The Warminster Venture, written by The Revd David Wilding, was published in 2010 by the St Boniface Trust. There is now (in 2021) very limited availability of printed copies of the book and a further print run would not be economically viable. It is felt, nevertheless, that this unique and detailed account of the training of ordinands at King's College, London and St Boniface College, Warminster merits being made available to a wider audience. Hence the decision to create this web version.
Reproduced below is the text of the book, together with postscripts by the author, David Wilding. For technical reasons the photographs that appear in the book are not included in this web version except for one of Sydney Evans. Photographs of Eric Abbott and John Townroe have been added so that the version here includes pictures of the three key figures in the story of KCL and Warminster.
This web version of the text of the book is published with the permission of the author and of the St Boniface Trust. The terms of the copyright, which is vested in the St Boniface Trust, can be viewed in the section Copyright Protection at the foot of the page.
KING’S COLLEGE, LONDON
SAINT BONIFACE COLLEGE, WARMINSTER
1948 – 1969
Compiled and Edited by David Wilding BD, AKC
King’s College, London and Warminster 1964–68
Foreword by the Archbishop of Canterbury
The Church of England continues to debate – sometimes with more heat than light – what it expects of its ministerial training institutions; and it is interesting to see how, in recent years, issues around the formation of character and the particular strengths of residential and communal life in this regard have come back into focus. The perennial question of how to balance the desirability of good academic theology with serious spiritual deepening is as acute as ever. Reading this excellent history, full as it is of vivid and inspiring vignettes of some of the greatest figures of the twentieth century Church of England, you realise that there is a huge accumulation of wisdom in our recent past about these questions of formation – and quite a lot of creative experimentation of different kinds.
Warminster was indeed an experiment, a ‘venture’, as the title has it: a serious attempt to provide an environment in which theologically educated students could grow up a bit spiritually and personally. It was based on assumptions that not everyone would now share – but we have at least learned (I hope) that activist and talkative modes of training have their severe limitations. Whatever Warminster achieved, surely a central part of it was to shape several generations of reflective pastors, not likely to be thrown off course too rapidly by changing times and fashions.
It is an elusive ethos, not easy to define in the abstract: not a self-conscious unworldliness and conservatism, or an ivory-tower spirit, but a certain quality of knowing where the centre lies and being confident that this centre abides. Not easy to define in the abstract – but actually not at all difficult to define in terms of people who gave St Boniface’s its distinctive character and whose legacy is still what Bishop John Baker as quoted here referred to as a ‘reservoir’ of wisdom and insight.
This book rightly celebrates these men – especially the unique Eric Abbott (who still lacks a full-length biographical study that would do him justice), Sydney Evans and John Townroe. John Townroe’s personal influence on countless priests and laity of the Church of England has been a matter not just of what he has given directly in so many hours of counselling and support, in writing and conversation and preaching, but also of the way he has ‘held’ for such a number of Anglicans an image of what this church might yet be at its compassionate and intelligent and patient best. He would be the last to want this said: but this book is in an important sense also a celebration of all that he has stood for. And its great value for the wider church today is not least that it makes visible to a larger public some of the hidden streams that have kept the life of the Church of England alive through a witness like his.
In this book we have an affectionate, candid and carefully researched record of something very precious in our common Anglican history. I am very grateful that this work has been done, and hope it will be widely studied and valued as it deserves.
+ Rowan Cantuar
This compilation of ‘The Warminster Venture’ came about almost by default. The Editor, having been instrumental in organising a Reunion of his contemporaries 40 years after their leaving of Warminster, enquired of the former Warden, John Townroe, if he had a copy of the account of the founding of the fourth year college written by Eric Abbott, to which Gordon Huelin refers in his History of King’s College, London. Having being informed that the article in question was unknown to him, the enquirer was encouraged to locate it. The article, when found, threw very little additional light on the thinking behind the establishing of Warminster. John Townroe, however, followed up the enquiry by writing a substantial resume of the college’s foundation, together with the hope that the research might be continued, in order that an accurate record might be made.
Initially the intention was to make a fair copy of John Townroe’s memoirs, and house it in an appropriate archive. John, however, hesitated at this suggestion, commenting that, ‘My fear is it may go into an archive to gather dust and never be seen again.’ ‘Do you mean you would like a booklet produced?’ was the enquirer’s response. Which brought forth the very enthusiastic reply, ‘That would be an excellent idea!’ The rest, as they say, is history!
By a happy coincidence this production comes as St. Boniface College, Warminster prepares to celebrate its 150th Anniversary of foundation in 2010, and thus continues the story which Dr S. P. T. Prideaux published in 1948, when the College ceased to function as a Missionary Training College.
The Editor gratefully acknowledges his debt for the help he has received in his research; to the Revd Dennis Barraclough, the Revd Canon Wilfrid Browning, Miss Suzanne Eward (Librarian and Keeper of the Muniments, Salisbury Cathedral), Dr Nicholas Groves, the Rt Revd George Hacker, the Revd Canon Michael Haynes, the Venerable Howard Levett, the Revd Professor Dennis Nineham, the Revd Canon Dr Trevor Park, the Revd Canon Michael Taylor, and the Revd Dr David Young. His greatest debt, however, is to the Revd Canon John Townroe, who in addition to sharing so many personal memories, has supplied articles he has written, photographs, answered numerous questions by phone and letter, contributed a most generous Introduction, but above all, has given his greatly valued support and encouragement to the whole project.
Finally, but certainly not least, the Editor also wishes to acknowledge the most generous offer which the Rt Revd Edward Luscombe, former student of St Boniface, has made in financing the project, and without whose help this book might not have been produced.
What is the meaning of the word ‘venture’ in this book? The answer is to be found at its heart in the following facts. Reginald Somerset Ward (1881–1962) was the spiritual director at different times of Eric Abbott, Sydney Evans and myself. He taught all those who came to him for direction that it is not enough to pray for an increase in one’s faith in God. It is important also to learn to make acts of trust in God in particular situations as you go along. This means entrusting oneself to God in the face of fear or daunting demands or risks of any kind, great or small, and leaving the outcome to God . By so doing, the habit of trust will grow. Faith grows by exercising it, like a child’s muscles. We need therefore to make these ‘ventures’ of faith frequently.
This teaching lay behind the launching of the new Fourth Year College of King’s College London in Warminster in 1948. It was indeed a venture of faith. The circumstances in post–war Britain at that time were extremely difficult, and the risks were great. As time went on, this spirit of adventurous faith became the dynamic behind the constant effort throughout the next two decades to develop and improve the Warminster Course. So it was that the Spirit continued to blow, despite obstacles, keeping fresh what might have gone stale.
The full story of King’s in Warminster has never been told until now. It is entirely due to the initiative of David Wilding that it is at last unfolded in this book. I welcome what David has done, and I very much admire his remarkable achievement. He was anxious to find out what the background of the Warminster Venture was, and this led him into discovering a large amount of historical material in various sources, as will be seen in this book. It was a daunting task to sift through it, calling for determination and perseverance, and it took him many months. He has shown great skill in making selections from the material and arranging them in a readable sequence.
Those who know anything of the complexity of the historical subject–matter, covering as it does what was happening in the Church and the country generally in the 1950s and 1960s, will appreciate all the more what David has achieved. I thank him most warmly and believe that we owe him a great debt of gratitude.
Life Before Warminster
‘It used to be said that priests who were a product of King’s College, London, and its fourth year college at Warminster or Canterbury, had a particular stamp. It came, perhaps from the cultured Catholic humanism of the Deans, Eric Abbott and Sydney Evans, whose ministry to ordinands there lasted from 1945 until 1977.’ (Martin Dudley [KCL 1974–78] Church Times book review 1992)
King’s College was established by a royal charter in August 1829 and opened in 1831 as an Anglican college of higher education in reaction to the foundation of ‘the infidel and godless college in Gower Street’, namely, the university of London founded in 1826, which became University College.
The Gower Street foundation deliberately excluded the provision of a chapel, as well as religious instruction and theological training of any kind. Regular students at King’s were not ‘asked to make any profession of belief’, but they ‘were required to attend chapel daily and at least one lecture in divinity weekly’.
In 1834 provision was made to confer the Associateship of the College (AKC) after a general course lasting three years on general literature, science and religion, after which young men entered business or another university. Although founded on a religious basis, King’s did not have a department of theology until 1846, as it was felt adequate provision was already provided by the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge for the supply of clergy for the Church of England. By the middle of the 1840s, however, it was recognized that many young men were being prevented from taking holy orders due to the cost of attending the older universities, and many of the bishops welcomed the establishment of a theological department at King’s. Accordingly in January 1846 the Principal, Richard William Jelf laid before the Council ‘A Plan for the Establishment of a Theological Department’ which he had submitted to the Visitor, the Archbishop of Canterbury. This, with minor alterations, was accepted. In order to staff the new department, three professors of divinity were appointed, who represented the low, broad, and high strands of churchmanship in the Anglican Church.
The course, lasting two years, was open to Associates of King’s College (the qualification being regarded by the College as equal to an ordinary degree at the older universities), graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, or men recommended by a bishop and approved by the Principal. Requirements were that all on admission should sign the thirty–nine articles; that study should comprise of Christian evidences, Hebrew Old Testament, Greek New Testament, the articles, the prayer book, ecclesiastical history, and “the theory and practice of the pastoral office”; that opportunities for district visiting and Sunday school teaching should be provided; and that instruction in singing and in public health should be given.
In 1848 the Council made it possible for the AKC to be awarded on the results of the final examination in the theological department. This was the birth of the theological AKC. However of the thirty–three students who joined the Department in its first session only five of the candidates emerged successfully from the examination room.
Fierce controversy rocked the Department, when Frederick D. Maurice (appointed as one of the professors of divinity in 1846) in 1853 published unorthodox views, including arguments about eternal punishment, in a manner which identified these opinions with King’s, which led to the gross injustice of his dismissal. Gordon Huelin (KCL 1939–42; Lecturer 1959–84) in his King’s College London 1828–1978 commented that it was ‘an episode in the history of the College which no King’s man cares to recall’.
Numbers of students in the Department in 1855 were low and attempts were made that the College be granted the power to confer degrees in divinity, but permission was denied. In 1862 however, Dr Jelf managed to obtain from the Archbishop of Canterbury the right for AKCs to wear an academic hood, which he himself designed. The Principal wrote to the Archbishop as to why King’s theologians desired hoods. At present he said: ‘they are restricted to the use of a tippet, which simply identifies them with a few individuals who are confessedly inferior to university men. The consequence of this academic contrast between them and their brethren in the ministry is a certain degree of depreciation in their social status. They are undeservedly looked upon as an inferior class, and it is no disparagement of their more than ordinary zeal in their Master’s service to say that they feel a certain amount of discouragement which tends to depress their energies.’ Having received the necessary permission from the Archbishop, ‘Thus it came to pass, when Dr Jelf had completed his survey of silks and satins, and decided upon the shape and hue of the new vestment, that, freed from the degrading tippet and arrayed in the resplendent hood, the AKC no longer felt himself inferior to the BA of Oxford or Cambridge, but moved with a confident sense of equality among the rabbit–skins; and that, with his more than ordinary zeal still further stimulated, he threw off the discouragement which the tippet had engendered, and entered upon his career with nothing to depress his energies beyond the normal wickedness of mankind, and the deplorable indifference of the masses both to the clothes that curates wore and the sermons that they preached.’ (F.J.C. Hearnshaw Centenary History of King’s College, London) [The hood was of Simple (Oxford) shape, black, lined and bound 1/4½ with mauve. In 1885, due to Convocation regulations, it was modified – retaining the same shape and colour, bound 1½ inside and 1/4½ outside with mauve. Then in 1909, it was changed to Full (Cambridge) shape, of black poplin, lined both inside and out with 1½ mauve silk.]
In 1876 evening classes were started in the theological department; attendance for two years in the evening being reckoned as the equivalent of one year full time, however, for the third and final year, men had to attend full time.
|The time–table for evening classes in theology, October 1876, was:|
|Tuesday||7-9||Old Testament and Hebrew|
King’s placed particular emphasis on academic studies, but this was combined with pastoral training, in contradiction to the traditional view that academic and pastoral formation should be kept separate. The programme included practice in the reading of the liturgy, sermon preparation and delivery, elocution, pastoral visiting, the running of schools, and the theory and practice of congregational singing. In 1854 the place of practical work was confirmed by the appointment of a professor of Pastoral Studies.
The Department sought from the early days to establish a disciplined and structured life. Lectures (some five hours each day) were combined with daily and Sunday prayers. Punctual attendance was demanded at prayers, lectures, and communal meals, and academic dress was to be worn regularly. The Principal reviewed students’ personal lives through frequent interviews, and offences were punished usually by fines.
Throughout the nineteenth century the Principal of the College was an Anglican in Holy Orders. All staff were required to be members of the United Church of England and Ireland, with the exception of the professors of Oriental literature and modern languages. This proved very limiting. One anecdote that makes the point, tells of the appointment of a candidate for the Chair of Greek on the grounds that he was the only one who both knew the Greek alphabet and was prepared to subscribe to the Thirty–nine Articles!
The liberation of the College from these shackles was the achievement of the last two clerical Principals: Archibald Robertson, who conceived the solution, and Arthur Cayley Headlam who carried it through. They saw that the College was becoming a ‘poor relation’ of a developing metropolitan university.
The author of A Sketch of the Development of King’s College in the College Calendar 1964–65 writes, ‘Apart from fashioning the modern legal structure of King’s, Headlam’s main services during his ten years of office – perhaps the most important decade in the history of the College – were to raise the tone and quality of academic work and to give staff and students the sense of real participation in the self–conscious work of a dignified university society. Much of the evidence, not excluding that of the statistics of staff and student expansion, shows that his policy bore fruit.’
The King’s College (Transfer) Act, 1908, was a triumph, combining continuity of tradition with creative change; placing the secular departments under a Delegacy appointed by the Senate of the University and so eligible to receive Treasury funding, and maintaining the original Council of the College, with its Charter which secured the College’s right to the Strand site, and its continuing responsibility for the Theological Department and the training of ordinands.
