ROBBIE LOW INTERVIEWS
The dedication in the book reads:-
PHIL. 1 v 27 “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you stand firm in one spirit, with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the gospel and not frightened in anything by your opponents”.
I bought the book on December 2nd 1993 and got the author to sign it for me. That was the scripture he wrote. I have returned to it often and to the subject of the book.
It is called, “Becoming Orthodox” and the remarkable preacher whose story this is, was Fr. Peter Gillquist. Gillquist, once a major preacher for Campus Crusade for Christ in the U.S.A. and tipped as a likely successor to Billy Graham, had been one of the leaders of an extraordinary movement of protestant radicals, convinced by their scriptural studies and missionary experience, to the ancient church of the East. That day some fifty or sixty, mainly priests, gathered in a country church to hear and worship with the orthodox. Everyone who was there believed the Church of England to have been scripturally disobedient and, in all probability, likely to become more so as the liberal agenda unfolded.
Amongst those trying to make sense of the crisis and discern God’s will for the future of the church in our own land was a rather surprising figure - Michael Harper - founder of the Fountain Trust, Chairman of SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad), pioneering charismatic, church growth inspirer, christian healing teacher and encourager. Protestant with a capital P! A most unlikely convert - every bit as unlikely as Peter Gillquist.
Less than three years later Fr. Michael Harper is the Dean of the English Deanery of the Patriarchate of Antioch with pastoral responsibility for those for whom the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy is now an exciting reality. During the intervening period we have kept in touch by phone. I read his Deanery newsletter and the excellent orthodox magazine, “AGAIN” and he catches up with us through New Directions.
We met on the eve of the Forward in Faith Assembly on one of his visits to the Orthodox Cathedral.
Where did you begin?
“I was baptised an Anglican. My parents weren’t terribly dedicated but my father was keen on having me baptised.
My home was in Welbeck Street, the church was St. Marks, N. Audley Street. Later on I worked at All Souls Langham Place. My wife, Jeanne, was at the Royal Academy of Music and we were received into the Orthodox church at St. George’s Cathedral, Albany Street. So you can see this area of London has been pretty significant in my life”.
What did your parents do?
“My father as an entrepreneur at Smithfield Market selling produce to shipping companies and shops. My mother was a beautician with Elizabeth Arden until the family came along. During the war she worked in an aircraft factory”.
Brothers and sisters?
“Three sisters and then when mother died in 1959, my father retired to a farm in Co. Clare - he’d always had business dealings with Ireland and mum was from Dublin - remarried at the age of 62 and had two more daughters."
Where did you study?
“School at Gresham's, then up to Emmanuel, Cambridge."
Home of famous heretics!
“A bit like Antioch which produced Chrysostom but also produced Nestorius and Arius!"
Who were the great influences on your early life?
“I’m going to write a book on evangelical nannies. Bishop Kallistos once told me his nanny’s last words were, “Washed in the blood of the Lamb”. Winston Churchill had an evangelical nanny and so did I. She took me to a lot of Baptist churches and encouraged my prayer life. I remember when I was seven and Neville Chamberlain brought back his piece of paper from Munich, I was quite convinced that this was a direct result of my prayers.
Then I had a marvellous Headmaster at St. Faith’s in Cambridge, W.G. Butler. Our evacuation was to Devon but he taught us the value of a disciplined life - that, in many ways, it held the secret of happiness. He imparted a strong belief and a duty to God with clear scriptural teaching. His sister was a missionary in India and he got her to pray for me throughout her life. It was a great gift to have such an honorary godparent”.
What were your best subjects?
“Geography and History. I love history. I was interested in sport but I’m one of those chaps who’s not very co-ordinated and my eyesight is limited. So, being a big boy, I got my colours at Rugby by getting my head down and pushing hard.”
What was Cambridge like?
“Difficult to get in if you didn’t have a family connection. I won a scholarship and read law. At the end of my first year I made a decision for Christ. I’d been a member of Christian Union but the conversion moment was during a eucharist at King’s Chapel! I knew my sins had been forgiven. Of course this experience didn’t fit the formula so my lovely friends had me in for prayer to make sure. These were boom years for evangelicals at Cambridge - missions by John Stott and Billy Graham.”
“Ridley Hall. Cyril Bowles was Principal, Maurice Wiles was Chaplain and John Earp - Vice Principal”.
What a collection of liberals!
“Yes, but John Earp, who had become very liberal in reaction to his time at Bash Camp, later had a deep experience in the spirit and became a radical and joyful christian and apologised for being a bad vice-principal. God can reclaim liberals - remember Cardinal Ratzinger was once a follower of Hans Kung! We had wonderful university teachers like the Chadwicks and Charlie Moule”.
