesus' words at the end of his parable of the Good Samaritan - 'Go and do as he did', they dared to find out if it there were homeless people in their neighbourhood - and there were; they risked involvement without knowing where it might take them and so, under Bert's leadership, Christian CARE was born. It was as Christian CARE entered its third decade that Bert's passion to help the homeless in Merton grew even stronger. In a veritable whirlwind of activities over several months, he set up a Christian CARE Sub-Committee for the Homeless and placed leaflets offering the help of Christian CARE in the Merton housing department. Then, during the 1990's, many refugees came to Merton from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe - and Christian CARE was ready. I think that Bert had something of a prophet about him, he had great faith, he saw beyond what others see, and yet he had both feet firmly on the ground, working for a caring and just society. The work of Christian Care in Merton is not about to come to an end; by his living Bert has been an inspiration to so many people and we have caught that vision.
Secondly Bert was a man totally available to others. He seemed tireless, full of energy and enthusiasm, always out visiting - often late at night, Many of you here today remember his first visit to your home as if it were yesterday - it was a life-changing moment. One lady told me: He came to my house and as he was leaving he said, 'This is my phone number; if you any problems, just ring me.' He was offering a lifeline to all these who were fearful and lonely. The phone was always ringing, at inconvenient moments, but he always answered it. That phone was a symbol, a symbol of his total availability to hundreds of people - who knows maybe even thousands - over 42 years, right up to Christmas Eve 2009.
Most important of all, it must be said that Bert touched people very deeply. That first meeting, the smile, the twinkling eyes, the gentle voice and you knew that you were accepted and would be listened to. The barriers of language posed no problems for him, somehow he would communicate.
The children loved him. I can see him now at the New Year Party like a Pied Piper with the children chasing him 'Mr Bert, Mr Bert, Mr Bert'. There was a moment of revelation for me at the Teenage Club. The lads were playing table tennis. Bert came in the door. They put down their bats immediately, went across to him and shook him by the hand - 'Good evening Mr Bert. How are you?' They had such respect for him! He could meld into any family situation. I remember he told of a breakfast time visit; the family were just finishing the meal and bringing out the Bibles for morning prayers; he drew up a chair and joined them. Bert was sensitive to his fellow volunteers too. He recently visited Peggie Hunt, the only surviving befriender from the 1960's and his former Vice Chairman. It was her 93rd birthday. Great leaders can be vulnerable too and need support. Peggie has been a confidante, an inspiration and a great friend to Bert, and to Gwen. She had to be here today.
Many of you had to be here for Mr Bert today because he was always there for you. In moments of crisis, he would work with determination to turn around situations that seemed well nigh impossible from a human point of view. In the times of sadness, he would be there beside you to comfort you. He was there for the joyful times as well - the baptism of your children, the birthday parties, the weddings, the citizenship ceremonies, always camera in hand, capturing the scene. Bert has truly touched many hearts and transformed many lives.
He has lived an extraordinary life of Christian caring here in Merton. During the past week Christian CARE volunteers have spoken of him as the personification of the Good Samaritan, a saint, someone like Mother Teresa, an angel.
For myself, the message of Bert's life is expressed simply but beautifully in some words of John Wesley:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
For as long as ever you can.