Degrees in divinity were eventually established in 1898 by an Act of the University of London not in the Faculty of Arts but in a distinct Faculty of Theology. The Council at King’s were keen to take advantage of this, and the first great triumph for the College was achieved in 1908, when Walter Robert Matthews (later to become Dean of King’s) gained first class honours at the BD examination in the philosophy of religion.
Dr Headlam was appointed as Principal of King’s in 1903, and added to it the new office of Dean of the College in 1910 and head of the Theological Department, and gathered round him a brilliant team of theological teachers, as well as a welcome increase in the number of students reading for holy orders – from 85 in 1901 to 220 in 1909 – all of which meant that the Department entered on a period of prosperity it had not previously known.
An important adjunct to the Theological Department, second only to the College Chapel, was to provide a theological hostel for the ordinands. F.J.C. Hearnshaw writes, ‘there was general agreement among both members of council and the staff that one of the prime causes of the fall [in numbers in the Theological Department] was the lack of a hostel wherein the domestic virtues and the social graces of the would–be curates might be cultivated. Parents did not like to expose their sensitive sons to the chilly or infected airs of lodging–houses; still less did bishops care to ordain men, even when guaranteed by the AKC, who had passed so large a part of the three most critical years of their lives in circumstances wherein no provision of either their manners or morals was possible.’ Attempts had been made but the limited space on the Strand campus and the costs were a problem. However an experiment was begun in 1902 to provide accommodation for twenty–six men in Mecklenburgh Square. The first Warden was the College chaplain. The building, however, was uncomfortable and expensive to run, and Dr Headlam felt the time had come to replace the house in Mecklenburgh Square with something bigger and better. A generous offer of land in Vincent Square by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners together with an appeal meant that a new Hostel was erected to house sixty students by 1914. Headlam himself was a generous subscriber, but it was not until 1929 when a new Chapel, Library and additional wing were added, that the dream of a completed Hostel was realized.
In the early 1900s the Church of England declared a wish for an all–graduate clergy, which they intended to implement by 1917. This would have been a disaster for King’s and other theological colleges, and was a serious threat to the survival of the AKC, which in its existing form was largely Headlam’s creation. Headlam was a most forceful campaigner, and he and the Theological Department resolved to fight to keep the diploma. Headlam was determined to oppose anything that would weaken or destroy the ordination course at King’s College, and if the proposal demanded attendance at a residential theological college, he thought it a mistake. Whatever their advantages, he believed theological colleges failed to provide intellectual stimulus and frequently covered students with a veneer of piety or ecclesiasticism without allowing it to get a deep hold. He called this ‘seminarist education’ which had the danger of divorcing religion from real learning, and producing an unintelligent religion. He also argued the AKC was of the nature of a degree and should be recognized as such, especially when the College was willing to extend the course to three years. The campaign was successful and the AKC survived. Headlam had laboured again with telling effect.
The financial position of the Theological Department at this time was such that anyone who accepted a teaching post did so at real sacrifice, with men of ability willing to accept a salary far less than they deserved and considerably below colleagues in other Faculties. Most of them had to combine their professorial responsibilities with those of a parish priest or they had private means.
Dr Headlam was succeeded by Dr Alfred Caldecott, Professor of Philosophy. When he resigned in 1917 to the surprise of many, including himself, Dr Walter R Matthews was elected by the Council as Dean. Many of the staff threatened to resign if he accepted, but Dr Matthews was determined to take on the new challenge. When Charles Gore resigned from the See of Oxford Matthews invited him to King’s to a lectureship in theology. His acceptance gave to the Theological Department much greater respect in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities. In 1928 Dr Matthews published Dogma in History and Thought, a course of lectures at King’s, in the centenary year of the College, which he hoped might ‘be accepted as evidence that King’s College remains true to its tradition of striving to combine “true religion” with “sound learning” and of a comprehensiveness as wide as the Church of England’. King’s College was soon to become the largest theological training college in the country.
In 1932 Richard Hanson succeeded Matthews as Dean, and in the same year Eric Symes Abbott entered on his four–year term of office as Chaplain to the College. Such was the force of Eric Abbott’s personality that he made a deep and lasting impression on College life. Sir William Halliday, Principal at the time, related in the AKC Gazette for 1955–56, ‘The Chaplain had an enormous capacity for being liked and a great gift for exploiting this by making his personal influence felt without obtruding it. One result was that at the end of his first year there were so many candidates for confirmation, and these included high officers of the Union Society, that a special service was held for them in the College Chapel.’ In the autumn of 1939 the majority of the Theological Department went, for the duration of the War, with the rest of the College to Bristol, accompanied by the Dean, and five other members of the staff. Richard Hanson was a marked contrast to Matthews. Matthews had great charm and grace, while Hanson was by nature and conviction authoritarian. However, like his predecessor, Hanson maintained the ‘King’s tradition’. Eric Abbott meanwhile had been appointed Warden of Lincoln Theological College in 1936.
Eric Symes Abbott, born in 1906, was educated at Nottingham High School and won a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge to read classics, and got a First in Part One of the Tripos. A First in Part Two seemed inevitable. However, membership of the College Boat Club and a Trial cap as a cox, together with the Presidency of the Student Christian Movement, and the proliferation of friendships, meant he had to be content with a Second. His vocation came to him late in his university career, and in1928 he crossed Jesus Lane to Westcott House to be under the single most formative influence of his life: B. K. Cunningham, who had been Principal since 1919, and before the First World War, together with T.G. Gardiner, had been involved under Bishop Randall Davidson in the Farnham Brotherhood in the preparation of ‘English gentlemen in Holy Orders’. While at Westcott Eric Abbott obtained a Third class in Part One of the theological Tripos.
Eric James (KCL and Warminster 1948–51) in his Eric Symes Abbott : A Portrait, quotes from the Memorial Sermon Eric Abbott preached for ‘B. K.’ (as he was affectionately known) in 1944, “He is the man who stepped in at that formative time in our life as no other could have done.” ‘But what is extraordinary’, comments Eric James, ‘is that so much of the sermon might have been written, word for word, about Eric himself. Boldly in that sermon, as if he were anticipating and consciously countering the criticism that he and others were simply imitators of B. K., he takes as his text “Be ye imitators of me, as I am also of Christ.” He agrees that Paul was bold to use the words – bold, but absolutely right! He says: “When we look at this saying of Paul on its human side in the experience of the Church, we surely find that if a man is a great man, he will have disciples, and if his greatness is that of ‘faith working by love’, he will have the devotion of those disciples, and in that devotion they will imitate the master, sometimes consciously, more often unconsciously: they will catch his accents, they will reproduce that way in which their master had expressed the truth, the words and phrases which were ‘moving and ravishing’ to him will be moving and ravishing to them: moreover, having seen the master at work, and especially among people, in that peculiar form of work which we call pastoral, they will imitate him again, asking themselves instinctively when doubts arise concerning the right action or the right attitude to a problem – ‘What would he do?’ ”
Eric Abbott quotes, in his address, Mr Hopkinson’s Pastor’s Progress, ‘There is the unmistakable seal of B. K. on men who have been under him at Farnham or at Westcott House; it is indelible.’
Eric Abbott relates in the same sermon for B. K., “the providence of God decreed that he should exercise his ministry in the uniquely compact and intimate society of a theological college. Thus was the imitation made more certain still, for in a true common life, nothing is more common, nothing is more shared in the general communication of holy things, than the character, the thought, the prayer, and the love, of the man who is placed among ordinands as their Principal”. Further he makes the point that Cunningham stood “for that integration of theology, devotion and common life without which you will never make the true priest”.
Eric James in his Portrait continues, ‘But the end of the sermon is as important as the beginning: “What more do I recall” he asks, “without this poor tribute to ‘the best–loved man in the Church of England’ (as he has been called) will be more incomplete even than it is? He exalted personal relationships, he respected the self–respect of other men, he gave us our freedom – and asked us to do the same for the people whom we should serve. He gave us our freedom – how dangerous this was! How bad it was for the weaker men – and who shall say he was not among the weaker men? But who in the end would choose not to have had that freedom with which B.K. left us free, if it was truly understood in the end?” ’
Canon James was interested that preaching at Eric Abbott’s Requiem at King’s, he had quoted – in ignorance – the very passage from Bishop King’s Spiritual Letters which Eric in his sermon at B.K.’s Memorial Service quoted as the words by which he said B.K. ordered his life.
“It will want heaps of talk – MOUNTAINS of talk – with individuals , and you will have to be worn out and done for, and broken–hearted, and miserable, and not understood, and deceived, before you begin to get the right sort of relation which is absolutely necessary for the students’ sake now, and to enable them to know what to do when they go out, be ordained, and preach, and give meditations; and get them to see that you are heart and soul in earnest to bring them one and all, not to yourself but to the mind of Christ. Then they will love you, and you will soon be entangled in hopeless love for them, and you will be broken–hearted again, and suffer miseries, and then life will begin again!
Be patient and wise and work with others. Do not be tempted to break away, but lead all on together, or as many as will. Only by breaking your heart into pieces over and over again can you hope to make them begin to think of believing that there is such a thing as love! Don’t mind, be miserable, but don’t stop loving them. You will never regret all the misery you go through; and it is not lost, no, not one bit of it. Not one drop of heart’s blood that falls from a love–broken heart ever gets lost; angels look after it if men don’t, and it bears fruit.”
Cunningham’s genius for friendship and for winning affection and loyalty led to the creation of ‘a new kind of community’. Each student was free to develop ‘his own best self as God intended’, within the common life of the college and was not required to conform to a pattern or type. ‘It is quite amazing,’ he wrote, ‘what power and educative value this common life possesses, given any group of men who meet with aims in common.’ B. K. was very anxious to preserve at Westcott that ‘unity in diversity’ which had been such a marked characteristic of the Farnham experiment. Comprehensiveness, ‘a fellowship of differences’, and ‘the reverence for the largeness and majesty of Truth’ pervaded the college. Cunningham’s dictum, ‘Let the order of growth be first that which is natural and afterwards that which is spiritual’, was one often quoted by Eric Abbott.
At the close of the First World War Cunningham was asked to address the staff of the Knutsford Test School just before they began their work among the post war ordinands. In the course of his address he said, “Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Church of England clergy today is not that there are a few men who ought never to have been priests, but that there are many priests who have never been men. Please do not begin by building the priest – begin with the man and draw out the best that is in each.” Eric Abbott brought this out in his Memorial address for B.K. “One of his most typical pieces of teaching was that there has been a perpetual danger in the Church of the annihilation of the natural in the supposed interests of the supernatural, and that one ever present possibility in the realm of ‘overthrowing the nature of a sacrament’ was in the priest himself.” In an address on ‘The Beauty of Holiness’ B. K. said, “God works not magically by the annihilation of the natural, but sacramentally by the raising of the natural to higher power.” Cunningham and Eric Abbott were both in the ancient tradition of Christian theology, as St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics taught, Gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit – ‘grace does not destroy nature but perfects it’.
Paramount, however, in the Westcott ethos was ‘the minimum of discipline imposed from without, together with a maximum suggested and worked out from within’. This self–discipline was the key to B. K.’s ministry.
Eric was ordained in St. Paul’s Cathedral to serve at St. John the Evangelist, Smith Square, Westminster (1930–32), after which he was requested by King’s, to become chaplain. So began the twenty–five years in which he gave all his care and almost all of himself to students who were being prepared for ordination. Two years after his appointment as chaplain he took up residence in the Theological Hostel in Vincent Square where as in the Strand he made his influence felt, especially as regards the devotional life. There were more frequent addresses at Compline, and he organized an Annual Retreat in September for third year ordinands. This was followed up by a two day Retreat for those in the Hostel at the beginning of the Lent and Summer terms. Although voluntary, many men availed themselves of the opportunities. In addition he was chaplain for two years to Lincoln’s Inn. He was also becoming known as a retreat conductor at places like Pleshey, the Chelmsford Diocesan Retreat House. His gifts as a teacher and spiritual guide were recognized when in 1936, at only thirty, he accepted the wardenship at Lincoln Theological College – the Scholae Cancellarii as he preferred to call it, with a staff of academic and personal distinction that included a future Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey. On his appointment William Temple wrote to him, ‘You will use it as a basis for what we need more than all else – to teach clergy to be teachers of prayer.’ Martin Thornton (KCL 1943–46) in his English Spirituality (1963) commented, ‘Ten years after the letter referred to, Dean Abbott was telling his students (of whom I was privileged to be one) that if they took moral and ascetical theology seriously, and continued their own spiritual struggle, then he could promise that their ministry would be sought and used.’
John Fenton, New Testament scholar and one time Principal of Lichfield Theological College and St. Chad’s College, Durham, in his More About Mark (2001), recalls, ‘During my year as a student at Lincoln Theological College (1943–4) I was introduced by the Warden, E.S. Abbott, to writers such as the English fourteenth–century mystics, Richard Rolle, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich; and to the Spanish mystics, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross.’
Eric succeeded Leslie Owen at Lincoln, whose slogan had been ‘Teaching prayer theologically’: lecture room and chapel were intertwined, symbolised by the carvings in stone above the chapel door Orare est laborare, as seen as you enter the chapel, and Laborare est orare seen as you leave. Such was Eric’s inheritance, and under him ‘Teaching prayer theologically’ continued to be the guideline, and the pattern of a strong, stable teaching staff was repeated. Eric Mascall succeeded Michael Ramsey as Sub Warden, and Christopher Evans, a former student of Lincoln taught by Leslie Owen and Michael Ramsey, joined the staff as the New Testament tutor, producing an interesting clash between a Neo–Thomist and a pupil of Sir Edward Hoskyns. Also on the staff was George Simms, who later became Bishop of Armagh.