(I missed the Chadwicks but Charlie Moule was still there in my time and his graciousness and holiness allied to a brilliant mind and wonderful humour gave even the dullest student sudden glimpses of the kingdom.)
How did you meet Jeanne?
“On an Inter-Varsity Fellowship Mission to Norwich in 1951. She was C.U. Secretary at the Royal Academy and had been converted by Dr. Lloyd Jones. I was convinced pretty early on that this was it, but Jeanne took a bit longer. Our courtship was quite difficult because she went to teach in Wales but we got there and this year we’ve celebrated our Ruby Wedding”.
Where did you serve your title?
“St. Barnabas, Clapham Common, with Cannon Reg Bazire who’d been a missionary in China. He’d had a terrible time with terrorists and then interned by the Japs with Eric Liddell the Olympic champion. Liddell was a saint and always volunteered for the roughest and dirtiest jobs. He broke his Sabbath rule in order to give the children sport on Sundays! Reg was a fascinating and mystical man and I couldn’t have had a better three years”.
Then it was All Souls?
“Yes for six years with special responsibility for the commercial world and shops in the parish. Six curates under John Stott who was a very powerful man but easy to work with - an awesome preacher and always interested in your work but not interfering”
Wouldn’t he have made a good bishop?
“Yes, but it’s never bothered him. The establishment has always been afraid of considerable people.”
So when did the charismatic experience happen?
“1962. On a church weekend. It was earthshaking. I knew all these things naturally as a western minded person and then suddenly, baptized in the Spirit, everything leapt off the page of the scripture. The church was revealed as the Body of Christ - I was hit by that ultimate reality and no longer was it just as an idea. It was here. I couldn’t any longer indulge that great evangelical weakness of having no doctrine of the church other than “it’s a good boat to fish from”.
(For the next thirty years the Harpers' lives were dedicated to the revival movement worldwide. First of all with the Fountain Trust, which set them free to have a peripatetic ministry, and then later with SOMA.
Michael’s books on healing and church growth had a dramatic effect on many parishes. The key text, “Let My People Grow” has a glowing tribute in the reprint edition from one George Carey, who claims it as the blueprint for his success at St. Nicholas, Durham.
The travelling brought together like minded Anglicans for renewal at Lambeth 1978 and his early involvement with the Roman Catholic Church and Cardinal Suenens was fundamental. Renewal has been warmly welcomed by successive popes - for genuine renewal is inevitable doctrinally conservative and liberals won’t touch it. The Roman Church has given a lot of time and systematic study to renewal and it is, for this reason, Harper thinks, that they have avoided the equation of modern culture/music with renewal as so tragically happened in Sheffield recently.)
When did you first encounter Orthodoxy?
“At the Methodist Pentecostal Oral Roberts University, Tulsa 1975. Students were singing vespers in albs with incense. The Dean said, “We’ve got an Orthodox revival here”. I had begun to see something of God’s plan with Roman Catholics under the Holy Spirit but all I knew then was that Orthodoxy was very important and one day I would meet her. I must say at this point, the most influential book for me, after the Bible, was Leslie Newbiggin’s “The Household of God”.
When did the affair get serious?
Well, I had become chairman of the International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelism in 1989. Fr. Tom Forrest (R.C.) had been one of the great inspirers of the “Decade of Evangelisation” - and I was given the job of encouraging the orthodox on board.
I ‘phoned Fr. Peter Gillquist and he clearly thought we were T.V. evangelists and I made some comment about Rasputin, so it wasn’t a great start to what is now a very good friendship. I toured Cyprus, Egypt, Jerusalem trying to fill the Orthodox seats with no luck. Then I went to New Valamo Monastery in Finland and my first Byzantine liturgy. Bishop Ambroisius explained it, we then discussed Orthodoxy and ten priests came to the conference.
In the meantime I read Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book for the third time - but going to the liturgy is the real answer”.
Were you tempted by Rome?
“No. The western emphasis on authority won’t work and there are too many problems at Rome. I couldn’t go through it all again. I never thought it out like that, it just seemed that we were being led to Orthodoxy. I devoured everything that came out post ‘92. I knew I couldn’t stay in the Church of England after the disobedience. We were very sad - we had made no preparations or plans at all.
Then I wrote the Orthodox option article for you and people got in touch and I found myself elected president of the Pilgrimage to Orthodoxy and Fr. Gillquist and I got back in touch.”
How did friends react?
