There is something special about attending the Thanksgiving Service of a man who has walked with God all his life and the Service for Arnold Bell last Saturday was no exception. Here was a man who had been brought up in difficult circumstances as a son of a single parent in the poorer part of London and who had proved God faithful throughout his life.
Arnold died shortly before Christmas. Earlier in the year he had been treated for cancer and was then given the ‘all clear’. In early December he was admitted to hospital with an apparent chest infection, possibly pneumonia, but extensive cancer was discovered. About two weeks later he died. His lovely wife, Mary, and their son, Jonathan, were with him. Our love goes to them and to Esther, their daughter.
I first came to know Arnold shortly after the family of churches that became known as Newfrontiers began in 1981. He was a close friend of Terry Virgo – they had been room-mates at the London Bible College and each others’ best men at their weddings. At that time Arnold and Mary were living in Odiham, Surrey. Arnold had gone there from LBC to lead The Vine Church – and found a wife! They were a wonderful team, and many would testify to the way they supported and pastored them. Later they moved to Sheffield where Arnold led The City Church.
A man of the Word
In the eulogies to Arnold various themes emerged. As one who had been involved in training leaders within the Newfrontiers family for a quarter of a century (Equipped for Ministry, Eldership Training, Leadership Training) he influenced thousands, either directly as he taught them, or indirectly, as congregations throughout the UK (and also in India) benefited from his investment into church leaders, particularly preachers. ‘What do the scriptures say?’ was a recurring question that surfaced as one speaker after another shared their experiences of friendship with Arnold and Mary and the counsel they gave. He was passionate about training people to think Biblically under all circumstances.
A man of the Spirit
Arnold was passionate to see the Spirit move and to see the miraculous manifest. He had a love of the prophetic, encouraging those with a prophetic gift to exercise it and providing a secure environment in which to do so. He desired to know what God was saying on a matter, and however bizarre a prophetic word seemed he would test it.
A man of Prayer
Arnold was also known as a man of prayer. He led his people to seek God diligently with perseverance about many matters, whether personal, for the church or, one of his passions, for revival.
A man of Faith
His up-bringing taught him to demonstrate faith in Jehovah Jireh, God the Provider. This was out-worked on two significant occasions when he led the churches in both Odiham and Sheffield in major building programmes. Never one for appeals Arnold just taught his church to pray in faith and expect God to provide – and He did. The building in which the Thanksgiving was held, a former synagogue, was ample testimony to God’s faithfulness.
A man of Humour
Another of Arnold’s memorable qualities was a dry sense of humour. I had the privilege of travelling with him in India as well as having him stay in my home on occasion and there was always a dry wit near the surface of every conversation.
…and a man of Buses!
Finally, Arnold had an unusual passion – buses. Near our church building in Hove was the Conway Street Bus Depot where the Brighton and Hove buses were serviced. Arnold always took the opportunity, when he was in Hove for a training programme, to visit the Depot to see what buses were over the service pit, an opportunity to identify a chassis he had never seen! The double decker buses, inherited from London, that plied the streets of Mumbai in the ’80s, were also a constant source of fascination for him.
I have much to be thankful for in my friendship with Arnold, not only personally but also for what he invested into my daughter who was one of thousands of students whose lives were shaped by him in their university years. This was her perspective:
I was in Sheffield for 4 years as a student from 2003 – 2007 and had the privilege of being part of City Church and under Arnold’s wisdom and care. I always LOVE hearing what God is doing in Sheffield. God has used Arnold to build such an excellent culture of honesty, reality, a high expectation of hearing God’s voice, always responding to God’s voice and only pursuing God’s plans and not our own. I often find myself referring to Arnold in discussion with friends in Bath; particularly with reference to his revelations on giving, helping children grow in God and his heart for the church to be ‘one family’. I have been so encouraged by the unity and love I have seen in the church in response to Arnold’s death; again, a reflection of how God has used him to build the church.
Arnold was a legend who will be incredibly missed. It is amazing to think that he is enjoying the fullness of God’s presence and really is in a place which is ‘better by far’.
Thank you Arnold! And thank you Mary, Jonathan and Esther for sharing him with us. He has left the world a better place.