The first funeral in almost 25 years would have taken place at Bethesda Chapel today – but in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic the venue has been changed and most mourners will be unable to attend.
Under normal circumstances the chapel would have been packed with people keen to celebrate the life of John Booth, the man known as ‘Mr Bethesda’ for the countless hours he devoted to the chapel and its restoration.
The chapel would have made a fitting venue for his funeral, but due to concerns over the spread of Covid-19, the venue has had to be changed to Carmountside Crematorium and many of his friends will be unable to attend.
John, who led the Friends of Bethesda Chapel and spearheaded the successful campaign to reopen the building, died suddenly on February 22, at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.
He leaves behind his wife Jean, children James and Jason and grandchildren Amy, Lewis, Emily, Kate, Kyle and Sam.
John’s friend, Burslem historian Fred Hughes – former chairman of the Friends of Bethesda Chapel – said: “Normally we would have had this wonderful celebration of John’s life inside the place that he loved best.
“Bethesda Chapel was John’s project from the word go and it would have been wonderful to be able to do that honour for him.
“It would have brought all his friends together in joyful reminiscence, although it is also a very sad occasion.
“Hopefully we will still be able to have a celebration of John’s life inside Bethesda Chapel in the months to come.
“I’m absolutely shattered that I can’t go.”
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Since Bethesda Chapel reopened 2005, it has hosted various services including a wedding, but this will be the first funeral since it closed in 1986.
John, who was described by Fred as ‘a very special human being’, had married Jean at the chapel and had worshipped there for many years before it closed.
He was then the driving force behind the project to refurbish the Grade II Listed chapel, which had been in danger of being converted to an entertainment venue or even demolished before it was taken over by the Friends of Bethesda Chapel.
John’s friend David Titley, aged 74, of Tittensor, of the Friends of Bethesda Chapel, said: “Normally the funeral would have been a very big occasion, but certainly, we will have a celebration of John’s life at Bethesda Chapel in the future.
“John was Mr Bethesda. He was devoted to the chapel he gave so much of his time in working for Bethesda.
“He was a brilliant sort. He was an absolute charmer. He really was a lovely bloke.
“We were due to hold a service to celebrate the bicentenary of the chapel in May. It is 200 years since it first opened, but we have had to postpone that.
“We are hoping that will now take place in October and at the same time we can celebrate John’s life, if that is what Jean wants.”