Bishop Anthony Nichols died on 24 August 2019. This is an edited version of the eulogy his wife Judith gave at his funeral at St Lawrence’s Dalkeith, WA on 3 September 2019.
Anthony Nichols was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire to a working-class family. He never sought honours or preferment. Being a bishop did not define him as a person so there are no pictures here of him in clerical garb today. Like many people from Yorkshire, Tony took frankness to an Olympic standard, as many of you know. His dad was aspirational and liking the free-spiritedness of Aussie airmen with whom he served during the war, brought the family to Australia in 1947. They subsequently moved to Wollongong, an industrial city south of Sydney where Tony and his brother Roderick were educated.
Tony’s Christian journey began at 14 years of age when he was asked to teach Sunday School, so he thought he ought to read the Bible. The first text that gripped his heart was Ephesians 2:4-5, “but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.” The church he attended with his family was spiritually dead but he often claimed it was through the prayer book service that he learnt of the need to follow Christ wholeheartedly, for forgiveness through Christ’s death on the Cross and the absolute certainty of the resurrection of the dead and judgement when Christ returns. His university days laid a strong biblical foundation for his faith through the Christian Union and he was challenged by the opportunity to share the Gospel with overseas students. He was the first Caucasian member of the Overseas Christian Fellowship. He taught for 2 years at Temora in rural NSW where he established follow up bible studies after the Billy Graham Crusade because none of the churches were willing to hold them.
For this he was temporarily expelled from the Anglican Church.
In 1962 he went as a short-term missionary with CMS to the remote British colony of north Borneo, now Sabah, to teach at St Patrick’s Tawau—a small town surrounded by jungle with a coastline infested by pirates. While teaching he also founded a teachers’ Christian fellowship and established friendships that have lasted down the decades. (Tony returned to Sabah with Judith in 2012 to teach in a Bible College. He returned again in 2017 for the centenary of the church in Tawau whose congregation now numbers 3,000. Tony never despised the day of small beginnings).
From Tawau in 1962 Tony journeyed deck class on a cargo ship via Japan to Shanghai. He was temporarily arrested for distributing tracts. China occupied his imagination and he enrolled in courses in Mandarin on his return to Australia. He wondered how Christians could survive there and came back to Australia sick, emaciated and with tropical ulcers but determined to minister cross-culturally.
He entered Moore College to study for the ministry. Tony originally believed that he was called to a parish but with an eye to missionary service. However, he was asked to stay on at Moore College as a junior lecturer and his life took a different trajectory. We met at a friend’s wedding and married in 1968. Our marriage was an adventurous and loving one. But in all honesty, I can’t say that there was never a cross word. Tony’s interests were wide. He completed a Master’s in Education as he was interested in the rights of parents to choose schools in accordance with their beliefs whatever they may be.
In 1972 we set out with Elizabeth and Naomi for Salatiga in Central Java to teach at Satya Wacana Christian University. It was a dangerous time not long after the attempted communist coup. The best medical care then was of a pre-WWII colonial Dutch standard. Daniel and John were born there.
Tony and Judith Nichols and family
One of our colleagues was murdered by jihadists and Tony and a fellow missionary took it in turns to fly to Jakarta to take services and live in the house where he had been stabbed.
We loved Indonesia and have had many opportunities to return there since to teach.
Tony was invited to become the Principal of Nungalinya Aboriginal Training College in 1981 preparing the first ordinands and community workers from a traditional background - a new culture had to be learnt. He was appointed as the result of a dream from the aboriginal students who overrode the decision of the white council. Tony adapted aboriginal learning styles to the teaching curriculum, and he developed a strong empathy with aboriginal people. During this time, he began his doctorate in Sheffield on translation of the Bible because he believed translation of the text often reflected a western mind set. Tony never thought of himself as an academic. He wrote well but never pushed himself to publish. However, in preparation for preaching and teaching the Bible he was indefatigable. He was a great letter writer with a ministry of encouragement.
Tony was called in 1988 to train cross-cultural workers at St Andrew’s Hall.
In 1991 he was elected Bishop of the North West.
There followed 12 years of endless travel, recruitment and seeking funds, preaching and teaching from Dongara to Kunanurra. Tony recruited wonderful people who taught the Bible and lived sacrificially; the diocese became Gospel focussed with a biblical ministry in each centre.
On retirement he taught at Trinity Theological College and attended Dalkeith Church where he preached regularly, led a weekly Bible study and ministered the gospel to children, teens and adults.
Tony had a strong social conscience, but he believed that the only way societies could change for the better was through the preaching of the Gospel. He also firmly believed in a liturgy that facilitated the learning of Scripture.
We miss Tony deeply, but Tony is now in the care of that same Lord who kept him safe during the air raids of Sheffield, communist insurgency in Sabah, arrests in China and Indonesia, crash landings, a mugging in Jakarta, riots in Indonesia. How much more is that same Lord Jesus keeping him safe now in his glorious presence.