Fulfilled living in later life

Monday 30th May 2022

Residents’ stories: Brian

Reverend Brian Nicholson has recently moved to Middlefields House in Chippenham. He, together with his wife Hilary, told us about a lifetime of relying on the Lord’s guidance and provision

Pilgrims Friend Middlefields Brian and Hilary

“I’ve given my life for you, why don’t you give me yours?” These were the words that came to Brian during the regular weekly prayer meeting one Tuesday at St Mark’s church in Gillingham.

The seeds of the gospel had been sown in Brian’s heart over several years. He was born on 11th August 1944 in Tunbridge Wells in Kent. His father was an army officer who had served in the Second World War – an interpreter, he was one of the last to be evacuated from Dunkirk. He was also awarded a military MBE for rescuing a lady trapped in a burning house in Portsmouth.

Because of his father’s army role, the family moved around a lot, spending time in Kenya, France and his father also served in Korea. Brian was sent to boarding school at the age of eight, first Abberley Hall, a prep school in Shropshire, and then Winchester College from 1957.

It was while on a skiing trip that he first had the gospel explained to him by a Christian teacher. His parents, however, did not approve and deterred his Christian faith. On leaving school, he trained for the Army at Mons Officer Cadet School and was commissioned as an officer with the Royal Green Jackets. He trained young recruits in Winchester and then saw active service in Cyprus, Borneo and Germany on a five-year commission.

While serving in the Army, Brian was invited by Christian colleagues to a house party at Ashburnham Place in East Sussex, where the speaker was Reverend John Collins. Brian felt compelled by what he heard and asked John if there was anything practical he could do to help at his church, which was St Mark’s, Gillingham. It was through attending prayer meetings and sitting under John’s ministry that Brian eventually put his trust firmly in Christ.

He and Hilary married in 1968. On leaving the army, Brian became a personnel officer with Elliott Automation, a subsidiary of Marconi. The expectation of both sets of parents was that Brian would continue in this steady job. Brian and Hilary, however, felt called to ministry. “We thought the Lord wanted us to be missionaries,” explains Hilary. “We heard Brother Andrew and Corrie Ten Boom speak at a conference in Derbyshire and were quite prepared to respond to the challenge to ‘go anywhere and do anything’.”

Shortly afterwards, however, John Collins raised the possibility of Brian training for the Anglican ministry. “He said, ‘It’s a very good boat to fish from’,” Brian recalls. So he wrote to the principal of St John’s College, Nottingham, Dr Michael Green, enquiring about ordination training. “Michael wrote back saying, ‘I’m not interested until you get a definite call.’ He sent me away.”

Pilgrims Friend Middlefields House Brian 2
Pilgrims Friend Middlefields House Brian and Hilary2

That weekend John Collins preached a sermon that left Brian with a strong sense that Anglican ministry was right and wrote to Michael again. Now there were the practicalities to sort out, one of which was the cost of three years’ maintenance. The answer to their prayers came from a very surprising source, an American Christian friend who had been serving with the US army in Vietnam. He had accumulated some savings and said that he would like to cover Brian and Hilary’s living expenses. Brian also received a grant for his College fees as he hadn’t been to university up until then.

By this time, Hilary was pregnant with their daughter Lucia. “We hadn’t got anywhere to live, and then St John’s College bought a lovely detached house large enough for a family near the College. We moved in three weeks after our daughter was born. The Lord was amazing, so whatever we needed, He miraculously provided,” says Hilary.

Lucia was born in 1970 and a son, Paul, followed in 1972. Leaving college in 1973, Brian trained as a curate at Canford Magna parish church near Wimborne and saw many come to a personal faith during the four years he was there. He then trained for a further three years at St Stephen’s, Twickenham, with Reverend Martin Peppiatt from 1977-1980.

Brian was ordained Vicar of St John’s Church, Colchester, and served there for 16 years from 1980-96. It was a small Victorian church building and before long it became clear it would need to be extended so it could better serve the spiritual and practical needs of the community.

“The architect told us that he wouldn’t start work until we had a deposit of £60,000,” says Hilary. “We were not a wealthy church community, so for us that was a lot of money. We started regular early morning prayer meetings and after a day of prayer and giving we had exactly £60,000!”

The money kept coming in through continued regular prayer and gift days. Not only that, when the project was complete they found they had £12,000 over which they could give to two churches, one in Romania and one in Israel. “It reminded us of Jesus’s miracle of feeding the 5,000 with 12 baskets over!” says Hilary.

The extended building was a huge blessing to the community. A playgroup and a mothers and toddlers group were set up, plus a monthly lunch club for 50 retired parishioners. The church also ran monthly youth services and Alpha courses. “We had a very gifted evangelist, Peter Adams from Through Faith Missions, on the team. Everything we did was rooted in sharing the gospel,” says Brian.

Brian then took up the role of Rector of St Leonard’s Church, Oakley, three miles from Basingstoke from 1996-2009. As in Colchester, there was a need to remodel the space, this time the church hall, so that it would better serve local people. The same architect who had been involved with the project in Colchester came on board and again the Lord graciously answered prayers for funding.

As part of his ministry, Brian introduced the church to the discipleship movement Freedom In Christ. He was invited to become a Trustee and spoke to churches of all denominations across the country.

Despite the busy life of a minister, Brian found time to relax, playing squash and tennis. He is also a keen bird watcher. The family called their home in Winchester Nuthatches as the birds nested in their garden, along with blue tits, great tits, robins and blackbirds.

On retirement in 2009, Brian was given a powerful pair of binoculars by the church family at St Leonard’s. He and Hilary also bought a caravan and they have enjoyed spotting birds on holidays around in the UK – including firecrests and ospreys in the Cairngorms, and golden and white-tailed eagles on the Isle of Mull. Brian also arranged Christian Tours to Israel with CMJ, each time seeing the colourful birds of the Middle East.

In late 2018, Brian was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He moved into Middlefields House, Chippenham at the end of November 2021. “Moving into a care home was a big decision and the COVID-19 restrictions have not made things easy. Nevertheless, we are very happy that a Christian care home was possible,” says Hilary. Brian has been enjoying the devotions sessions, including some very fruitful times in the Spirit.

The smaller setting of household has also helped him settle in. “There are only 12 people in a household,” he says. “It’s a nice number of people to get to know – not too many, not too few. No wonder that’s what Jesus picked for the disciples!”

Pilgrims Friend Middlefields House Brian and Hilary3

Find out more about life at Middlefields House