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Tribute to Rev. Dr Philip A. Potter, by Evelyn Appiah

We give thanks for your life and work which spanned over 9 decades. Your journey which started on the Caribbean island of Dominica, took you to different continents.

19 May 2015

Elder, pastor, teacher, leader, General Secretary,

As you know, I never succeeded to call you with your first name, although you impressed upon me to do so several times from 1970 until 1984.

We give thanks for your life and work which spanned over 9 decades. Your journey which started on the Caribbean island of Dominica, took you to different continents. Your ministry touched many lives (clergy, laity, youth, women) as you followed John Wesley’s words:

The World is my Parish
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
As long as ever you can

You loved the bible, books, singing and people. As a charismatic leader, an eloquent speaker and preacher, you inspired and encouraged young people to be involved in their churches and in the ecumenical movement. As a teacher, you managed in a unique way, to explain difficult issues of our time and terminologies in simple words. You worked for the unity of the Church and for the renewal of humankind. Justice and peace were at the heart of everything that you did.

You had a gift with words and a great sense of humour. When asked how you were, you answered: “just pottering along”! To those who were doing too much and exhausted your advice was: ‘let your soul catch up with your body’, when I lost my brother tragically in a car accident you told me “to keep the faith and to keep singing”.

Your speeches during the Week of Meetings, to the Central Committee and Assemblies were privileged moments of learning about the history of the ecumenical movement. Many people, after they have heard you speak, were motivated to work for and with WCC and the ecumenical movement. Greek words like OIKOUMENE (the whole inhabited earth), OIKOS (house), KOINONIA (fellowship and participation) became household words.

You had a wonderful way of relating to staff colleagues, irrespective of their backgrounds or status. You greeted people that you met with a smile.

The controversial Programme to Combat Racism brought the World Council of Churches (WCC) to global attention. When the WCC and you were personally attacked by the media you stayed focused and followed the mandate given by the Central Committee. Those were exciting but turbulent moments. “We are called to be steadfast in faith, and we will not shrink from speaking and acting boldly in hope and love. Nevertheless, we can do this as we celebrate our faith in Christ the living stone and as living stones being fitted together into the house of God.” (General Secretary‘s Report, Vancouver Assembly 1983)

I am indeed thankful for the time shared together in the ecumenical centre choir led by your first wife, Doreen. It was a time of joy and laughter. On one rare occasion, you sung the Lord’s Prayer (Caribbean version). The chapel was filled with your booming voice. So uplifting!!

Another memorable occasion was spending Christmas Eve and Christmas day with you, Doreen and her niece. Apart from eating and singing, you showed us your wonderful library and talked to us.

I recall when in Vancouver, Sithembiso Nyoni offered her baby and we were all moved as you symbolically lifted this gift of life. We in turn, today salute your life as we lift it up with our presence, memories and tears and yet smile for the gift that you were to the World Council, to the Ecumenical Movement and to each of us.

May God, whom you loved and served with passion, enfold you in his arms and grant you a peaceful rest. Da Yie, Da Yie, Da Yie! (Fanti)

May God continue to comfort Bärbel, your dear wife, and your extended family around the world.