To the world at large he was Rev. Brian J. Bailey. To others, simply Br. Bailey. To us who were his students, he was Pastor Bailey. To his wife Audrey, who preceded him in death in the autumn of 1994 and to whom he is now reunited, simply Brian.
He was an Englishman. He fought in World War II with the Royal Air Force. His family endured the Battle of Britain, suffering property damage from German bombs. As a young man, he surrendered his life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and set out upon a life of adventure, all in the service of his Master. He traveled to many, many countries in the world, usually as a speaker at pastor’s conferences.
Twenty years ago, a fair number of us shared in his life on a daily basis. We attended a small, mountaintop ministerial college in New York’s Southern Tier mountains—Zion Ministerial Institute—and saw Pastor Bailey every day, except when he traveled. He was always impeccably dressed. In fact, in the hundreds of times I saw and interacted with him, only once did I see him without a necktie. It was a standard of excellence he set for us. Perhaps a standard from a different era, one might counter, but it made a big impression on us.
He was very well read and articulate. He always shared stories from the field which served to illustrate, rather effectively in my opinion, the points he strove to make in his lectures and sermons.
One of the biggest impressions he made upon all of us was his relationship with his wife Audrey—Sister Bailey to us students. Mrs. Bailey had been recently impaired by a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair. We watched this man, in his mid sixties at the time, lovingly look after his wife day after day—wheeling her all over the campus, bringing students into their modest apartment for visits and our little ones in for Kit-Kat bars. Always tenderness. I’ll never forget it.
We learned plenty of things about the Scriptures under Pastor Bailey’s tutelage. But more than that, we learned practical lessons for life and ministry. [Note: I was a church pastor for about sixteen years upon graduation from ZMI.] One of Pastor Bailey’s assignments was running a hotel and school for the blind in Switzerland during the 1950’s. He used this experience to teach us future pastors about hotel management and business matters. He was an intensely practical man.
In my mind, I can still hear the cadence of his British accent when he’d begin a point with “Now then…” and “The thing is this….” We all tend to imitate our heroes and mentors. One of my laughable pulpit imitations—not consciously, mind you—was saying “Isaiah” in a British accent (eye-ZYE-ah). All in innocence. There are friends who will not let me live this down. But it’s been oft said that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.
He was a remarkable leader and has followers all over the world. Did he have faults and make mistakes during his life and ministry? Of course he did. He’d be the first to tell you that. We all do. But it was the life he lived before us that made such a lasting impression. Such is the impact of a leader.
He was 87 years old and in failing health. Kath and I had the opportunity just one week ago to have lunch with his caretaker, a friend of ours and family to my best friend. This lady, a fine nurse in her own right, spent the years after Mrs. Bailey’s passing looking after her bereaved husband and the school. We were able to send on our love to Pastor Bailey, who knew we’d all be gathering for lunch.
He is gone now but his impression remains. And will so until our time comes.
Thank you, Pastor Bailey, for all you gave us. We will not forget you.
“Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.” (Psalm 116:15)