Gerald Coates (1944-2022): A true pioneer | Magazine Features
On Sunday, April 3, Gerald Coates, founder of the Pioneer Church Network, rose to fame. For over 50 years, Gerald led the way in church circles that have significantly influenced and shaped the church in the UK and beyond.
Gerald was among a small group of dreamers and schemers in the 1960s who set out to “restore the church” in the wake of charismatic renewal. He challenged the existing status quo, the formal traditionalism of the mainstream evangelical church and preached a brand of non-religious Christianity that offended and delighted in equal measure.
Yet it was Gerald, because he loved the Church, who built bridges ecumenically. He served the Spring Harvest interfaith event, was a regular speaker at many denominational conferences and even became a friend and confidant of several Archbishops of Canterbury. He has sponsored sold-out events at the Royal Albert Hall, facilitated global March for Jesus events and hosted the ‘World Champion’ event at Wembley Stadium with his friend, Noel Richards.
He wrote numerous articles and wrote eight books between 1983 and 1995, including What is this Kingdom?, Divided we stand and Non-religious Christianity who has brought his influence to many emerging leaders in mainstream churches and beyond the shores of the UK.
Gerald’s cheeky confidence opened doors in the world of fame and politics. Over dinner, he would feast on stories of his last encounter with such-and-such a person. He joyfully shared the opportunity he had to pray for them or give them prophetic encouragement. If someone interrupted him, he would have to start the whole story over from the beginning!
But probably the most important role he played was in the lives of hundreds of young men and women with his decisive prophetic insights and statements. He was a true prophet who “saw” and he “said what he saw”. I’ve lost count of how many people have told me about their “Gerald moment”. Being called to a meeting or receiving a “word” in a church home that has significantly altered the course of their lives.
My wife, Caroline, and I only knew Gerald from afar until 2007 when we were asked to work with the Pioneer team. We worked with them for 18 months to help them restructure for the future. At the end of the process, Gerald announced that he did not feel equipped to lead the network into the next season. The group began discussing leadership options, but no conclusions were reached. Toward the end of the conversation, John Noble suggested, “Why don’t we invite Billy and Caroline Kennedy to run the network?” We laughed. They all laughed. Later at dinner, Gerald turned to Caroline and me and simply said, “When John Noble mentioned your names, something jumped into my mind. I think you are the next leaders of Pioneer.” It was our ‘Gerald moment’. Since then, our lives have not been the same.
I spoke with Gerald a few months ago. He answered the phone in his usual way: “Gerald here”. No last name needed. I didn’t know it would be the last time. He told me how proud he was of the decision he made to leave the leadership of Pioneer and pass it on to Caroline and me. He shared how heartened he was that his pioneering work had now resulted in a woman, Ness Wilson, taking over the leadership of the network. I told him about international developments. We talked about his health, his wife of 54 years, Anona, his sons and grandchildren. He thanked me for calling. We hung up.
Goodbye Gerald [for now]. To the king and his kingdom.