A reflection on the life of Sam Ennis (1932-2016)
Samuel Ennis was born in 1932 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, the
capital city of Northern Ireland. He lived his early life in a small, terraced
home with his grandparents in East Belfast. His first job as a teenager was
delivering newspapers and medicines. He said he then spent his life delivering
the good news and the healing message of Jesus.
Sam came to faith when he was 15. Someone invited him to a Salvation Army meeting:
Sam went, but the friend did not, so Sam sat on the end of the row planning his
escape, but he stayed. When the appeal was made to accept Jesus, he found
himself responding, prompted by the power of the Spirit. That night he blew the
dust off a Bible and commenced reading from Genesis. He continued to attend the
Salvation Army church and became a member.
Sam in the Salvation Army
When Sam was just 20 he was invited to be the senior elder. In 1953 he preached
his first official sermon in a Salvation Army church service. Sam and his
friend, John Gosling, entered Bible College together in 1955. On completion of
his studies, in 1957 Sam was appointed to Newry in Northern Ireland and 2 years
later to Enniskillen, where he remained for 7 years.
In 1966 Sam, who was still a bachelor, was appointed to Manchester where, after 2 years,
pressure of work took its toll on his health. His Christian doctor advised him
to spend time in South Africa, where the climate would be more suitable for his
asthmatic condition. 8 months later, after prayerful consideration, he sailed
for SA and was met in Cape Town by John Bond, a leader in the Assemblies of God.
On the first evening John Bond asked Sam, who had been unable to preach for many
months due to ill health, if he would preach in Fishhoek. In faith, Sam accepted
and thus preached his first sermon in South Africa. On the same night,
arrangements were made for Sam to preach in all the four Provinces of South
Africa, as well as in Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Mozambique. So
throughout 1969 he travelled all over Southern Africa, preaching and making
lifelong friends wherever he went.
John Bond, chairman of the Assemblies
of God in South Africa for many years
In January 1970, on Sam’s first night preaching in Van Der Bijl Park, he
encountered Louise, who was singing in a ladies trio. A few nights later, while
the choir members were drinking tea and coffee, Sam
invited Louise for a quiet evening walk in the moonlight. Sam would later say
that the moon has an effect on both the tide and the "untied" and so 2 weeks later they
were engaged. After the proposal, Sam worked under Mike Attlee in the Coastal
Assemblies until the end of April 1970, thereafter returning to be married in
Roodepoort Assembly on the 23rd May 1970.
Mike Atlee, founder of the Coastal Assemblies of God
Jim Mullan, pioneer leader of the
Assemblies of God in South Africa
In July 1970 Sam and Louise flew to Ireland for a honeymoon and to meet his
parents. While there, the couple accepted a pastorate for 2 years in a Free
Methodist Church in North Belfast, where they served during the bombings and
unrest of those dark years. On returning to South Africa in October 1972, fellow
Irishman James (Jim) Mullan made contact with Sam. Mullan hoped to draw Sam into
the Assemblies of God Group, to work with him.
After sending Sam around South Africa to look at the available prospects, Sam opted
rather to become the minister of Roodepoort assembly. Roodepoort was then one of
the small Independent assemblies, but in time it grew to a congregation of about
800 people. Sam faithfully pastored the Assembly for 30 years.
In Sam’s own words related in 2012, “God called me to South Africa over 40 years
ago... and it was definitely a call from God. I was a Salvation Army officer at
the time and the Lord called me out of that work and brought me to a new work.
In fact, a prophetic word was spoken to me in the city of Dublin and that was
the gist of it, ‘Leave the work you are doing now, follow me, and I will bring
you into a new work’. And when I went to South Africa in 1972 along with my
wife, it was a new work altogether. I had never pastored a Pentecostal church
before. But the Lord was good and kept us there for a long time.”
FRONT: Louise, Sam and Stephen Ennis. BACK: Patrick
Patrick, Sam and Stephen Ennis
While there, he and Louise were blessed by the birth of their sons, Patrick and
Stephen. During this period at Roodepoort, Sam's talent and charisma soon made him a
leader of the company of independent assemblies, who had formerly looked to Fred
Mullan for leadership, but at that point had become largely unfocused and
leaderless. The affiliate churches felt that Jim (Fred’s brother) Mullan's work
was growing more because it operated in unity as a group, and thus formed
themselves into a group called the F.I.A.M. (Fellowship of Independent
Assemblies and Ministers).
