William Rhodes Lewis 1877-1964
John Bennett, Pinxton, Nottingham [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
As one of the editors wrote of Lewis, ‘His . . . unfailing grace, his old-world courtesy and his devotion to his work, to his wife and to his Lord would be hard to match anywhere’.1 For a man who was an editor of Echoes of Service for forty-six years, this is a fitting tribute.
William Lewis was born in 1877 in Hereford. Saved in early years, he was baptized and received into fellowship at the assembly that met in Barton Room, Hereford in 1895, a place of deep affection in his life from that point onwards. Perhaps it was of significance that the assembly at Hereford first met in the home of Lewis’ father, also William Lewis.2 Indeed, it was to be in Barton Room that William Lewis Senior passed away in August 1900 during a church meeting!
Although he had early aspirations to be a doctor, William junior was judged to be too weak physically to undergo the rigours of the training and practice of medicine. Based upon that assessment, particularly by his headmaster, he took up law. It was this sphere of study that was to be an asset in his many areas of service for his Lord. In 1907, still only 30 years of age, he took over most of the work of the Stewards Company Limited. In 1917 he became an editor of Echoes of Service, and, in the same year, a trustee of Muller’s Homes, eventually becoming chairman of the trustees. Throughout these times he continued to practise as a solicitor.
It is difficult to appreciate just how remarkable Lewis’ service was, but certain factors might be borne in mind. Whilst still in his early twenties, and studying for his law exams, he suffered a severe haemorrhage of one lung, a condition that was to affect him the rest of his life. As Stunt, et al., record, ‘He did not allow it to defeat him, but completed his studies and, in July 1901, took his final examinations in bed – and passed!’3 Another factor was the death of his father in 1900. Apart from the obvious shock associated with a sudden death, William felt his responsibility to his mother and his siblings.
Throughout the early years of the Twentieth Century, he gave himself to systematic and diligent Bible study. He led a Bible class for young men in his home assembly. He supplied numerous answers to questions at the request of the editor of The Witness Magazine. Indeed, that editor, J. R. Caldwell, wrote to acknowledge his surprise at the depth of answers coming from the pen of a relatively young man.4 In 1908 C. F. Hogg and W. E. Vine asked him to join them in sharing responsibility for their Bible Correspondence Course, but he declined. However, he did contribute to various pamphlets written either jointly with Vine, Hogg, or both.
As well as balancing the demands upon his time from his own assembly and his contributions to a wider ministry, William Lewis was approached on a number of occasions to become involved in Echoes of Service. The first occasion was in 1907. The editors, William Bennet, and Robert Sparks, wrote to him from a deep exercise.5 However, it was not until June 1917 that he began work at Echoes. This was the start of what was to become the most significant contribution of any editor from its inception.
Although one who was always happier away from the limelight, William Lewis was also a man of resolve and principle. There were many critics of Echoes, seeing it as a vehicle for centralization, and denominationalism. Some of those critics came from outside of the organization and some from within.6 However, in defending the work of the organization Lewis was firm but gracious, exhibiting the characteristics of the One he sought to serve.7
William Rhodes Lewis died in March 1964. He had lived with severe illness all his life yet he served unstintingly and graciously, carrying significant responsibilities unassumingly, and ever keeping his eye upon the Master.
- Stunt, W. T., Pulleng, A., Pickering, A., Simmons, G. P., Boak, D. K., Warren, S. F. (Editors), Turning the world upside down, Echoes of Service, 1972, pg. 63.
- Beattie records, ‘The first meeting for the breaking of bread was held in the drawing-room of William Lewis, when seven sat down to remember the Lord’s death. In the following year  a few more having been added to the number, the assembly was removed to a building which had been used as a school-room’, Beattie, D. J., Brethren, the story of a great recovery, John Ritchie Ltd., 1944, pp. 171-172.
- Stunt, W. T., Pulleng, A., Pickering, A., Simmons, G. P., Boak, D. K., Warren, S. F. (Editors), Turning the world upside down, Echoes of Service, 1972, pg. 58.
- ‘I have somehow been under the impression that you were as old a man as myself – I having qualified for the Old Age Pension last year!’, ibid, pg. 60.
- Bennet wrote, ‘You are the only one I have thought of from the beginning of Mr Sparks and myself being left without Dr Maclean’, ibid, pg. 59.
- See, for example, Grass, T., Gathering to His name, Paternoster, 2006, pp. 346-350.
- E. H. Broadbent wrote of Vine and Lewis, ‘Although this is the end of a long period of fellowship in service it has in no way tarnished our brotherly affection and esteem for each other’, ibid, pg. 347.