Eric James relates that in 1944 Eric wrote a letter on the Diaconate which in future years he always sent to those about to be ordained and which expressed the heart of what he believed about the diaconate and priesthood not just in 1944, but for the rest of his life – “When we are priests let us go on being deacons and let us deacon our priesthood to men. Do you think that they care a straw whether we have a sacrificing priesthood? All the immense meaning of our priesthood which derives from the meaning of who Jesus Christ is, and what He has done, has got to be ministered to them by our continuing humility–in–diaconate. But some priests say: ‘I am a priest’, and they leave the diaconate behind; it falls away from them as a discarded thing, when it is meant to be still their power of contact, because God’s tool is the priest’s humility, of which in the realm of Holy Order the diaconate is sacramental… I am not saying that the diaconate is greater than the priesthood! But I am saying that there is constant need for men in Holy Orders to recover the humility of Christ in their dealings with men, and to bring the Sacrifice close to men through the foot–washing… ‘I am among you as he that serveth’.”
Sydney Evans in The Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) recalled that at Lincoln Eric ‘shared his Anglican perception of priesthood with his students, opening up for them a way of interior faith, prayer, and self discipline appropriate for the demands of parochial pastoral ministry’. A History of Lincoln Theological College 1874–1974 records, ‘Lincoln was not a college that produced future bishops. Loyalty in the parochial ministry has been the keynote of those who were students during Eric Abbott’s time. The “creative slog” of the Lincoln routine produced, not brilliance nor prophecy, but faithful pastors.’ The author of Eric’s Obituary in The Times (June 7 1983) wrote of his time at Lincoln; ‘he produced a succession of young clerics, who, in spite of his scrupulous regard for their individual gifts and temperaments, were of a plainly recognizable stamp’. It was at Lincoln in 1940 that Eric became Canon Abbott: a title by which he was known for the next twenty years throughout the Church of England; but as Canon and Prebend of Sanctae Crucis he characteristically treated his stall more as a calling than a status. In 1939 whilst at Lincoln Eric gave a series of addresses on prayer at the Triennial Mission to Cambridge University which were published under the title Escape or Freedom? described by Archbishop Robert Runcie at Eric Abbott’s Memorial Service in Westminster Abbey in 1983, as ‘one of the best little books on Prayer’. Two memorable ‘nuggets’ from those addresses, which Eric often made use of, are worthy of reproduction –
Jesus ‘took the thorns and twisted them into a crown of glory’
[although not originally coined by him he made it his own].
‘Where the body of Christ is concerned, in the visible manifestations of it in this world, I always see a Body Broken, I never see a Body unscathed. This is true whether we look at his Incarnate Body, the historical physical human frame of Jesus of Nazareth, or whether we look at the Sacramental Body: or at the Mystical Body the Church, the Worshipping Society in which our individual prayers are said.’
In 1943 three devotional addresses by Eric Abbott, given at the Church Union School of Sociology in Oxford the previous year, were published under the title Foothold of Faith. Indeed all of Eric Abbott’s publications were related to prayer and the spiritual life. In 1961 a lecture on Education in the Spiritual Life; the Bishop of London’s Lent Book for 1963 The Compassion of God and the Passion of Christ; Die Well, With Him, A Good Friday and Easter meditation 1964; The Mystery of the Transfiguration: Seven Meditations 1979. It was Robert Runcie in his Memorial Address for Eric who suggested, ‘The story of the Transfiguration was at the heart of the life and work of Eric Symes Abbott – the Mystery of the Transfiguration of Our Lord and the Mystery of the Transfiguration of ourselves.’ Sydney Evans reminded us that ‘the transfigured and the transfiguring Christ’, was one of Eric’s phrases. In 1989 Peggy Chisholm produced selections from his writings, Invitations to Prayer.
When the Theological Faculty at King’s eventually returned from Bristol with the rest of the College to London after the Second World War, students were very few in numbers, and the Dean, Prebendary Richard Hanson, decided to retire. He had borne the heavy responsibilities of the evacuation to Bristol, and felt that with the end of hostilities the time had come for a younger man to take over the duties as Dean. It was to their former Chaplain Eric Abbott that the College looked for Hanson’s replacement as Dean. So Eric returned to govern, in harness with a lay Principal, a highly complex academic institution. In addition to the duties of being Dean to the whole College, he was head of the Department and Faculty of Theology, and Warden of the Theological Hostel in Vincent Square. As the new Dean he had the task of reconstructing the Faculty of Theology and of getting together a largely new staff, in addition to influencing the post–war revival of the College as a whole.
Right: Eric Abbott in April 1950. Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London. Used here under a Creative Commons licence.
A Fourth Year at Warminster
In Eric Abbott’s first letter as Dean in the AKC Gazette for 1945–46 he reveals, ‘There are various plans which are being worked out for our post–war faculty, particularly in conjunction with the Central Advisory Council of Training for the Ministry, but I can better speak of these plans when they are more matured.’
One year later in the Gazette 1946–47, Eric Abbott is able to share more of the plans. ‘Outstanding among the post–war developments has been the agreement of the Council of King’s College to the request of the Central Advisory Council that all our students should have a post–graduate year of residence. The consequent lengthening of the course to four years is a big change. At the present time, there is no great financial difficulty about it as our students are in receipt of Church or Government grants which are given for the full period of four years. We cannot be so sure about the financial burden upon students of future generations. It has been unanimously agreed among us that we could not send our men on to the existing Theological Colleges, if only because it would be impossible to distribute a final year numbering 40 to 50 men in any successful or equitable way over the Theological Colleges. Other considerations however which have weighed with us are the need to integrate what is done in this new fourth year with what has been already accomplished in the previous three years, and our keen desire that our men shall be King’s College ordinands from the start to the finish of their course.
‘The consequence of this change in our regulations for training is that we are hoping to find a Country College for last year’s freshmen to go in July 1948. The place has not yet been found. When it is found, we shall need for it a first–class Warden and Chaplain, and some of us on the Staff at the College will hope to visit it from time to time. In each year there will be four terms, the first beginning in July; and our men will in future offer themselves for the diaconate at the Trinity season in the year following their passing of the BD or final AKC.’
The other news that the Dean had to share with his readers was the cessation of evening classes at King’s. Grant–aided students had no need to continue in employment while studying Theology, sufficient financial help was now available to see them through their course.
In his autobiography Memories and Meanings (1969), Dean W. R. Matthews referred to ‘One defect in the training of [King’s] ordinands could not be remedied. Most men, when they have finished their university examinations, before they feel ready to be ordained, need a period of quiet study and thought in which they can deepen their spiritual life and finally dedicate their lives to the priesthood. I never had this period myself and I have always regretted it; and when I was responsible for ordinands, I was sorry that only a few students had this advantage. Shortage of money and the pressure of vicars eagerly looking for curates combined to prevent them, and even the minority who were allowed to have some terms at a theological college did not profit by them as much as one expected, because too often they were lectured on subjects which they had heard more adequately expounded by university professors. I am afraid the result sometimes was not training in contemplation but holy boredom. Not until long after I had left was this defect removed by the addition of a year after the final examinations in King’s College at a provincial branch of King’s, where the time of quiet reflection was adapted to the course at King’s College and the University of London. This really creative innovation was conceived and carried through by Eric Abbott, when Dean of the College, to whom I and all lovers of KCL owe lasting gratitude.’
Eric Abbott wrote an informative article on ‘King’s College, London’ in a series entitled ‘The Church in the Universities’ in The Guardian 23 February 1951. In the article he writes, ‘if the work is to be done well, the Council of King’s College has to decide just what the Theological Department is. Is it a Theological Faculty, with a very definite non–seminary training? Or is it a Theological College?
‘There is no doubt that in the history of the college the definitely non–seminarist type of training of ordinands has been preferred. It is no secret that Bishop Headlam, to whom the Theological Faculty like all other parts of King’s College owes so much, was suspicious of the smaller theological colleges. He was acutely aware that such colleges might be weak in their theological teaching, that they might be falsely withdrawn from the world, that their piety might become pietism, being too little checked or informed by a strong theology. It is no part of the mind of those who are in authority at the present time in the Theological Department to be lacking pietas towards our founders and our re–founder (for such Headlam was), nor do we hasten to claim a wisdom greater than other fathers. The system of training by which the whole course took place in London, with the very minimum of withdrawal, with (in many cases) only one year of residence and that the third and final year which coincided with the strain inseparable from final examinations, in a Hostel which could never be a full equivalent to the best that the theological colleges have given, this was heroic, and the strongest men made much of it. They were in large measure made by the difficulties. Moreover, the beneficiaries of the Welfare state easily forget that in the days which are still the recent past, many men quite literally worked their passage to ordination and for these poorer candidates, who nevertheless were rich indeed in determination, no place of ordination–training was more suitable, nor, it may be claimed, more helpful, than King’s College, London. These things of the past should not be forgotten. Nevertheless, it has been thought good to enlarge the system and to lengthen the course, and in so doing to fulfil, in circumstances more conducive to their realization, the purposes for which the fine Hostel in Vincent Square, Westminster, has always stood. This Hostel is owed by the College principally to the late Professor Newsom, afterwards Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge, who was Professor of Pastoral Theology at King’s College in the years immediately preceding the 1914–18 War. The debt of the College to Newsom is a heavy one, for the Hostel is a first–rate building and for many years it has fulfilled the essential function of giving ordinands of King’s College their only experience of undergraduate residence. In 1945 the question had to be answered – “Is this enough?” and we said (though not without some anxious debate) “No”. The place of residence, therefore, which was formerly all the College possessed in that realm where ordination–training has always been at its best, namely, in the community of life and of worship, has now become a “half–way house” rather than the end, and in 1948 the former Missionary College of St. Boniface, Warminster, was rented from its Governing Body for the use of King’s College, London as a 4th–year college for its ordinands.’
John Townroe (Chaplain 1948–56; Warden 1956–69 at St Boniface Warminster) takes up the story – ‘Eric Abbott told me that he had accepted the invitation to become Dean on condition that the Council of KCL agreed with him that the KCL Ordination Course should be extended from 3 to 4 years, with the 4th year being spent outside London. This idea must have matured in his mind after his experience as Chaplain of KCL 1932–1936. He found that too many men went almost straight from KCL to ordination, and were ill–prepared for the life that lay ahead of them. Between 1946–47 Eric Abbott began making plans for the 4th Year, and discovered that St Boniface Missionary College in Warminster was soon to become vacant.’
St. Boniface was founded by the Vicar of Warminster, James Erasmus Philipps (1824–1912); a man of great imagination, foresight, devotion and energy, whose family had long had an interest in missionary work. Well born and well connected, he succeed his father as 12th Baronet in 1873 (becoming Sir James), and had a passion for building. He was the founder and builder of St. John’s Church Boreham and its schools (1865); a Cottage Hospital (1866); an Orphanage (1867); St. Denys’ Home (1868 – the Community of St. Denys – the first three Sisters were professed in 1879); St. Denys’ College for training women missionaries; St. Monica’s School for girls; and he restored the Parish Church of St. Denys at a cost of about £10,600. As assistant curate at Wilton near Salisbury in 1858, he had collected money and boarded out with local clergy, who acted as tutors, young men who were anxious to be trained for the mission field but who lacked the necessary education for entrance to St. Augustine’s Missionary College in Canterbury.
The Warminster Mission House was opened in 1860 in a house near the church, with 10 to 12 students, who had previously been boarded out. The work and numbers grew, and in 1863 a larger house was acquired, which was described as an “Excellent and spacious house and gardens” with room for 20 students. Although roomy it was not well built, and required a good deal of internal reconstruction work in 1927, and added little beauty to the College. Legend has it that it was built in order to spoil the view from Byne House opposite by the brother of the builder of Byne House. In 1871 the Founder received a letter from Bishop Cotton of Calcutta, expressing the wish ‘to see a body of men at work on the old Columba and Boniface systems’. The next day there was dug up in a Warminster garden, at a depth of nine feet, a leaden bulla on which was stamped the name of Pope Boniface IX. The coincidence was seen by Philipps as a Divine indication that the name of the House should be changed to ‘St. Boniface College’. In 1894 he launched an appeal for new permanent buildings on the site of the old Wilton House. The existing buildings, “adapted houses and dilapidated cottages”, built circa 1740, were in a far from satisfactory condition. The first block of buildings was opened in 1899, and completed by 1901. It was built in the Jacobean style, of Doulting stone with Bath stone dressings. The second block of buildings, an extension of the first, was started in 1903 and finished about two years later. The hall and the rooms above were added in 1911. The Founder’s influence on the architecture was not a good one. The strange lay–out of much of the new building is said to be due to his and his wife’s continual interference with the architect. A further block was completed in 1928, consisting of the library, five sets of rooms for students and ‘a handsome gateway’. In its early days the College trained men for entry into missionary colleges, but in 1913, after the death of the Founder, the constitution of the College was changed and one of the purposes now listed was for the actual training of missionaries. The College was closed during the First World War, the premises being occupied, in the interim, by a preparatory school from Deal, but was re–opened and flourished, and in 1930 St. Boniface Lodge, to house the Principal, was built and six years later, a new chapel and lecture rooms.
In 1941 the College was closed for the second time in its eighty years’ history, and for the same reason of war, and the Principal resigned. The Lord Weymouth Grammar School had use of the library and chapel, while the remainder of the Warminster Parish Church buildings were taken over by the Military, who had already occupied the central portion for two years. It was assumed that at the end of the hostilities in 1945 the College would reopen, but an Archbishops’ Commission on Training for the Ministry, which reported in 1944, recommended that there should be no missionary colleges as such, and the buildings were used for two years as an emergency college for training school–teachers by the Salisbury Diocesan Training College.
John Townroe continues, ‘Eric Abbott approached the Council of St. Boniface College and found that they would be willing to accept King’s College London as tenants of the buildings (St. Boniface College itself plus Furneaux House) on a 5–year lease, to be extended if required. He invited Sydney Evans, then Chaplain of King’s College London, to become the Warden of the new 4th year College, and myself to become the Chaplain – a resident staff of two only for the 50 or so ordinands.’ Eric Abbott wrote to John on the 24th March 1947, ‘Warminster is almost certainly falling into our hands and Sydney Evans seems moved to be the Warden. The work of being the only other priest on the Staff there could, as far as I can see, certainly be yours (from July 1948) if you had the vocation.’