“Very surprised, very kind and pretty ignorant of Orthodoxy. All glad we hadn’t gone to Rome, of course, but little real idea of what we were about. Most thought it was a sort of fairyland for Russian and Greek exiles.”
How do you now relate to Anglicanism?
“We are not fighting the C of E or proselytizing. Our concern is to bring the good news to the British people. Orthodoxy’s relationship with Anglicanism has always been good. Our deanery is a mission deanery carrying on the work of the saints of the undivided church in this land and that is our priority.”
At the beginning the Antiochian initiative seemed to be resented by other Orthodox. Is it still the case?
“No. There was an understandable caution perhaps but once it was clear that we wanted to become fully orthodox and not just on an issue or with anglican strings attached then it was O.K. The moment we were canonically orthodox we were fully accepted and concelebration and joint pilgrimage are absolutely normal.”
How many new Orthodox communities are there?
“Ten at the moment. There are thirty more active priests considering it.”
(This may seem small beer compared with the Roman exodus but it is worth remembering that each priest ministers to a community of faith and that these men have to be self supporting in the manner of the early church.)
There is a lot of talk about Western Rite liturgy for the new communities. How has this worked out in practice?
“In fact all communities must be able to celebrate Eastern rite and eight out of the ten have opted for that traditional rite anyway.”
What’s happening in the U.S.A?
“They’re much further on. A good number of evangelicals have come home. But you have to remember that orthodoxy in America goes back a long way. The ethnic communities go back between one and two centuries but missionaries from Russia were in Alaska before Columbus came.”
And what about the Charismatic Movement?
“I’m as “charismatic” as ever. Indeed the key to orthodoxy is to understand it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Scripture, tradition, the Fathers, the Church - all the gifts are given to edify the body, their is no isolation or individualism. This is where Toronto comes adrift.”
What would you say to “orthodox” sympathizers still undecided in the Church of England?
“Well I suppose the questions that I would have are: 1. How long can you have bishops for an “orthodox” constituency in a church heading away from it? 2. Isn’t there a danger of congregationalism? 3. What future is there for your children?
(As we parted my mind ranged over many things. The courage of those striking out for the ancient truth and the struggle of the early mission church. The resilience of this great church in the long years of minority and persecution unknown to the Western Church and my earliest experiences of the great God centred worship of the liturgy and the contrast with much of the man centred worship / entertainment of the western communions. In the great realignment that is underway the influence of Orthodoxy is vital to the health and recovery of the Western Church and, needs must be out of all proportion to its numbers. But then Jesus settled for a dozen men to mission the world.)
Becoming Orthodox - Fr Peter Gillquist - Conciliar Press £8.25
“Again”, the Orthodox magazine (£10.00 per annum) and details of orthodox communities and worship from:
Orthodox Christian Book Service 95, Spencer Street, Birmingham B18 6DA
Robbie Low is Vicar of St, Peter's, Bushey Heath in the diocese of St. Alban's
As the Southwark Cathedral celebration of 20 years of Lesbian and Gay Christian movement draws nearer - so the postbag of the organisers of the alternative Day of Prayer and Fasting continues to grow.
One curious anonymous diatribe appeared on the back of a prayer card bearing the saintly portrait of Aelred of Rievaulx.
After the ritual imprecations of “shame”, “ludicrous”, “hypocrisy” etc., poured on the heads of the traditionalist organisers it was a relief to turn over and read the irenic text of Aelred which said simply:-
“Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ”
Ah! So that’s what he meant.
JOCK IN A FROCK SPLITS THE FLOCK
The Rt. Revd Douglas Cameron, Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, has just ordained one of the formerly doughtiest female opponents of women priests. Mrs. Barbara Morrison, 67, a widow and retired Biochemist, has changed her mind - and how!
In 1993 our Barbara, along with John Bullamore - a Director of Scottish Homes, led a split from the Parish Church of St. Peter, Stornaway and now meets in portakabins and St. Moluag’s Temple. But...... Mrs. Morrison was the author of a tract lambasting women’s ordination on biological and theological grounds and attacking liberal press and bishops as well as the women claiming vocation - “A sense of vocation may be confused by personal desires and ambition”.
Mrs. Morrison refused to explain her change of heart to the press but said it went back “about twenty years” - some little while before she wrote the tract obviously!
The Rector of Stornaway, Stanley Bennie, and his people were not invited to share the Bishop’s enthusiastic confirmation of parochial schism.
Followers of the fascinating career of the Revd. Jim Cotter are in for another treat. One time Chaplain and Lecturer at Lincoln Theological College, Director of St. Albans Ministerial Training Scheme and author of books on prayer, Cotter’s delightfully frank writings on same gender relationships have given him a countrywide ministry.
