Tributes are being paid to Gerald Coates the charismatic evangelist who has died at the age of 78.
For more than 50 years he used his gifts to pioneer and shape a new style of church in the UK – one which challenged the established church and inspired a whole new generation of Christians.
He founded the Pioneer network of churches which is still seeing new plants opening in communities across the world.
Gerald Coates was also co-founder of March for Jesus and a big influence on festivals such as Spring Harvest.
He was also a popular author and broadcaster and appeared on Premier on a number of occasions.
Billy Kennedy is International Mission Leader at Pioneer and has known Gerald Coates for many years. He’s been speaking to Premier about his legacy :
“Gerald had been unwell for the last probably 12 months but it's still a shock and a surprise when the end actually comes. But he lived a good life. He served God's purposes well and has a lasting legacy in the lives of many individuals and also in the church at large.
“He was part of a small group of dreamers and schemers as I describe them in the late 1960s, who were coming out of the Charismatic Renewal that was taking place across the globe. They had a real passion not just for individual renewal, but for the church to be renewed. They pioneered new expressions of church, they began a small church in their home, they began to experience freedom and worship. They were taking away some of the traditional structures that have built up and seeking to demonstrate who Jesus is in a life-giving and relevant way to the communities that they find themselves in.
“I think that influence in the early days was very small, but over time has influenced much of what we see in the mainstream church here in the UK. In fact, I got a note today from a significant bishop in the Church of England, who as a young man used to go along to Gerald’s meetings and got inspired and that is what set him on his journey. He said there are many bishops and Anglican priests who owe a lot to Gerald Coates for the influence he had upon their lives in their formative years.
“I think he both offended and delighted people at the same time, and that was his uniqueness. Of those early new church founders, he was probably the one who reached out more ecumenically.
“Gerald challenged the existing status-quo, the formal traditionalism of the mainstream evangelical church and preached a brand of non-religious Christianity that offended and delighted in equal measure.”
Pioneer started as five people meeting in Cobham, grew to six hundred, and then became a network of churches. It now has churches in communities across the world.
“I did talk to Gerald a couple of months ago, not realising it would be the last time and I was just updating him on the different countries now where Pioneer networks were forming and he was delighted to hear that the influence of those early days was still bearing fruit on a global level. So he was very encouraged by that.
John Pantry is a preacher and broadcaster at Premier and knew Gerald Coates as a friend:
“He was a friend to many, many people. He was a very special man with real leadership qualities.
“He was controversial as well. In all sorts of ways, he wasn't afraid to speak his mind. But a lovely man and showed nothing but kindness to everyone that I knew and certainly to my wife and I. I was so impressed with the community of believers that they got together there as a church because it wasn't just a church that met on Sundays.
“He was flamboyant but that was part of his charm. I mean, I think God uses our personalities and he gives us to them in the first place and then uses them to achieve his ends. Certainly, that was part of Gerald's charm and approach.
“There were some who disliked his style. But I think he brought a breath of fresh air along to the Christian world. A great man and a great loss. My thoughts are with his wife today as well as his family.
“I think his legacy is that if you want to really go with God, then you may well have to break away from a lot of the man-made traditions that we think now are just part of what church is. He certainly did that. He broke lots of manmade rules and regulations, but began something which drew in thousands of people and brought many, many into the kingdom.”
Gerald leaves a wife, Anona, as well as their three sons and their families.