John relates, ‘I was at the time serving my title–curacy as a member of the Company of Mission Priests at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Ford Estate [a slum clearance Corporation housing estate], Sunderland, County Durham where I remained for four–and–a–half years. I made a Retreat at Shepherd’s Dene, the Newcastle Diocesan Retreat House, to reflect on the invitation. I remember that it was during this Retreat that it became clear to me that I should accept. It happened suddenly when I was in the bath – a place where I have often found that illuminations occur!
‘Sometime in the summer of 1947, Eric Abbott, Sydney Evans and I came down from London to Warminster for the day to have a close look round the buildings – I believe we met Dr Prideaux, the representative of St. Boniface Council. We liked what we saw, and considered that the place was suitable for the 4th Year Course.’
Gordon Huelin relates that before the college could be occupied a number of essential and expensive repairs had to be done. The work was carried out through a generous grant from the Church Commissioners, which was secured through the Chairman of the College Council, Dr Wand, Bishop of London.
John Townroe recalls, ‘In February 1948 I left the Ford Estate in Sunderland and came south to get ready for the new work. On 20th February the first planning–meeting was held for 24 hours with Eric Abbott, Sydney Evans and myself present. We met in Lawn House, 12 Hampstead Square, London, the home of Mrs Marjorie Vernon, the close friend of Evelyn Underhill where Evelyn Underhill spent the last years of her life, and died in 1941. Incidentally, Lawn House was not far from my own family home in Hampstead where I spent the first 20 years of my life until the War broke out. I remember keenly how strange it felt to be back in the district in very different circumstances. On March 20th I met Eric Abbott in 72 Vincent Square (The Hostel) for further talks.
‘On April 6th a second detailed planning meeting (Eric Abbott, Sydney Evans and myself) was held in Christ Church, Oxford, which happened at that moment to be convenient for all of us. We agreed upon the programme of the 4th Year Course, the daily and weekly time–table, the dates of the four Terms in the first year. It was definitely to be a four Term year, and remained so. The dates were July 29th – Sept. 22nd, October 22nd – Dec. 17th in 1948, and Feb.12th – April 18th, April 30th – June 11th in 1949.
‘I moved into the Chaplain’s quarters in St. Boniface College early in July 1948, Sydney Evans and family having settled into St. Boniface Lodge a month or two earlier. The ordinands arrived on Thursday 29th, the “Michaelmas Term” began, and the first Common Room meeting took place on July 31st. The Bishop of Salisbury came for Licensing in St. Boniface Chapel on August 12th. So began the 21 years of King’s College London at St. Boniface College, Warminster.’
King’s College Review for December 1948 gave an account of the service of Licensing. ‘Surpliced and robed, a long procession formed up, led by a group of the local clergy and representatives of the governors of St. Boniface. Our Union President led the representatives of King’s, the rear being guarded by the Principal, closely followed by the three guest bishops [of Delhi; Bath and Wells; and Sherborne]. Then followed a most dignified and impressive group led by a surpliced chaplain bearing the Bishop’s crozier. The officiating Bishop of Salisbury, in full canonical robes [in fact cope and mitre], with his chaplain, moved across the courtyard, followed by the new Warden and the new Chaplain of St. Boniface. Finally, the Dean of King’s College brought up the rear, and at a respectful distance followed the students of the college.
‘From our vantage point in the choir loft, we were able to see every incident in the colourful ceremony that ensued. The Bishop of Salisbury re–dedicated the chapel, then solemnly and impressively accepted the oaths and faith of the Warden and Chaplain, granting them licence to preach and conduct service in the diocese. The Dean then presented the Revd Evans as the chosen instrument of King’s College, and the Bishop formally installed him as the Warden.
‘After prayers for the success of the new college, the Bishop gave a moving address on the function of the extra year now added to the AKC course. The hymn singing was obviously carefully rehearsed, so that although no mightier support than a piano was available, the volume and quality of the voices left nothing to be desired.
‘Our grand finale after the service was a most enjoyable bun fight – with such creamy morsels as had been but faint memories of pre–war days. All credit to those who organised both the delicate catering and the ceremony as a whole, which, without exception, moved smoothly and with dignity.’
Eric Abbott in the Dean’s Letter in the AKC Gazette for 1947 wrote, ‘The shape of our post–war work has been clearly defined through our acquisition of St. Boniface College, Warminster, and this will be the post–graduate college where all our members will go after their final examinations here. The Council has appointed as Warden of the fourth–year college the present Chaplain of King’s College, the Reverend S. H. Evans. Mr. Evans has done splendid work during the three years of his chaplaincy, and while his taking up of the work at Warminster will be most beneficial to the Theological Department, his departure from the Strand will undoubtedly be a heavy loss to the College, and will be deeply regretted by many people in all Faculties. His wardenship of Warminster will ensure a close integration between what is done here and what is done there, and it will be a very happy thing for me personally to have in charge of the final stage of our men’s training one with whom I am in complete spiritual accord.’
Sydney Hall Evans, born in 1915, was educated at Bristol Grammar School, and who as a clever boy, unaccountably failed to win a scholarship to Oxford, which Dennis Nineham (Professor at KCL 1958–64) said, in his Address at the Service of Thanksgiving for Sydney in King’s Chapel in 1988, ‘must have shaken a boy’s confidence in his intellectual abilities at a very formative stage… and the failure was one which he was bound to be continually reminded, as his career developed among colleagues, many of whom belonged to the Oxbridge mafia. Perhaps that goes some way to explain, by way of compensation, the “smoothness” and “studied elegance” and almost overcultivated manner to which he publicly confessed’. Instead he went on a scholarship, to St. Chad’s College, Durham, probably due to the influence of his vicar of the Anglo–Catholic church of the Holy Nativity, Knowle, Canon George W. L. Wynne, himself a product of St. Chad’s, who had a long and distinguished ministry there of some 32 years, during which time he fostered a number of vocations to the priesthood. Sydney initially read classics in which he gained a First, followed by a First in theology, collecting along the way the Lightfoot Scholarship and the Bishop Robertson Divinity Prize, to which he added later an MA and a BD. He also found time to row for Durham University. Ordained in Durham, he served his title at St. Andrew Bishop Auckland, and a second curacy at Ferryhill Co. Durham. It was this experience in County Durham during the Depression that gave him ‘an authentic concern for those who were trapped or diminished (a favourite word), whether by circumstances, or ill health, or their own psychological make–up.’ [Bishop John Baker’s Memorial Sermon at Salisbury]
In 1943 he joined the RAF as a chaplain and was posted to the RAF apprentices’ school at Halton, where it is said he exercised a memorable ministry. A great part of his work there was concerned with the religious instruction of boy apprentices, many of whom he prepared for confirmation – and the majority of them he introduced to the sacrament of penance. Later, he joined the staff of the RAF Chaplains’ School at Dowdeswell Court. On leaving the RAF in 1945, he was invited by Eric Abbott to be chaplain and lecturer at King’s. So began thirty–two years of unbroken service to King’s College, London.
Sydney Evans recounts in the chapter on ‘Theology’ in The University of London and the World of Learning 1836–1986, edited by F. M. L. Thompson, that the syllabus for the London BD, when introduced, was no easy option. The Intermediate Examination, taken after the first year, consisted of seven papers: Elementary Hebrew; two papers on St. Mark – translation and grammar in one, subject matter and exegesis in the other: Plato’s Apology and Crito, translation and subject matter: Cicero’s De natura decorum, translation and subject matter in one paper, grammar and retranslation in the other; and finally elements of logic with the option of elements of psychology and ethics if logic had been taken in matriculation. Substantially, but without the Latin, that was the first year syllabus into which he was plunged as a teacher when demobbed from the RAF in January 1945 and four days later finding himself Chaplain of King’s. ‘New Testament Greek alone was a demanding intellectual assault course for veterans returning from four or five years in uniform’, he comments.
Eric Abbott in the AKC Gazette for 1947 writes, ‘The making of this post–graduate college [Warminster] will enable us to shift a few subjects from the over–crowded BD–AKC Curriculum, and to lighten the load of lectures somewhat’. In the Gazette for 1948 he added, regarding the King’s course, ‘we now give no Liturgy lectures nor Speech–training in the first year of the course, and the Pastoral Theology courses in the second and third years extend over two instead of three terms’. Returning to Eric Abbott’s article in The Guardian in 1951 he outlines the content of the Warminster year. ‘To this part of the course there have been transferred such vital matters as the filling up of the gaps in doctrine left by the BD course in London (which is necessarily non–denominational), the more advanced training in Christian spirituality, the “last things” of pastoralia, three whole weeks (one in each term) of training in teaching, the weekly Sermon Class, the discipline and experience of Retreat, practical pastoral experience in the surrounding parishes, particularly at weekends, the spending of the whole of Lent together and particularly Holy Week (an experience and privilege impossible in London), and the provision of one year of more compact Christian community life [AKC Gazette 1948 – ‘to belong to one another, in mutual obedience and care’ with ‘its characteristic demands and its characteristic gifts’] than anything that was possible in the larger life of London. All this, however, is given at Warminster without the shadow of the General Ordination Examination to darken the scene. King’s College, London, always had some claim to uniqueness. Far from the Warminster venture being an imitation of the ordinary theological college, it is unique in this fact – and it is one which makes an astonishing difference – that it is the only Anglican theological college which is wholly free from the anxieties which are caused by examinations. One obvious result of this provision is that the Theological Faculty is set free from the strain inseparable from the attempt to be a Theological Faculty and a Theological College in one, and the ordinands in their undergraduate days can be proportionately freer to live the full life of undergraduates.’ Dean Abbott in the 1948 Gazette is able to report regarding the fourth year extension to the King’s ordination course: ‘Already the first term of the 4–term year has been completed, and already not merely the usefulness and expediency but the necessity, the spiritual necessity, of such an experience as Warminster provides, has been proved to the full.’ The extension to the work ‘not only rolls away the reproach which rightly or wrongly has so often been levelled at our College, that it gave a training which was too little devotional and too little personal and pastoral, but it causes our course of training to be, in the words of the recent CACTM [The Central Advisory Council of Training for the Ministry] Inspector’s Report, “second to none”.’
In June 1948 the Church Assembly, while discussing a CACTM Report, were informed by the Bishop of Salisbury that ‘older men were constantly being ordained’ and that the next September a small theological college would start at Warminster ‘to which a dozen men from the Sudan and Indian Civil Services would be going for a year to prepare for ordination’. John Townroe comments, ‘We never saw a dozen men from the Sudan and Indian Civil Services !!’ From the first Warminster took a small number of late vocations; such men being affectionately referred to then and in subsequent years as ‘Patriarchs’.
It is interesting to note what was happening at this time as regards thinking on the training of clergy for the Church of England at large. The Archbishops’ Commission on Training for the Ministry, greatly delayed by the war, presented an Interim Report in 1942, outlining the weaknesses of the current training: namely that the period of training was too short; the curriculum overcrowded; and the relation of pre–ordination and post–ordination training had not been sufficiently considered. Recommendations included: more practical work in pastoral work and preaching; acquainting ordinands at first hand with the working of “social services”; more training in teaching, above all for more actual teaching practice under skilled supervision; discovering and training special gifts e.g. the need for experts in theology, for specialists in other branches of knowledge, trained evangelists and missioners, and men skilled in co–operation with doctors and generally in the social services; and special training of men to work as country clergy. That careful and thorough instruction should be provided on the life of prayer, and ample opportunity for guidance in framing a disciplined life in conformity with it. Many of these weaknesses and needs the Warminster year sought to address.
Above all the Interim Report and the Final Report of 1944 urged that strong centres of theological training be established in university towns to work more closely with theological faculties, which would include the grouping of ‘detached colleges’ in university centres where there was a theological faculty, so that all ordinands (unless over thirty years of age) should spend some of their time in a theological college at a university centre. It was also thought that ordinands would thereby be trained in the neighbourhood of theological colleges of other denominations. Eric Graham, at the time Principal at Cuddesdon, and as a member of the Commission, found himself in a minority in his unqualified championship of the ‘detached colleges’. The Report did, however, add, ‘that some men will be well advised to divide their period of training between a college at a university centre and a detached college: indeed we think it likely that many will do this from a desire to work for a time, generally the latter part of their time, in a more secluded atmosphere than that of a university town’. It is worth noting that the Commission was joined in 1943, prior to its final report, by one Rev. E. S. Abbott, and who concluded that the Report was sufficient for reforming action. It is true some colleges already in universities made more use of the theological faculties, but the insistence that the theological colleges should be moved into universities was shelved rather than debated. The Durham Report, as it became known due to its chairman being the Bishop of Durham (A. T. P. Williams), was ahead of its time; so much so that it formed the starting point of a thorough review of theological colleges, due to the declining numbers of ordinands, in a report in 1968, Theological Colleges for Tomorrow. The debate with regards the merits of university as opposed to ‘detached colleges’ continued throughout the period. The anonymous author of the Preface of Crockford’s Clerical Directory for 1961–62 refers to the union between King’s College, London, and St. Boniface College, Warminster as an example of the reconciliation between those who felt that theological colleges should be in university towns, and those who stressed the need for a time of greater quiet and concentration on the spiritual life which was impossible in such a situation. ‘We believe’, he says ‘that this kind of arrangement might with advantage be extended to other Colleges and Universities.’
A further report of the period, in 1949, The Purpose and Scope of Clergy Training: An Outline of Current Practice, which made no claims to be a ‘blue print for Training’, but rather ‘a rough map of the way to be trodden’, is worth quoting from – ‘All departments of training for ordination depend upon and influence one another. Theology, prayer and pastoral skill can none of them be taught in isolation. The discipline of character is in each and all of the activities in a Theological College. The best Theological College is one in which the Chapel, the lecture–room and the common–room are all working together to make a fellowship of Christian life both natural and supernatural, the power of which shall remain in the memory of the ordinand as a pattern and an inspiration for his future work in a congregation.’