Easter special services at Bethshan Tabernacle, Bulawayo - 24 April 1973.
LEFT TO RIGHT: Joy Nash, David Nesham, Warren Paynter, Bill Mundell, Louise
Ennis, Sam Ennis, Marlene Mundell
Following the general conference of the A/G in 1981, there was a split in the
South African movement. One of the main issues was concern about a clause in the
general constitution regarding property rights. The Independents were under the
impression that the ownership of their church properties by the local
congregation was at risk. Another issue concerned the re-election of the
executive members. The final straw for the missionaries and the Independents was
the discovery that many delegates had been privately lobbied in order to
replace certain members of the executive. Many white independent ministers, Noel
Scheepers, the missionaries, the Portuguese assemblies, the 'Coastal Assemblies'
work connected with Mike Attlee, and some of the black churches split from the
A/G. Jim Mullan, who was by then retired, subsequently also resigned from the
movement he had helped to build.
Sam who had previously served on the Board of
Trustees for the Assembly of God, was among those who withdrew from the A/G in
SA. Together with others of a similar persuasion and with a desire to maintain
fellowship, he took an active role in the establishment of a new organization
called the Assemblies of God Fellowship (AGF) in 1982.
Sam was the first chairperson of the AGF, holding that position for around 20
years, until he retired from the Roodepoort Assembly in 2002. Sam was succeeded
in the AGF leadership role by his deputy - Ken Paynter, pastor of the Brakpan
Ken Paynter and Sam Ennis
Known as a prince of preachers, after his retirement Sam continued to preach by
invitation on most Sundays, at AGF, AOG, Brethren, Baptist, Salvation Army,
Independent and Methodist Churches in both South Africa and the UK. He often
ministered at the Brakpan AGF where his ministries are archived at
Louise and Sam at Brakpan AGF in 2009
Sam preaching at Brakpan AGF in 2009
Sam was guest speaker for the week long “Intercessors for SA” conference for 11
years and was also invited to serve on the Board of Trustees of “Jews for
Jesus”, something he regarded as a great honour.
In 2013, after a visit to his family Stephen, Patrick, Kate and the
grandchildren, Isaac and Eirlys in the UK, Sam was diagnosed with heart failure
and advised to stop preaching. During his slow recovery, Sam often quoted from
Philippians 1:23. “For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to
depart and be with Christ which is much better...” Only the thought of leaving
Louise kept him from making this a prayer.
Sam Ennis and family
In his last 3 years, Sam accepted the
occasional invitation to minister. He graduated from this life to his eternal
reward on Thursday the 2nd June 2016, having preached his last sermon the
previous Sunday, 29th May, in the Salvation Army Hall in Penzance, Cornwall, UK.
At the time he and Louise were on holiday in Cornwall, staying with their dear
friends, John and Marion Gosling. The significance of this last ministry venue
was not lost on his friends - he was saved in the Salvation Army and began his
ministry there. Sam used one of his most loved portions of Scripture as his text.
Psalm 103:1-5 Bless the Lord, O my soul;
And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,
Who redeems your life from destruction,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies,
Who satisfies your mouth with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Sam’s funeral service in Cardiff on 21st June was conducted by the
retired Salvation Army officer, John Gosling. His memorial service in South
Africa on the 23rd July was held at the Liberty Discovery Campus (old Roodepoort
Assembly) and was conducted, at the request of Sam, by Ken Paynter.
was a true gentleman who, with his warm engaging Irish voice, superb humour and
ready smile, could win people’s confidence and trust, irrespective of their age
or station in life. He will be remembered as a leader of leaders and an
exemplary ambassador of the kingdom of God.
Sam Ennis memorial - Ken Paynter
The AGF in South Africa - Gavin Paynter
"From Africa's Soil - The story of the Assemblies of God in Southern Africa":
"For the record - Reflections on the Assemblies of God": John Bond
Compiled and edited by Gavin Paynter