I attended the funeral service of Erroll Hulse, which took place 18 days after his death, in Cuckfield on Monday 21 August. Cuckfield was the place that, for me, Erroll put on the map. The fulsome, written tributes to him from Tom Nettles (USA) and Conrad Mbewe (Zambia) that I enjoyed reading immensely, and the prospect of meeting so many old friends, as well as my own very great admiration for our late brother, made the occasion unmissable. I was not disappointed.
I gave myself plenty of time to get there as holdups on the London ring road, the M25, can be most frustrating.
Cuckfield is a beautiful village, full of old buildings and million-pound houses in the ‘stockbroker-belt’ of Sussex. Erroll had gone to the tiny Zion Strict Baptist Church, which was located up a little lane in the heart of the village, in the 1950s. There he instantly formed a mutually respectful and loving relationship with the church officer, Stanley Hogwood, and together they began transforming the Cuckfield witness. Erroll saw the potential and Stanley caught the vision, and the work flourished under their leadership.
About 200 of us gathered in the new building. The old meeting place was sold and is being redeveloped into a four-bedroom house. The new meeting place, which opened a year or so ago, is large, airy and light, but suffers from poor acoustics. Erroll’s coffin was brought in and the family sat at the front. The service was joyous and doxological. The hymns, which were sung heartily, were as follows: ‘Great is the Gospel’, ‘Zion, Founded on the Mountain’ (metrical version of Psalm 87), ‘Jesus Shall Reign’, ‘Jesus Thy Blood and Righteousness’, and ‘Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!’ Then, at the graveside, ‘Our God, Our Help in Ages Past’.
Iain Murray read from Psalm 72 (KJV) and spoke of a young couple of South Africans in the early 1950s, 22 and 21 years of age, and how, one evening, Lyn had spoken to Erroll and besought him to take seriously his relationship with God. He recorded that conversation in his diary. From that time on they attended Pretoria Baptist Church twice a Sunday faithfully. There he learned about daily devotions, giving to the church, witnessing to one’s faith, attending the prayer meeting, and the dangers of worldliness. Such things remained constants throughout the whole of their lives. Erroll was a keen athlete, excelling in any sport, coming third in the 440 yards in the South Africa games, a splendid squash player. How delighted he was when his son Neil finally defeated him.
An only child, he graduated from Pretoria University in architecture. He thought he could broaden his future usefulness by working for a while in London, and by also taking some courses under Principal Ernest Kevin at the newly opened London Bible College. Erroll lived for a while in the Foreign Missions Club, London. There he met a fine group of Christian men, who attended Westminster Chapel, and whose only handicap in his eyes was ‘Calvinism’. Erroll went with them to hear the Welsh preacher, Dr Lloyd-Jones (Erroll had been saved under a Welsh evangelist), and he was gripped by what he heard and was forced to examine the Scriptures to see whether these things were so. Many conversations and sermons and the reading of many books all pointed him towards the truth of the Reformed faith. The Commentary on Romans by Robert Haldane also helped him. He was soon drawn into working with the Banner of Truth as business manager, and one day he was invited to the village of Cuckfield and to the almost derelict Zion Chapel.
What happened in Cuckfield was remarkable. Andrew Symonds was attending the chapel when Erroll arrived and he is a member there still. He was the second man to speak at the funeral service. He described the characteristics of the years when Erroll was pastor: systematic expository and evangelistic preaching (something he had learned while at Westminster Chapel); the plurality of elders; door to door visitation on Saturday mornings; the planting of new churches (Austin and Jeremy Walker pastor the Maidenbower church which began as a Cuckfield church-plant); the initiating of conferences such as the Carey Ministers’ Conference (started in 1970 and which I attended); the Whitefield fraternal; a magazine, Reformation Today; a new vital missionary perspective which brought visiting international speakers to Cuckfield; a praying membership who attended the prayer meeting on Saturday nights; a young people’s work – at one time there were 90 teenagers in attendance. Not surprisingly the building soon needed to be lengthened. The field at the end of the lane was purchased for a car park (the land on which the new building was erected), and the house next door to the church was purchased to be the manse. Erroll’s writing ministry developed with booklets, books, and magazines being sent out around the world. In the first ten years the membership of the church grew by 130, many of the new members having been converted from the world.
Along with this activity there were also the usual tensions which also characterized the congregations of the New Testament, regenerate people not being of the same mind in the Lord. Unable to point out moral defects in Erroll’s character, or any theological errors in his teaching, personality issues came to the fore. There were resignations and some tense church meetings. Wherever there is a flock of Christ’s sheep there is a wolf who wants to destroy it.
Kees van Kralingen is the new editor of Reformation Today, and he spoke of his long friendship with Erroll. ‘He combined reformed convictions with great graciousness’, he said. ‘He had an irresistible and inspiring gift of the grace of encouraging.’ The purpose of Reformation Today was to bind together reformed Baptists from all over the world. The latest development has been the African Bible Conferences, 75 of which have met south of the Equator in forty locations. 100,000 books have been distributed.
Neil Hulse, Erroll’s only son (he also had three daughters), spoke of God’s kindness to the family in giving them this father who was prayerful, loving, evangelistic, brilliant and inspiring. He possessed a mischievous sense of humour and he could be scatty at times. But the home was very hospitable. His vision and energy was balanced by Lyn’s sense of reserve. She kept some finances hidden away to protect them from Erroll’s generosity! When Lyn Hulse developed Alzheimers Erroll learned new skills of cooking and housekeeping. He once told me how tough were the last couple of days of his wife’s life in hospital as she struggled for breath. He thought of how she had lived a blameless life for the almost sixty years of their marriage, and now God was allowing this pain to come into her life. It was tough for him, but then after his stroke there were more lessons God had to teach him. Erroll never complained. He was always grateful for visits and ministry. His local church in Leeds cared for him deeply. The staff in the nursing home were very kind.
Erroll’s son-in-law, Bill James, the pastor of the Leamington Spa Evangelical Church and the newly appointed Principal of the London Seminary, preached briefly from Psalm 72. Seed will be sown on mountain tops and there it will grow. Do you see it? In the place where the winds are the fiercest and the soil is most acidic – on the mountain top – there precious seed is sown and there a great crop springs up, a harvest of the seed of Christ’s word. This will live and will abide for ever. Bill once teased his father-in-law concerning Erroll’s first work with the Banner of Truth Trust – ‘Erroll a business manager’? He never considered that managing a business was a prominent gift of Erroll’s. ‘Oh, it was all right,’ replied Erroll, ‘don’t worry. My vocation was to drop packages of books so that they got damaged, and I then could give the books away for free!’
Erroll was a magnet who attracted people from every part of the world, and being drawn into his orbit they were refreshed and renewed. There was not an atom of snobbery or discouragement in his life. The congregation that gathered in Cuckfield for his funeral and then walked half a mile to the cemetery to watch his coffin being lowered into the grave, sang from their hearts of their hope – which was not in any man, not even those as supremely gifted as Erroll Hulse
Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come
Be our defence while life shall last, and our eternal home.