‘A theological college is neither a hall of residence in a university nor a pious retreat outside its boundaries. It is, or should be, a Christian community – no doubt the pattern will vary – where, in a common life of obedience, worship and fellowship, Christian truth is apprehended in the full force of its historicity as the truth of the living God revealed in Christ Jesus. The time spent there will be one of vigorous and creative and often painful activity in which a man will discover himself as a Christian through a way of life grounded in Biblical theology made clear through the common life of a Christian community.’
There are clearly echoes there of what Eric Abbott sought to create at King’s and St. Boniface.
Eric James writing in relation to the ‘fourth year college in the country’, in his Portrait of Eric Abbott, indicates that at Warminster ‘relationships could be modelled on the intimacy he had experienced at Westcott and at Lincoln’. Sydney Evans in his DNB article on Eric Abbott, describes Warminster as a postgraduate one–year college for the immediate preordination spiritual and pastoral training, ‘Lincoln style’.
John Townroe recounts, however, that ‘although the Warminster Course was unique in some respects, I believe it is important to recognise that it stood in the line of one major tradition in Anglican ordination–training. Its chief features were derived from fore–runners such as Cuddesdon, Oxford, particularly when Edward King was its Chaplain (1858–1863) and Principal (1863–1873). Edward King was later to become the Bishop of Lincoln (1885–1910) where he influenced Lincoln Theological College, already a College in a Tractarian mould of a pastoral, disciplined priesthood.’
John reiterates that ‘Eric Abbott was marked for life by the teaching and example of B. K. Cunningham, in personal matters and how a theological college should be run. Not surprisingly therefore Eric Abbott brought his Westcott experience to bear on the life of the Bishop’s Hostel [Lincoln Theological College], and later on King’s College, London and Warminster. So there was a confluence of traditions, ideals and influences through several institutions and persons, and the stream flowed on into the King’s College London 4th Year Department at St. Boniface College, Warminster.’
At the end of its first year of life, the Warminster venture was described as having ‘spiritually and pastorally abundantly fulfilled our hopes’, and the Warden and Chaplain as having made ‘a first–class College for our men’. Gordon Huelin comments, ‘Indeed Warminster soon became widely known as one of the outstanding new developments of the post–war years in the work of training men for the Anglican ministry.’
Sydney Evans, as Warden at Warminster, in The AKC Gazette for 1951–52, recorded, ‘We are at the beginning of our fourth year, with 50 men in residence. This year will complete the first period of our tenure of these grounds and buildings which are so excellently fitted for our purposes. Already 83 priests and 43 deacons can give as their credentials in Crockford “King’s College, London and Warminster”. Experience has shown how valuable a complement to the three years in the Strand is the fourth year in the country, but equally true is it that this final year could achieve little except on the sound foundation of the three years in the Strand and at Vincent Square. The link between us is close and personal. The regular visits of the Dean, and the annual visit of the Principal and of other members of the staff in London secure this necessary bond.’
Eric James in his Portrait of Eric Abbott recounts how the Dean refused to delegate his responsibilities to those to whom he had given pastoral care of the Fourth Year College at Warminster. ‘For each fortnight of term, on Friday afternoons, he would journey to Warminster, returning to London late Saturday. It undoubtedly drove him to drive his body beyond all reason.’ Even on holiday, Eric James recalls, ‘he would sit at his desk… writing letters and postcards… birthday and wedding anniversary cards, letters of loving care for other students and former students, and the more weighty letters of direction and advice that would influence the future of the Church of England’. This vast correspondence he referred to as the ‘apostolate of the post’.
Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, recalled, in his Address at Eric Abbott’s Memorial Service in Westminster Abbey 8th July 1983, ‘the man who would travel hundreds of miles to marry a student and preach an “unforgettable, unforgotten” sermon at the wedding;… the man who would spend hour upon hour giving counsel, advice and absolution’. It is not surprising therefore that while at King’s he experienced his first heart attack. His heart condition would dog him in his later years. John Robson (KCL and Warminster 1955–59), close friend of Eric Abbott, revealed in an Address given at Lincoln Cathedral in June 1985, that ill health had forced Eric to refuse the Bishopric of Lincoln, and to opt instead for the academic world.
In the AKC Gazette for 1952–53 the Warden reports from Warminster, ‘We missed the Dean’s regular visits during the Lent Term more than we can say, but he was able to spend Holy Week with us, and to pay three visits in the final term.’ [This was certainly a reference to the Dean’s first heart attack.] A year earlier in the 1951–52 Gazette, Sydney Evans recorded, ‘In the week following Trinity Sunday we held a Conference and Retreat for Old Students. Twenty–five men were able to come, and we hope that this will be but the first of annual gatherings of this kind’ [This was in fact the case, but in the 1953–54 Gazette it was proposed, that due to the increase in numbers wishing to attend, two reunions be held. With the closure of the College in 1969 there was a strong feeling from the student body that the Conference Retreats be continued. The request was heeded, and the reunions, much valued by those who attend each year, some 60 in number, have continued to the present subsidised by the St Boniface Trust]. In the same Gazette of 1952–53 there was a note from ‘A Warminster Student’ informing readers that students had erected a framed wall board in the Lecture Room displaying a map of the world indicating the names and places where King’s men were serving overseas, some eighty–four in number, to aid intercessions, and to keep the Overseas Vocation before ordinands. News from Warminster in the 1954–55 Gazette related by the Warden was that, ‘Each generation that passes through Warminster leaves some permanent mark of its stay behind it! Special lighting for table–tennis, standard rose trees, pictures in the Common Room are contributions of former years. The most recent deposit (of works but surely of faith too) is a concrete practice cricket wicket at the bottom of the field. This was a labour of love indeed!’ John Townroe makes the point that Warminster was run on a “shoe string”; ‘The overheads were comparatively low, the buildings quite compact, and the salaries of the academic and domestic staff were minimal. For instance, my salary as Chaplain was £150 a year, with no allowances, which even in those days was well below average. We did truly work for love.’ Finance being tight, meant that any improvements made by students were greatly appreciated.
Reference is also made in 1952–53 to the past year as having been marked by a succession of outstanding visiting lecturers and much vigorous discussion. John Townroe writes, in connection with the setting up of the 4th year course, ‘There were to be visiting lecturers on a wide variety of subjects, which in the event there were.’ Gordon Huelin in his 150th Anniversary history records that a close link with the Strand was maintained from the beginning, and that in addition to Canon Abbott’s fortnightly visit, other members of the Theological Department would pay visits at frequent intervals, and the Warden went to a great deal of trouble to invite visiting lecturers to deal with a variety of topics which were of importance to ordinands in their future task.
John A. T. Robinson, of Honest to God fame, then Fellow and Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, and formerly Chaplain of Wells Theological College, wrote a radical and somewhat prophetic article in Theology June 1952 on ‘The Theological College in a Changing World’, in which he argued that ‘The identification of the ministry with the clerical profession will have to go. It is becoming increasingly evident that such an identification is evangelistically disastrous (one cannot convert a country with a single–class ministry [upper bourgeoisie]) and economically insupportable… the only hope of salvation for the Church of England… is to recognize… that the coming pattern of ministry is bound to be largely non–professional, in the sense that its priesthood will consist in great proportion of men working in secular jobs at every level, both manual and administrative’; but that ‘The co–ordination and direction of these men must remain the responsibility of the full–time priest.’ The nature of the professional ministry would have to change; considerably smaller in numbers, it would assume a crucial position in the strategy of the Church, and it would mean a greater emphasis on training for leadership, involving management training. ‘Much of the work of the theological colleges in the future,’ he said, ‘must be done outside their own walls.’ He expanded this (in Theology December 1958 on ‘The Teaching of Theology for the Ministry’), saying ‘By this I meant that though men might receive their initial training in theological method, in biblical and historical study within the walls of a theological college as at present constituted, and should certainly return to its fellowship before ordination, much of what corresponded in management training courses to “experience in production departments” could really only be learnt in the field. I had in mind that during their theological college training men should spend stretches of time in groups working both in parishes and in secular jobs, and that their studies of doctrine, ethics, worship and the like should be allowed to develop directly out of these real–life situations and the questions they threw up, under the qualified guidance of men who were theologically involved in them.’
The 1953–54 Gazette saw the Dean in his letter expressing his concern about the numbers and quality of King’s ordinands, pointing out that in October 1952 the number of entrants was one of the smallest on record. For 1953 he had hoped that numbers might have reached sixty, but that General Certificate of Education examination results meant that far fewer had attained the minimum qualification for AKC entry. The Warden at Warminster said that as the college entered its sixth year there were 50 men of whom four were ‘Patriarchs’.
In the 1954–55 Gazette the Warden reported, that of the 44 Trinity deacons entering 21 different dioceses, only 8 had gone to the Northern Province, adding ‘Our numbers in the next two years will be down. This reflects a situation that exists in the Church at large, at home and overseas. When we consider what this implies we shall want to give ourselves to continuing intercession to Him who is ever adored by the holy angels and yet chooses men to be the stewards of His mysteries, praying that those whom God is calling may recognise and respond to that call.’ The Dean in his letter addresses himself to the question of ordinands and National Service. Whilst indicating the detrimental effects of such service might have on a man’s character and his sense of vocation, he did not wish, along with King’s Council, that men of the Theological Faculty be an “enclave” of exemption.
The Gazette for 1955–56 was dominated by the news that Eric Abbott was leaving King’s to become Warden of Keble College, Oxford. Eric James wrote, ‘It may well be that Eric’s election in 1956 as Warden of Keble College, Oxford, saved his life, for apart from a little angina on exertion, he was in relatively good health for a decade until 1963.’
Harry Hindmarch (KCL and Warminster 1946–1950) in the same Gazette, obviously spoke for numerous former King’s men, when he wrote – ‘“King’s without Eric Abbott.” How difficult it will be for post–war students of the College to picture such a situation! In the Strand, in Vincent Square, even in distant Warminster, each one of us came so much under his amazing influence – an influence springing from his deep love of our Lord and his tireless zeal for the Christian cause.
‘Few people are gifted with such energy and powers of endurance. At Prime and Compline day by day he was present in the Hostel Chapel and every day, after what was for most of us an exhausting rush to the Strand for Matins, we found the Dean already installed, composed and serene! How he managed for so long to keep in the air the ‘three big balls’ which the College, the Hostel and Warminster undoubtedly are, is beyond the powers of the imagination.
‘In Eric Abbott we found a great pastor who, though such a large proportion of his time was taken up with administration and official duties, could always make time to know his students individually and to deal with their problems. Settling down to college life after the years of war had its own peculiar difficulties and that so many overcame the trials that beset them was in no small part due to the efforts and kindness of the Dean. From him we learned the qualities of the true pastor and specially did we learn what sympathy is, so fully did he share our experiences. At all times we received kindness from him yet he exercised also “firmness with meekness”.
‘We found him also a great teacher. The weekly lecture on pastoralia was an event looked forward to by all; each lecture delivered with a freshness and humour which are all too rare [John Townroe also bears witness to the outstanding course of lectures on the same subject given by Eric Abbott at Lincoln]. But this teaching ability extended beyond the confines of the lecture room. In devotional addresses at the Hostel and Warminster, in his remarks before and after Friday morning lectures when outside speakers confronted us with contemporary problems and issues [a tradition which Eric introduced at King’s to meet the objection that ordinands’ studies made them think in terms of a past age which was out of touch with the present], in private interviews and even in the singing practices at the Hostel, he continued to teach. Under his treatment of them, the great Christian doctrines ceased to be intellectual propositions unrelated to our own lives. Theology became a very practical subject.
‘One cannot speak of his teaching ability without making special mention of his power of expression: original, lucid, impressive. One finds oneself now, years after student days, using the expressions he used; expressions which have become part of oneself.
‘We found in the Dean a great pastor and a great teacher and though it may be difficult to distinguish this from the former, we found in him also a great friend. Each day brings him into contact with new people; every year he sees one group of students go and another group arrive and yet, in some wonderful way, we are remembered by him and he manages to keep in touch with us. To those of us who in the bustle of parish life tend to forget the friends of our College days, it is somewhat humiliating to receive birthday greetings from the Dean year by year. One never ceases to wonder how he manges to write so many letters for the most part in his own hand.
‘Keble College, Oxford, is indeed fortunate to be having such a priest as its new Warden and though we grieve at his departure from King’s, he will go to his new work with the prayers and affectionate good wishes of countless people whose lives and ministries he has so much influenced for good.’
Members of the Council at King’s left Eric Abbott in no doubt of the debt they owed him, and of the affection and respect which was felt for him by his colleagues, both secular and ecclesiastical. Sir William Halliday, as Principal, in the Gazette 1955–56, commented, that Eric was ‘richly endowed with the wisdom of a serpent’, and that ‘his administrative and diplomatic powers were of a high order and his judgment very sound’, adding, ‘It is not my business to assess what the Theological Faculty owes to him. But one opinion I want to put on record. The establishment of King’s College at Warminster, at the time, was a great act of faith or, if you will, a gamble, in view of the resources which were then at our disposal. I always myself believed in making the venture, which has since assuredly and abundantly justified itself. I hope that it may remain as a permanent memorial of Abbott’s statesmanship during his term of office.’ Sir William concludes on a more personal note. ‘I know no one more approachable or sympathetic. I have no truer friend. No one has more generously helped me in difficulties both official and personal. And yet, in a sense I don’t know Abbott as completely as I know many men for whom I have less feeling. Ultimately there is about him something withdrawn and inviolable that is known perhaps only to himself and his Maker. It is possibly from this jealously guarded secret source of strength that he has found the means to exercise his great pastoral gifts and the courage and determination to overtask the flesh without, as yet, complete disaster.’
Eric’s stay at Keble was brief, and in 1959, almost thirty years after his first post in Westminster as a curate, he returned as Dean of its illustrious Abbey, which Robert Runcie regarded as his greatest work, the climax of which was the celebration in 1965–6 of the 900th anniversary of the Abbey.