Supporters of the Society of Martha and Mary will have been thrilled to discover that he is now helping their important work. Knowing no bounds, Jim bills himself thus...
JIM COTTER - WORDSMITH, GODSTRIVER, CAIRN BUILDER,
WEB TREMBLER, PRESBYTER AND RELISHER.
SHINE JESUS SHINE
A senior and well respected Forward in Faith parish priest decided to go for his “assessment” to his totally unsympathetic diocesan. The priest has, by anyone's standards an excellent parish and pastoral record - unlike his assessor.
At the end of the interview he decided to be very cheeky and asked simply
“Don’t you think I’d make a good Bishop?”
“Oh no!” replied the astonished diocesan
“you lack the polish!”.
The parish priest responded by asking if there was a course he could go on to acquire this elusive quality.
WINE, WOMEN AND ECUMENISM
In the wake of the recent problems in the Roman church about celibacy a Forward in Faith priest had an interesting encounter in an East End pub.
Going for an early evening drink with his wife he came into a bar empty apart from two Irish labourers at the other end of the bar.
As he ordered the drinks his wife went to the loo.
“Excuse me, father” one of the Irishmen enquired.
“Are you allowed to drink?”
“Oh yes” replied the priest “I’m not a Methodist”
“Oh” continued the Irishman “is that your sister then?”
“No, it’s my wife, I’m not a Roman Catholic”
“What are you then?” he persisted.
“Church of England”
“Bejaysus” concluded Pat “you made the right choice there”.
BULL FOR YOU
Three communications within a week indicate a rather new tack in episcopal pastoral care of orthodox clergy.
A gentle and gifted parish priest whose views were unknown to most and who runs a parish with a huge electoral roll finally confessed his unwillingness to have a women priest appointed to his staff. He was summoned to meet both bishops and advised that his health might necessitate early retirement. This was news to him but equally shocking was the next suggestion. That he had had his hand in the parish till!
Instead of calling a solicitor to deal with this nasty slander, he opened his personal accounts to nail the lie.
Two days later a fierce orthodox activist was also accused. He suggested the bishops might like to meet his solicitor and union rep. or write a withdrawal and apology immediately. An apology is on its way.
Four days later a priest from the far north rang in with the following jolly.
He was threatened with terminal discipline for
1) Missing a funeral
2) Habitual drunkenness
Unfortunately for the prosecuting bishop
1) He was late for the funeral but as a mourner, he was not the officiant.
2) The chief “witness” to the second charge was, unfortunately, so drunk himself that he wrote off his car by driving it into a police car.
Welsh Bishops are rejoicing that, at last, the Holy Spirit has come to their General Assembly!
For years now they have been inviting Him only to find that his guidance has been missing when the votes were cast on the ordination of women.
Now at last he has clearly spoken and the assembly has passed the measure by one vote. This is a great relief to everyone and there will, of course, be no need to invite Him again.
THEY SEE(K) HIM HERE....
Readers puzzled by last months appointments chart, showing the number of orthodox “Promotions” (not a lot), can stop wracking their brains. The, apparently, cheering number of suffragan and assistant Bishops of our consistency, appointed to the most unlikely dioceses, are not what they seem. Quite simply most of them are the multi-talented and infinitely ubiquitous John Richards, Bishop of Ebbsfleet.
NOT THE NINE O’CLOCK SERVICE
“Alternative forms of worship naturally have their place in a vibrant church” declared Archbishop George during his trip to “Live on Planet Earth” at the Congregational Chapel, Cranbrook.
Brian and Kevin, students of post-modern culture and the church’s response, invited the congregation to “Let’s Do Church” and rendered “A Chill Service” to “The Parent God” in a multi-televisioned, back projectioned worship situation.
The really up to date worshipper will realise this is too dated to be “really wicked” and be seeking a much more “lounge” ambience (all the rage). This is , of course, where 1960’s ecclesiastical furnishing and much of this transitory excitement came in.
As McLuhan used to say, “the medium is the message”.
BLACK AND WHITE PHOTO GAFFE
Readers of the gossip column of our sister paper the Church of England Newspaper could be forgiven for some confusion recently. A report on the recently consecrated lively, charismatic, Ugandan Bishop of Stepney, John Sentamu was graced by a photograph of a markedly different hue.
Concerns that Sentamu might have “done a Michael Jackson” were quickly relieved when it was revealed that the beatific visage belonged to none other than Bwana Broadhurst - consecrated Bishop of Fulham on the same day.
Robbie Low is Vicar of St Peter's Bushey Heath in the Diocese of St Alban's
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