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Our tribute to Derek Copley

Christian theology applied.

It is with great sadness that we at Moorlands College have heard of the death of our former Principal, Dr Derek Copley.

Derek impacted the lives of so many people. We’d like to use this space to celebrate Derek’s life and to reflect on how Christ worked through him and used his gifts at Moorlands College.

Here are some of our reflections and cherished memories of Derek:

Tribute from David Hilborn, Principal of Moorlands College (2019 – present day)

“Derek led Moorlands with great dedication and faithfulness between 1970 and 1997. In that long and distinguished tenure he established the College on its present site near Christchurch in Dorset, leading the growth of the student and staff community, developing the campus, giving Moorlands a more international profile, and gaining university-level validation for its academic programmes.

I was privileged to get to know Derek personally when I worked as Head of Theology for the Evangelical Alliance UK in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, and when Derek was a leading figure in the promotion of European and worldwide Evangelical unity.

When I was appointed Principal of Moorlands College in 2019, it was wonderful to invite Derek back to the College to film an interview about his time here – a recording that will feature in a new documentary about the history of the College to be released this year. (The below photograph was taken during the interview.)

Derek lit up on camera when recalling the many blessings of working here, but we also recognise his life and service as a faithful disciple and leader in many other contexts before he joined the College, and in the years following his Principalship. Our prayers are with his wife Chris and his family at this time of mourning his loss, but we also celebrate a faithful servant now blessed to enter God’s glorious presence.”

Tribute from Steve Brady, College President and Former Principal (1999-2018)

“Growing student numbers, wise staff recruitment, deep commitment to the gospel, and new buildings aplenty  were some of the hallmarks of Moorlands College emerging, in the 1980s, from its near-closure a decade or so before. Moorlands was fast becoming the favoured choice of many evangelical leaders looking for training for their members.

The key human reason for the College’s growth and development during that period and beyond was undoubtedly Dr Derek Copley.

It wasn’t until the early 1990s, shortly after I was called to a pastorate in Bournemouth, that Derek and I got to know each other personally. Before long, he handed me the double privilege of regularly lecturing at Moorlands, and soon after joining its Board of Trustees. Little by little, I learned first-hand of the immense job he had done, stretching back to 1970 when, as a twenty-nine-year-old, he was appointed Principal when the College was at its lowest ebb.

However, the ensuing twenty-seven years of his Principalship, as he laid solid biblical foundations, pursued wise paths, and served a wide evangelical constituency through his many contacts, helped make Moorlands the place it is today. Indeed, there is a third privilege that Derek unwittingly bequeathed me: that of my eventually becoming his successor a couple of years after he had left the College back in 1997.

“Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labours, and their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13). Some of the deeds which follow Derek are etched in the physical fabric of the College. Far more are written into the lives of the many hundreds of graduates from his time at Moorlands. Like him now blessed in death, they are too blessed in life, grateful for the legacy he has left us all.”

Tribute from Janice Tuck, college graduate and member of our Board of Trustees

“Many hundreds of Moorlands students in the 1970s, 80s and 90’s (myself among them) fondly remember Derek as “the Prin”. He features in photos of year groups of students, playing volleyball with his tutor group and shaking hands with graduating students. It’s a great sadness to hear of his passing.

Derek will be remembered lovingly as someone who took a personal interest in each student, and someone whose passion to see people reach their full potential in Christ inspired his leadership, teaching and writing. 

The strong Moorlands of today is being built on strong foundations and we honour Derek’s part in that and the many years he gave in service of the Lord at Moorlands.” 

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

Revelation 14:13

Online donation page for Derek

If you’d like to contribute to an online donation page in memory of Derek, you can do so here. The gifts will be shared between Oakhaven Hospice (Lymington) and Hythe URC Outreach Fund who support overseas mission and local evangelism.

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