Eric James in his Portrait commented, ‘When the history of the training of the clergy of the Church of England comes to be written, there can be no shadow of doubt that Eric Abbott will have within it one of the highest places of honour.’ As personal pastor, friend and mentor – and especially as teacher of prayer, he said, he was without equal. However, he adds, ‘Perhaps Eric is vulnerable to criticism at one particular point; that he continued uncritically the tradition of Edward King and B.K., with the very different candidates who came to King’s… he once said to me, rather angrily, in a negative moment: “I have been asked at King’s to make silk purses out of sows’ ears”. I knew what he meant – there were few “sows’ ears” at Westcott.’
Eric Abbott was succeeded as Dean by Sydney Evans (pictured left) who in the words of the Church Times in September 1955, brought to the post ‘not only practical experience in the training of ordinands, but also the brilliance of mind and wide competence in theology’ which his firsts in Classics and Theology and his University prizes at Durham ‘gave early promise’. The ‘imaginative appreciation of the needs of ordinands’ which he showed at Warminster remained undiminished as Dean. Eric Abbott in his farewell letter in the 1955–56 Gazette wrote, ‘The action of the Council of the College in appointing the Warden of Warminster to be my successor indicates their determination to secure a strong continuity in our life and work, in London and at Warminster, under the new Dean, and the presence of Sydney Evans in the Dean’s room on “C” corridor guarantees to all of you who have been at the College since 1945 that you will be remembered and known.’
Professor Dennis Nineham said of Sydney Evans, in his Address at the Service of Thanksgiving in 1988, that he ‘was a very remarkable human being, one who would have got to the top of almost any tree he had chosen to climb’. The workload he bore at King’s was as onerous as it had been for Eric Abbott. In addition he did much for the University, as a member of the Senate and a number of its committees, as public orator, as trusted counsellor of the Principal and a number of Vice–Chancellors. It was the trust he enjoyed at Senate House that enabled him to attract public funding to the Theological Faculty at King’s. In recognition of all this the University made him an honorary DD, as did the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognition of his services to the Church, especially in the field of theological education, work for which he was also awarded a CBE [Donald Gray (KCL and Warminster 1952–56) heard Sydney remark, ‘I don’t think it means that I shall have to command the whole of the British Empire all the time’]. He chaired the Theological Education Committee of the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry. He raised the money for future black leaders of the Church in South Africa to study theology in England, amongst whom, the future Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
In addition to his work for King’s and the University, he served as Preacher of Gray’s Inn, of which he was made an honorary bench member; he worked for the Institute of Religion and Medicine; for the scholarship’s committee of Christian Aid; for prisoners and penal reform; and the Richmond Fellowship.
Dennis Nineham drew attention to the fact that Sydney had a genuine enthusiasm for new ideas and experiences, and was a great fund raiser; and ‘like his beloved Eric Abbott, by whom he was much influenced, he liked to be invulnerable… few were ever admitted to the very innermost sanctum’; he was a lonely man and his loneliness increased as he got older. John Baker additionally remarked, ‘Sydney was never afraid of power… he enjoyed it. He was a very political creature’; ‘something of a power broker’ was Professor Nineham’s description, with regard to ecclesiastical appointments, ‘though he never, I think, used this power with anything but fairness and scrupulous impartiality’.
‘If one’s mental picture is of Sydney the urbane and immaculately dressed, his white linen, two inches of crisp shirt cuff showing at his wrists’, John Baker said, it ‘may seem unlikely’ that ‘he had a delight in the physical… Yet for him long wild walks, or the observation of birds, especially at his annual Atlantic refuge on North Uist, were a source of exultation, a cleansing contact with basic reality.’
Both Bishop John Baker and Dennis Nineham in their Memorial Addresses to Sydney, in Salisbury Cathedral and King’s respectively, drew attention to the breadth of his culture, of his deep and wide knowledge, and interest in, music, literature and the visual arts. Many will remember the redesigning of the sanctuary at the Hostel chapel in Vincent Square in 1966 by Louis Osman which he commissioned: the result was the controversial cross, known as the ‘man–trap’, the curiously shaped altar–table (like a triangle with its apex blunted), and two free standing candlesticks of a radically modern design in heavy beaten silver, together with the acquisition of two remarkable wooden sculptures of the sufferings of Job for the College chapel in the Strand. Even more significant, and no less controversial, would be his commission for the five lancet windows at the East End of Salisbury Cathedral – the ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ windows, and Elizabeth Frink’s Walking Madonna, during his time there as Dean.
John Baker reminded us that Sydney ‘was himself an artist in words’. Hugh Dickinson, his successor as Dean of Salisbury, in reviewing two collections of his sermons and writings, drew attention to his mind and style – subtle, cultured and finely attuned to artistic beauty; a literary idiom that stretched the attention of his listeners; the elegant cadences of his voice, and the careful structure of his text. Brian Horne (KCL lecturer 1967–2002; Sub–Warden of the Hostel 1968–78) and Andrew Linzey (KCL and Canterbury 1970–75) in their Introduction to Prisoners of Hope (1990) – a collection of Sydney’s sermons and addresses – observed that, ‘He did not eschew theology, but when trying to illustrate a point of belief or behaviour it was to the poet or the novelist that he turned rather than the professional theologian.’ Dickinson wrote, ‘Quotations and references from a wide span of European literature enrich his texts’, but added that, ‘The style and tone of voice are only the dress. Underneath there is a hard grappling with the perplexity of belief and the pain of the world.’
‘Some preachers, perhaps the majority, work by inducting you into a special world, the world of the Bible story and of Christian affirmations drawn from that, and then saying “What does that mean for us today?” They take you first to another, unfamiliar place and then bring you back – or try to. Such was not Sydney’s method. Sydney starts in the world where you are, and tries to help you see it differently, to see it in fact as it really is, not as custom or apathy or even conventional religion colour it to be.’ (Bishop Baker in his Foreword to A True Knowing (1990) – Drawn from the Sermons and Writings of Sydney Evans).
In one of three addresses he gave at a consultation of the clergy of the Canterbury diocese in 1969 Sydney said, ‘I once remember hearing the Bishop of Croydon say that as he grew older he became more sure of fewer things.’ It was a phrase he adopted as his own and quoted often. In the same address he shared with his hearers, ‘I’ve asked myself what it is in the end of the day that I do really base my life on’, and also, in one of his last sermons preached at St Mary’s University Church, Oxford in1987, he makes, almost word for word, the same statement of faith –
‘When I ask myself what in the end and stripped of all secondary considerations I really believe in, I find I must say that I believe in the presence and power of a Love which is indestructible because its character is such that the worst that can do to such Love is to provide such Love with ever fresh opportunities of loving. I believe… because this is what I receive from the story in four perceptions that has as its centre Jesus Christ crucified and risen. I’ve seen evidence of this kind of love in the lives of certain individuals and groups – past and present. I’ve discovered the truth of it in my own life – not by having achieved this kind of loving but by having failed to achieve it… Of all possible ways of setting about living as a human being in this world this is the only way that is self–evidently true because it authenticates itself.’
Andrew Linzey and Brian Horne in their introduction to Apostolate and the Mirrors of Paradox (Sydney’s farewell addresses at Canterbury in 1976) which they edited, suggested that the above statement was a summary of his personal credo, which sustained him for more than fifty years of ministry, and they added, ‘In Sydney’s life the sermon and the man were one.’
Bishop John Baker writing in Spire (The Friends of Salisbury Cathedral Annual Report) in 1986, on the occasion of Sydney’s retirement as Dean of Salisbury, and in appreciation of him – ‘Of his debt to Oliver Quick, the Anglican doctrinal theologian who died in 1944, Sydney publicly testified. The kinship of spirit between them will be apparent at once when one says that Quick has been described as “a leading exponent of orthodox Anglicanism… whose approach to doctrinal issues was essentially modern in expression”’ [Oliver Quick held the Chair of Divinity at Durham 1934–40 before becoming Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, and Sydney Evans was no doubt taught by him while he was a student at St. Chad’s Durham]. John Baker continued, that mention should also be made ‘of another side of his teaching, that in the art of spiritual direction. Here again he has been handing on, but developing in a unique way based on endless hours as a man of prayer and as a counsellor of souls, a tradition derived from the greatest of all modern Anglican directors, Reginald Somerset Ward.’
What then of Sydney’s view of priesthood and priestly ministry? In an address given at St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury in 1976, To be a Priest, he poses the question, ‘What is a priest for?’ and replies, ‘The short answer is that he is a man for God and a man for others… in the sort of way that Jesus was.’ He is ‘a man who has decided… for the inherent goodness of the energies that make for life, and who has chosen to ally himself with these creative and regenerative energies’ (Ministry Spring 1972). Priests are to be ‘interpreters and enablers… agents of the reconciling and sanctifying presence and power of God who desires that all men and women shall become through Christ all that they have it in them to become’. [How often that phrase was on his lips – ‘to become the sort of person we have it in us to become, and the sort of person God wants us to become’ – in his sermons and devotional addresses.] ‘To be at the service of others for the development of their latent potential towards the high possibilities of personal fulfilment in Christ.’ In Ourselves Your Servants (1966) he says, ‘the parish priest is a man paid to be free, paid to be free to love, paid to be free to concern himself as a Christian with the needs of men and women wherever they are… to give himself generously for others’. A priest is ‘a man who accepts that the only value his own life can have is the value it has for others’ (Ministry Spring 1972 – words borrowed and adapted from Dag Hammarskjold, and often used by Sydney). ‘In offering ourselves for ordination… we are choosing to stand with Christ at the crossroads where Divine Love meets the forces of evil, to stand alongside others in their need, in their pain, in their awakening to faith and hope and love…’ (Sydney’s words to the Prison Chaplains’ Conference in 1985). John Austin Baker commented in his Memorial Address, that Sydney was ‘a human being who knew pain, and could therefore be with others in their pain’. In his final address at Canterbury, he suggests, ‘There is no real growth in character, in inner spiritual strength, in personal resource, without facing obstacles, frustrations, pains, failures. Try to see all you may have to suffer as growth–potential, as grist to the mill of your development as persons and as priests.’ Again he asks ‘What is a priest for?’ and replies, ‘One thing he is for is to minister to the deeper wounds of humanity, enabling men and women to find joy through the transformation of sorrow.’ Towards the end of a sermon preached in St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, he said: ‘There is only one epitaph that is really appropriate on the tombstone of a priest: “He made God real for others”.’
On Sydney’s departure from King’s to be Dean of Salisbury, Eric Abbott in The Kingsman 1977–78, wrote that his ‘exceptionally long service to the College means that he has (with the help of a brilliant group of teachers and pastors) produced more ordinands for the Sacred Ministry than any other man in the contemporary history – or indeed in the past history – of the English Church. And while many of the acts of the Dean of King’s College London are public, quite as many are private. Generations of ordinands will testify to the pastoral work of Sydney Evans of which they have been the fortunate and grateful beneficiaries. I doubt whether anyone in the College really knows all that the Dean has done. They may realise it when he has gone, and some attempt is made to fill the vacuum.
‘But he has not only ministered to generations of Anglican ordinands. The whole College has been his care. His Chapel sermons, his non–theological AKC Lectures, his speeches, his skill in chairing other speakers, will always be memorable. In a word, he has loved the College and the College has held him in affection, admiration and profound respect. In his collaboration with three Principals, in his relationship with other Faculties, in the Senior Common Room, his grace, his diplomatic skill, his ever forward–looking mind, have won friends not only for himself, but also for the Cause which he has represented.
‘Moreover, his influence in the University has probably been greater than that of any previous holder of his Office. No other Dean of King’s College has been the University’s Public Orator – and his speeches as Public Orator were brilliant. No previous Dean of King’s College saw Theology accepted by the University in the measure which Sydney Evans has achieved.
‘Add to these achievements the work of Preacher of Gray’s Inn; a contribution through ACCM and the Principals’ Conference, to the development of theological education which has been second to none; his sermons and lectures in many parts of the Church; his work at the Hostel; his letters and counsel to so many; and we shall see that a great LAUS DEO must be said for Sydney Evans.’
A New Warden at Warminster
The new Warden at St. Boniface in succession to Sydney Evans was John Townroe (pictured right). Sydney Evans now Dean of King’s writes in the AKC Gazette for 1956–57 – ‘I have understood my appointment to mean that the Council sets great store at this stage on continuity and consolidation of what has been set going so splendidly in the years of restoration since the war… Continuity of life and policy at Warminster I have regarded as of the utmost importance, and I could not have wished anything better for Warminster than the next phase of its development should be under the direction of one who has played so crucial a part in making the Fourth–Year College what it already is. In appointing the Reverend E. J. Townroe as the second Warden, the Council has, I am confident, secured the future quality and progress of this unique part of the King’s course. The Warden is strongly supported by the new Chaplain, the Reverend Edward Thompson, AKC, who triumphs over his post–polio disability’ [in the previous Gazette, Sydney Evans, still Warden at Warminster, had written, ‘Edward Thompson has our heartfelt sympathy that his time at St. George’s School, Jerusalem was cut short by poliomyelitis. He is bearing his incapacities with a faith and cheerfulness which puts fresh courage into his visitors.’ John Townroe recounts that Edward had contracted polio whilst aiding, and carrying on his back, a victim of the disease, and reported in the same copy of the Gazette that he was going from strength to strength and was finding a fulfilment of his ministry in the work of the College]. Edward had initially returned from Jerusalem ‘to his old College as a guest to help him recover, and by a happy arrangement stayed on to become the Chaplain’. From July 1956 the College had a third member of the permanent staff with the addition of a Tutor, Samuel Cutt, who came to Warminster from a three year curacy at St. Aidan’s, Hartlepool, Co. Durham, having previously been at Cuddesdon and Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he gained outstanding academic distinctions – a Double (narrowly missing out, it was said, on a Triple) First in the Theology Tripos.
