Port Elizabeth ‘running reverend’ finishes his final race

The Rev Deric Derbyshire with the horse, Running Reverend, that was baptised and raffled to raise funds to replace the roof of the St Peter’s Congregational Church some years ago
The Rev Deric Derbyshire with the horse, Running Reverend, that was baptised and raffled to raise funds to replace the roof of the St Peter’s Congregational Church some years ago
Image: Eugene Coetzee

 Port Elizabeth’s famous “running reverend” ran life’s greatest race with grace and humility, with a funeral service for the retired St Peter’s Congregational Church minister to be held on Wednesday next week.

Deric Derbyshire, who was born in South End in 1946, died on Monday evening after a long illness.

He was the force behind the building and success of St Peter’s Congregational Church in Walter Road, Charlo.

St Peter’s is, in fact, “the church that Deric built” – he was the brains behind the project and, with the help of a team, even laid bricks himself, despite having no experience.

He was also behind the Christmas morning service which he led at Happy Valley in Humewood since 1980.

His son, Mark Derbyshire, 46, said his father was a prolific sportsman and that was where his nickname, the “running reverend”, came from.

“He was always an active man and enjoyed the time to reflect that long-distance running offered,” Mark said.

“He could often be seen running the roads in Port Elizabeth preparing for the Comrades Marathon, often wearing his clerical collar, hence the ‘running reverend’.”

Derbyshire studied extensively and held several academic qualifications, including a doctorate in theology which he completed in 1986.

Derbyshire, author of A Horse Named Sheldon and A Church Named St Peter’s, recalls in his books how, on the afternoon of March 23 1983, he bid for a brown horse – similar to what he saw in a vision – on auction for R30,000 in Johannesburg.

That money had been raised from previous fundraising efforts.

Sheldon was later raffled for R40,000 and the money was used to buy the piece of land where St Peter’s stands today.

Years later, Derbyshire bought a second horse – named the Running Reverend – which was raffled for R200,000 and the money was used to replace the roof of the church.

Mark said his father had heeded his calling from God early on in life and was actively involved in the ministry.

“As he headed into his retirement years, he handed the reins over to the next generation in the church and enjoyed watching it grow in spreading the Lord’s word,” he said.

Derbyshire retired from the ministry after 43 years in 2015.

“He was a wise and supportive father who shared his life’s learnings, he would let you fall, pick you up when you fell and then show you how not to fall down again,” he said.

“He loved to laugh and tell stories, enjoyed a good meal with family and friends.”

Mark said Derbyshire opened the batting for the EP cricket team, played club rugby, held a black belt in judo and completed numerous Comrades Marathons.

“There are certainly many people in Port Elizabeth and even further afield who can share their personal lessons learnt from dad.

“I would humbly say that his passion to dream big and chase that dream for a noble cause was his greatest lesson.”

Mark said he had booked plane tickets to spend Father’s Day with Derbyshire. “God needed him sooner. “A reminder of a lesson is to embrace the present, always end a conversation with ‘I love you’ and never have regrets,” he said.

Mark said his father’s health had been declining for a while.

“But he always made a recovery and was ready for the next thing to do.

“So while his passing is not a surprise, it does not hurt any less,” he said.

Derbyshire is survived by his sons Mark, Lance and daughter Kelly, along with his grandchildren Seth, Ethan and Jordan.

“My father, mother [Esme] and Lance had a Sunday afternoon ritual that involved a late lunch at Spur, then some PlayStation golf, followed by a Skype chat with Seth, Ethan and me in Johannesburg.

“No longer seeing him on that chat is going to be hard,” Mark said.

The funeral service will take place at Grace Church PE in Newton Park on Wednesday.

The family will hold a private cremation thereafter.

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