Edward John Townroe was born in 1920 and educated at Westminster. Wilfrid Browning, a school friend, who himself also proceeded to ordination, and served on the staff of Cuddesdon whilst a residentiary Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, recalls, ‘We were at school together but in different ‘houses’ – John was in Homeboarders House, one of the two reserved for boys who travelled in every day, wearing top hat and tails and carrying umbrella (or stick) and brief case – for me a six years’ ordeal which left a permanent scar but not for John who was much more resilient, as he had to be as a member of the History Seventh under the embittered Old Etonian master John Bowle, no friend to the Church of England. John survived his next few years at school in his own quiet and gentle way, possibly supported by the other masters who were ordained while at the school – ‘Bill’ Franklin (classics) and Bob Llewelyn (known as Lu–Lu) who afterwards became a USPG headmaster in India and then the Warden of the Julian shrine at Norwich.’
Reflecting on the remarkable connection between Bishop Edward King, B. K. Cunningham and Eric Abbott, John remembers at home in London in the 1920s and 1930s, as a child and schoolboy, coming upon and enjoying The Mind and Work of Bishop King (especially the 25 pictures in it) published in 1918 and co–authored by B.W. Randolph (Canon of Ely, and one time Principal of Ely Theological College) and J.W. Townroe (Vicar of St. Peter–at–Gowts, and Canon of Lincoln). ‘James Weston Townroe was my great–uncle, an ally and close friend of Bishop King, whom I visited in Lincoln in the 1930s. The book belonged to my Father who had turned to Bishop King and had spiritual talks with him, when my Father was at Lincoln School and at Oxford around 1900. So from an early age I heard Bishop King talked about at home – and I still possess some letters from him to my Father. You will understand how strange all these connexions have felt to me. I see the mysterious movement of the Spirit somehow at work in them.’
John comments in relation to the development of his spiritual life: ‘When I was at school, aged 17, I bought and read The Manual for Interior Souls by Jean Nicolas Grou. I think I had noticed it among the books which Robert Llewelyn, the young Maths. Master, kept on a shelf in his class–room at Westminster, in case any boys might be interested in them. The book influenced me profoundly, then and since.’ In 1978 John wrote in an article for New Fire on Grou, ‘Like his fellow–Jesuit, Jean–Pierre De Caussade, and many other French authors, Grou has the greatest confidence in the power of grace. “When I am weak , then I am strong”, he quotes at the outset of the 22nd Maxim [in his Spiritual Maxims], or as he explains it: “When we know our own helplessness, we learn to understand the value and efficacy of grace”. This is the background to his attractive pen–portrait of the devout man: “if he falls into a fault, he does not agitate himself… he is not astonished at his weaknesses, and is never discouraged. He does not rely upon his own good thoughts and resolutions, but simply upon the grace and goodness of God. If he were to fall a hundred times a day, he would not despair; but he would stretch out his hands lovingly to God, and beg Him to lift him up” (Manual p. 5).
‘The picture Grou draws shows, too, that holiness is not the same as dullness. Holiness is a delight to others. “No one is so likeable in the ordinary intercourse of life as a really devout man. He is simple, straightforward, open as the day, unpretentious, gentle, solid and true: his conversation is pleasing and interesting”.
‘Grou says that “true devotion, far from narrowing the mind, on the contrary, widens it and gives it all the strength and wisdom of which it is capable” (Marks of True Devotion ch.8). It was evidently spiritually important to him to take a wide interest in human affairs and humane studies. From this aspect of his teaching Baron von Hugel drew some lessons for living that preserved his health in times of over–strain. “This fine classical scholar (Grou), and deeply spiritual writer, urges the importance of the soul’s possession and cultivation of two levels and kinds of action and interest – a wholesome natural interest and action, and deep supernatural interest and action. The soul will then possess and cultivate a genuine interest in politics or economics, in language or history, in natural science or philosophy… We will thus, when in dryness, possess a most useful range of interest to which to turn… in relief of the dreariness or the strain of our directly religious life” (Life of Prayer p. 35). Grou’s teaching here seems to me to be particularly important, and I believe that many ills could be avoided, perhaps especially among the clergy and members of religious communities, if more attention were paid to these levels of our being.
‘The Society of Jesus has produced many men of prayer who have also been leading scientists and distinguished scholars in various fields. It seems to have encouraged this cultivation of interests, natural and spiritual. I think of Grou’s fellow–Jesuit of our own century, Teilhard de Chardin, who stands in the same tradition, and went so far towards inter–relating the two levels within the one dedicated life – dedicated, as Ignatius Loyola said, “to the greater glory of God”. The Jesuits have been accused of many misdeeds. Whatever may be the rights and wrongs of the charges against them, Christian spirituality has been wonderfully enriched by many members of their Society.’ Grou’s writings, for John Townroe, ‘summed up the maxim, “Grace does not destroy nature, it corrects, fulfils and perfects it”. Or as I realised much later in St Irenaeus, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive; the life of a person is the vision of God”.’
‘Very important for me also was Baron von Hugel’s The Life of Prayer given to me by Robert Llewelyn, who prepared me for Confirmation, aged 14, in Westminster Abbey (by Bishop Woodward of Gloucester, who had recently been the rector of St. John’s, Smith Square, just behind the School). Part One of the book is entitled “The Facts and Doctrines Concerning God which are of especial importance in the life of prayer”. It showed me how the life of prayer could be distorted or even end in disaster, if you got your doctrine of God wrong. I continued to read anything I could get on Christian doctrine throughout my teenage years, questioning everything, very alert for anything phoney or lop–sided, delighting in whatever rang true and satisfied the soul.
‘There is also something else… about the sources of Warminster. It is something which, so far as I am concerned, was absolutely fundamental. Let me try to tell it as simply as I can. The facts are as follows – It was in 1932 at the age of 12 when I was walking in a street in London when – out of the blue and as a total surprise – I was suddenly caught up or enveloped in an awareness of God – an intensely warm and supporting Presence upholding me. The experience lasted for no more than a minute or two, but the afterglow for much longer – In fact, the afterglow or decisive impact has lasted all my life right up to this moment as I write… Lasting also has been the certainty, which came with the experience, that I must be a priest. The constant questioning in my school days and ever since, did not weaken this experience, but rather somehow flowed from it. More like “fides quaerens intellectum” [Faith seeking understanding], as I groped my way intellectually in the unpacking of what had been given.
‘Somewhere along the way, I encountered Eastern Orthodoxy – and apophatic and kataphatic theology, or the negative and affirmative way in the East and West, as in the English mystics. Paradox, as found in the Bible, seemed to me to be an essential tool; Psalm 138 : 6 “Though the Lord be High, yet hath he respect for the lowly” was the text for my first ever Compline Address in St. Boniface Chapel – The heart of the Incarnation, in other words the Highest found in the lowest.’
To explain more fully the implications of this, John cites a sermon he gave at Pusey House Oxford in 1974 on the Affirmative or Positive Way in the Christian Mystical Tradition, drawing on the writings of St. Francis de Sales. To draw the contrast he first describes the Negative Way that ‘emphasises the difference between God and man – the great difference, the infinite distance, between creature and Creator… And since God is exalted above all being, we cannot say what He is, only what He is not… The Negative Way also stresses the fallenness of man, and the rottenness of society. Not necessarily total depravity, but profound disorder… If the human heart is desperately wicked, and very mixed up, the task of repairing it must be enormous, and stern measures will be needed. So, rigour – if not rigorism… an ascetic or puritanical style of living. For it sees the gap between God and man as a gulf, an abyss; and it stresses that if we are not to be lost, we must walk warily in the world, a world alienated from God.
‘By comparison, the Affirmative Way emphasises the closeness of God to His creation – and more than closeness, His actual indwelling, His immanence… however corrupt people may be (St. Francis affirms), God is to be found at their centre’. There is ‘a cheerfulness and confidence’ in the Way of Affirmation …There is a spirit of joy along this Way… This Way affirms that life is fundamentally good. The goodness of God is reflected in what He has made… By His guiding light, good can be brought out of misery… Not only joy… but also en–joy–ment marks the Affirmative Way. The good things of life are to be enjoyed to the full, the good things that delight our senses physically, as well as the good things that give pleasure to the mind and to the spirit of man… So the affirmation of joy, and the affirmation of all that is good.
‘But what, in human experience, is most life–giving? It is to love, and to be loved… St. Francis’ writings are filled with the thought that the Christian life is nothing else than love of God – that is to say, God’s love for us, which calls out our love for Him… The Affirmative Way shows an unquenchable optimism about the effectiveness of God’s love; and correspondingly, about the latent desire for God that is in everyone… St. Francis de Sales saw in this capacity for love “the beauty of human nature”, a beauty never entirely lost… From this it is more important positively to encourage this, our deepest and truest yearning, than it is to dwell upon our failures and our sins… This is the highway of Affirmation. It leads to rapid progress in the Spirit, to an unenforced, unpretentious growth in grace, and to authentic Christ–likeness. It leads also to freedom – to that freedom of the spirit which the Gospel promises… liberty.
‘“I leave you the spirit of liberty”, wrote St. Francis, “the liberty of children beloved. It is the setting free of the Christian heart from all things, to follow the will of God once it is made known”… this kind of liberty is far removed from licence. It is, in fact, the fruit of obedience – the obedience of a heart kept open and sensitive to the touch of the Holy Spirit’s prompting.
‘Those who came under St. Francis’ spiritual guidance found themselves being directed into this Affirmative Way; not brought into a bondage of devotional systems, but set free to become their true selves by following the leading of the Holy Spirit. They were encouraged, encouraged to believe in themselves – that is, to believe in God active within them – and so to be set free from false, morbid self–hatred.
‘Let yourself go, then, is the invitation of the Affirmative Way. Let yourself go into God’s hands; let yourself go into prayer, into worship, into goodness, into life and love and liberty.’
Wilfrid Browning further remembers, ‘At school John was prominent on the river at Putney (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday afternoons, summer and winter) and in the recently formed Scout Troop, whose annual reunions he continued to enjoy for years afterwards. His father was a well–known London Conservative, and Mayor of Hampstead. He then read theology at St. John’s College, Oxford where his tutor was a Liberal Evangelical, Stanley Greenslade, later Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Christ Church – so I think that it could be said that John was again slightly up against views not particularly sympathetic to his own Anglo–Catholic spirituality, and again he survived; and proceeded to the congenial Lincoln Theological College. Perhaps my abiding, and admiring, impression of the younger John was of his steadfast, unaggressive, attractive, maintenance of his Anglican–Catholic faith.’
‘On the same lines as Jean Nicholas Grou’, writes John, ‘is a truly wonderful book, Letters of Direction, by Abbe de Torville. I read it in 1942 and put quotations from it, so valuable did I find it, in the parish magazine of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Ford Estate, Sunderland, when I was there (1943–48).
‘This grand doctrine of grace and nature fitted perfectly into the wholeness of Christian doctrine which had formed my mind in my teenage years. It was vastly expanded and enriched for me by my tutors at Oxford between 1938 and 1942, to whom I owe a very great debt. Outstanding among them were S. L. Greenslade; Austin Farrer; H. J. Carpenter; N. P. Williams; W. L. Grensted; Professor Simpson; R. H. Lightfoot; Wheeler Robinson; and Leonard Hodgson.’
John graduated from St. John’s Oxford with a Second class in Theology, and from there he went to Lincoln, to be taught by E.L. Mascall, and Christopher Evans. At Durham, in his title parish he had tutorials for P.O.T. [Post Ordination Training] from Michael Ramsey, privately with him in his own home.
John, on his own admission, used his early years in ministry to read and study the writings of the masters of the spiritual life. They became the bedrock of his life and ministry; ordinands at Warminster were the beneficiaries of his spiritual teaching in his lectures on Christian Spirituality (and in the 1960s a well–annotated book list on the subject), and devotional addresses; his Spiritual Direction and wise counsel. Bonifacians were not the only ones to benefit; his influence has stretched far wider as Bishop John Austin Baker recounts in his Address for John’s 50th Anniversary of his Priesting.
‘The teaching and personal influence of all these, and many others along the way, became a kind of reservoir from which I drew throughout my 21 years at Warminster. They were indeed sources, and they fed into the Warminster life.
‘Another important source of the reservoir was Reginald Somerset Ward. We used for a while in the College programme his exercises in the hearing of Confessions. He was my Spiritual Director from 1945 until his death in 1962… he was, not publicly, but indirectly, a constant source or guiding influence on what was taught and practised at Warminster.’
Reginald Somerset Ward ((1881–1962) ordained deacon in 1904 and priest in 1905, worked in parishes, mainly in London, and then from 1909–1913 he was organising secretary for the Sunday School Institute, and from 1913–15, Rector of Chiddingford, when he was called to devote his life to spiritual direction. With the approval and blessing of the then Bishop of Winchester (Edward Talbot), he spent the rest of his life at ‘Ravenscroft’, Farncombe, Surrey, supported financially by an anonymous group of friends, enabling him to exercise a peripatetic ministry of spiritual direction. Fourteen city centres, in various parts of the country, were visited three times a year, in addition to corresponding with hundreds on every aspect and problem concerning the spiritual life. He exerted considerable influence in the Church of England especially on the clergy and those who were leaders in the church. ‘They were Christians who wanted to follow ‘the way’. His writings, e.g. The Way (1922), Following the Way (1925), The Way in Prayer (1932), some twenty in all, were… written under the pseudonym of “The Author of the Way”’ (Norman W. Goodacre: an article on Ward in A Dictionary of Christian Spirituality).
John was invited in 1992 to deliver a Memorial Lecture on Somerset Ward in Guildford Cathedral on the 30th anniversary of his death. John Austin Baker, then Bishop of Salisbury described it as ‘an unforgettable lecture’, and that its subject, was ‘that great pioneer of contemporary spiritual direction’, adding ‘That John has been the Elisha to Somerset Ward’s Elijah no informed observer would doubt.’ In his Memorial Lecture John described Somerset Ward in his ministry of direction, ‘Not as a judge ready to find fault – more like a family doctor, concerned to make you well; concerned for release from any kind of sickness; concerned for wholeness. Yet even this image of the doctor is not adequate to convey his person, for there was more… There was about Somerset Ward the air, the look of one whose conversation was in heaven. For prayer was absolutely central in his life. It came before everything else. He was above all a man of God’; with a ‘passionate devotion to God, and to God above all’… ‘His concern’ was for ‘wholeness – getting the best out of our whole being… It was God centred wholeness’. Somerset Ward saw, in his words, “The task of the [spiritual] director… [is] that he should be a physician of souls, whose main work is to diagnose the ills of the soul and its hindrances to its contact with God.”
In his long ministry Ward put emphasis on several truths; on the joint hindrances of fear and sin (knowledge of fear and the its ravages in life led him to accept the best insights of psychology); on the importance of time – “A rule of life is primarily concerned with time, the only possession we have in this world”; he commended hobbies, and relaxing activities to counter–balance idolatry of work (he himself retired to his workshop on many afternoons to make games and toys). ‘Many men and women who came under [his] direction trace a new pattern in their spiritual lives from the moment he “took them on”.’ (Norman Goodacre)
It is of interest that John Townroe writes of Somerset Ward’s influence on Eric Abbott: ‘It must have been in the 1930s that Eric Abbott was led to Reginald Somerset Ward for spiritual direction, and from that time until Ward’s death in 1962, he put himself under his guidance with regular visits two or three times a year. I remember that Eric used to share with the ordinands at Lincoln the “Instructions”, or occasional papers, which Ward sent to those under his direction. The relationship between the two men became closer when Ward invited Eric to join the “Cell”, as he called it, or “fellowship in the Gospel”, a group of six priests and bishops who met two or three times a year for 36 hours together. It was a time spent in worship, in silent prayer for long periods, and in the sharing of thoughts about their common concerns. So the influence of the older priest on the younger for such a long period of Eric’s life must have been very great indeed. From this “First Cell”, sprang the “Second Cell”, as it was named, to which I belonged for years.’
Bishop John Austin Baker, preaching at John Townroe’s 50th Anniversary of Ordination to the Priesthood in The Minster at Warminster in 1994, described how ‘Over sixty years ago Our Lord began his work of calling and forming John Townroe to be a shining example [of] the gift of those who can guide us into our own authentic Christlikeness… [he is] one who has never spared himself the sacrificial and loving pain of being in labour with them so that Christ may be formed in them … How many have been blessed by this special grace of God through John’s ministry it is impossible to estimate. Not only have there been those who have received it directly, through private sessions, lectures and retreats, but there are many more who have been touched at one or more removes, through John’s involvement with the training of the ordained. Early in his ministry he was concerned with Post–Ordination Training in the diocese of Durham, when Michael Ramsey was bishop there. Then there were the years first as Chaplain to the King’s College London fourth year here at Warminster, and after that as Warden… The young John Townroe, keen oarsman and Head of Water at Westminster, enthusiastic devotee of fast cars, might have spread abroad in all sorts of directions, even in Holy Orders. But it was not to be. Health problems with his heart (a cross he shared with his mentor, Somerset Ward) compelled a focusing of life and work, and also perhaps brought a keener sense of things eternal… If human sensitivity and receptivity have enriched John’s ministry on one side, on another its strength has come from a deeply and solidly theological way of looking at life. Forming Christ in anyone must demand a profound understanding, in mind and heart, of the truth as it is in Jesus. The testimony of recipients makes very clear that it is from this that derive both the precision and the solid content of John’s counsel and direction.
‘In 50 years of ministry… John’s has been, at any rate so far as the Church Times and the gossip in Synod coffee rooms is concerned, a hidden life. Hidden not just in the obvious sense that he has not been called to “high office” or filled Wembley Stadium, but in the profounder sense that he has kept himself hidden so that Christ may be more clearly shown. But at the Last Day what mighty edifices may not stand forth, built for eternity by the tools which God has found to his hand in John and others like him, and in how many souls may not shine forth the family likeness of the Saviour because of the labour pains which such servants of the Spirit have endured!’
When John was appointed in 1948, the Dean, Eric Abbott, wrote in the Gazette for that year, ‘We have been fortunate in securing the services of John Townroe to be the Chaplain at Warminster, a priest with special gifts of spiritual wisdom.’ John of course had been a student under Eric Abbott at Lincoln, and it is interesting to note that Dennis Nineham had likewise been at Lincoln, two years after John, under the Wardenship of Eric Abbott, and that he was appointed to King’s as first of all Professor of Biblical and Historical Theology in 1954 , and subsequently in 1958 to the Chair of Divinity. Another former ordinand at Lincoln in 1942, and so a contemporary of John Townroe’s, John (‘Jack’) H. Churchill, was appointed as Chaplain and Lecturer in the Strand by Eric Abbott in 1953. Two former members of staff at Lincoln, in Eric’s time, also found themselves subsequently in the Strand, namely Eric Mascall as Professor of Historical Theology in 1962, and Christopher Evans as Professor of New Testament in the same year. There seems little doubt that although some of these appointments were made after the departure of Eric Abbott from King’s, he had a ‘hand’ in them, as he must in Sydney Evans succeeding him as Dean, and John Townroe as Warden at Warminster. John Townroe acknowledges the truth of this, but has added, it was never done in an “interfering way”, as he was ‘too wise for that.’
John gave a paper in 1954 at the Theology and Ministry Conference at Christ Church Oxford, on Prayer For Busy People, which was subsequently reprinted in Theology the following year, and then as a separate booklet, which addressed the question, not Why pray, but How to pray. The point he made was that ‘the prayer of contemplation used to be regarded as an optional extra for specially talented adventurers in prayer, now it is regarded as a normal legitimate aim for every Christian. It is open to all. All are capable of it, if conditions allow… [it] used to be regarded as belonging, for the most part, to life in the cloister; now it is seen as capable of being a normal part of an active Christian life in the world. For the mark of a contemplative life is not the absence of activity, but the presence of contemplation… [it] used to be regarded as belonging to that category of religious experience in which extraordinary phenomena occur (such as visions and trances), now it is seen as having no necessary connection at all with any such happenings. It is, in fact, seen as often being better without them. This prayer… is not a human achievement, but a gift from God – a gift for which we may rightly hope.’ He continues, ‘this way of prayer, which can be broadly called contemplative, is the one which seems to be best suited to modern conditions. For when once it has been learned, it is easily adaptable, and it contains the necessary antidote – or the healing – for those harmful conditions of life today which have been summarized as lack of privacy, noise, rush, activism, over–strain, and nervous restlessness.’ Practical examples are then offered as possible approaches to this kind of prayer with references to Brother Lawrence; the Jesus Prayer; the Rule of St. Benedict; de Caussade; the Early Fathers of the Desert; and the Lord’s Prayer – ‘New applications of old methods’. No Time for Prayer (in many ways complementary to Prayer for Busy People) was the substance of an address given at the annual Conference of the Guild of Health in 1958, and published in Theology December 1959, relating to time given to prayer – the final sentence of which reads, ‘Prayer is God’s gift to us before it becomes our gift to God. But it is no good being offered a gift if we will not take the time to receive it and use it. The first thing, therefore, to be given to God is our time.’
John Townroe’s first report as Warden at Warminster in the 1956–7 Gazette included the news that a further extension to the lease had been given on St. Boniface to 1962; Furneaux House, which originally belonged to the College had now reverted to it, and was being used as an annexe due to the College being full to capacity. [Furneaux House in subsequent years often also housed three married men and their wives. Additionally other married students rented properties in the town, and it became customary for some of these to be handed on from one generation of students to another.] Fifty–one men were in residence, of whom eleven were ‘Patriarchs’; three of them had left for the Michaelmas Ordinations, to be replaced in the Advent Term by three new men, including a Lutheran student from Germany. Bible Study Groups had been established; ‘The object in view is a thorough knowledge of the text of Scripture; and attention to what the Bible says, rather than the airing of opinions. Seminars provide the opportunity to thrash out in discussion any subject that may be brought forward, and particularly to assimilate Christian Doctrine.
‘Each Sunday a stream of cars, motor–cycles, and bicycles flows from the College along the roads into the surrounding countryside as students in twos and threes go out to take part in Evensong in the village churches. This piece of practical work brings a breath of fresh parochial air into the life of the College, and leads to many friendships with the clergy of the Deanery.’ The College Eleven in the Lent Term made their first appearance on the Warminster Town Football Ground, where they seemed to give a good account of themselves in that they were on equal terms at half–time with their more professional opponents [it may be of significance that no account was given of the second–half]. There had been additional excellent soccer and cricket matches, besides golf, croquet, billiards, table–tennis, lawn–tennis, darts, bowls, swimming and cross–country running! In the summer sixty past students came to the Reunions and Retreats.
The Dean’s Letter for the same year of the Gazette indicated that the entrance qualification for the AKC had been raised from five Ordinary passes in the GCE, to four Ordinary passes and one Advanced Level pass, one of which must be English Language.
1958 saw the Gazette, or to give it its full title, The AKC : The Official Gazette of the Theological Society King’s College, London, replaced by The Kingsman: The Magazine of the Theological Department of King’s College, London. In that year there were 231 students in the Theological Faculty in the College in the Strand, 187 of whom were ordinands. News from Warminster was that the Chapel, which had ‘always been admired for its dignity and spaciousness’, had been the previous year, ‘greatly improved by a new Cross and candlesticks for the Altar’. They were “new” to the Chapel, but in fact were 400 years old, and had come from the Church of St. Mark, Gardone, Lake Garda, where they were no longer wanted because of the advent of electricity! They were described as ‘splendid without being ornate’ [They had been discovered by Eric Abbott in a London antique shop – the cross broken in pieces]. The College was full to over–flowing: every room being occupied, and five men were living out. There were fifty–four students altogether, including six ‘Patriarchs’.
The other interesting item in the first edition of The Kingsman was an article by the Sub–Warden, Sam Cutt on ‘Two Parochial Missions’. He wrote, ‘In March, 1957, and February, 1958, missions were undertaken from Warminster; the first to St. Mark’s, Winshill, a mixed residential area on the outskirts of Burton–on–Trent; the second to St. Martin’s, Finham, a newer but not dissimilar parish on the southern edge of Coventry. These missions differed from the usual type of parochial mission in two respects… The diversions were these:–
(1) In each case the Vicar himself was the chief missioner:
(2) Both weeks of mission involved numbers of small meetings every night in the houses of parishioners instead of the usual mission services in the parish church.
Naturally, much of the normal work of mission was retained; such as daily worship and intercession, house–to–house visiting, prayer–meetings, children’s services and special Sunday services.’
John Townroe comments, ‘I was deeply impressed by what I learnt about the history and traditions of St. Boniface Missionary College and the vision of the Founder, and from then on I resolved to carry the tradition forwards, and to make Old Bonifacian visitors feel welcome. But I had long seen mission as a priority. After all had I not chosen to join at Ordination the Company of Mission Priests? And certainly the work on Ford Estate, Sunderland, was missionary. This motive was again at work when I began and developed at Warminster the annual “College Mission”. This involved taking the entire College to live in people’s houses for 8–9 days. The method of mission was novel in that it did not attempt big nightly meetings with special speakers (as had been the custom in the great Parish Missions of the 19th and early 20th centuries), but composed a large number of house meetings, quite small and informal, led by the ordinands of the College, and all under the direction of the Vicar who was declared to be the Chief Missioner.’
The Kingsman for 1959, reported from the Warden that the lease from St. Boniface Council had become a long–term one of forty–two years, and that the College had more students than it had had for some time past. Fifty–seven men had begun the Year in July, 1959. Sam Cutt, having completed three years as Tutor had been appointed Sub–Warden, and Edward Thompson, who had been Chaplain from 1956, had recently been married, and had been instituted to the Living of Hawkchurch with Fishpond, near Axminster. The Warden wrote of him, ‘Mr. Thompson brought to his work as Chaplain an abundance of enthusiasm, and a happy disposition. His lectures on Pastoralia were valued for their thoroughness and attention to detail, and his special contribution and study were concerned with the art of Preaching.’ Edward Thompson was replaced by George L. Hacker, who after reading Theology at Exeter College, Oxford, went to Cuddesdon, and came to Warminster after being Senior Curate of St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. The College Mission was to the parish of All Saints’, Poplar, and for the first time, the whole College closed for a week, and fifty students plus staff went to the parish. Those not able to be accommodated in people’s houses slept in the Church Hall. ‘It was an exciting week, and at the end of it there was not one of the team who did not feel that the power of the Spirit had been mightily at work, with results which were beyond anyone’s expectations.’ College and Faculty News included the announcement that John Townroe had been elected by the Council to the Fellowship of King’s College.
In the same issue of The Kingsman John Townroe produced an article on ‘St. Boniface Missionary College, Warminster 1860–1960’, relating the founding and history of the College; and moving on to its more recent use by King’s he wrote, ‘Since 1948, over 500 men have been ordained from Warminster, and about 50 of these have gone abroad. Allowing for the many changes which have taken place in the Church and in the world since 1860 we may fairly claim that the Founder’s original vision is finding a new realization in the old surroundings.
‘Today, St. Boniface College is still a missionary college, but in a new sense of the word. We are intensely concerned with the Call of God to His Church to preach the Gospel to all nations, and not least to our own. With the help of many visitors, the College looks outward and away from itself, in many endeavours to understand both the Gospel of God and the modern world. An urgent sense of mission can be felt in the many group–discussions which are held in the College. The annual combined operation, known as “The College Mission”, takes the whole College away for nine days to a different part of the country each year…. The missionary tradition is maintained, not by self–conscious deliberation, but because we cannot do otherwise: it belongs to the very stuff of the Christian Calling.
‘Equally, there is still a full measure of “withdrawal” in the life of the College. Time to think and time to pray are as important now as ever, and we do not agree with those who see only harm in “withdrawal”. Experience at Warminster has shown that it is only when the pressures of environment are to some extent removed that many personal faults and difficulties are faced. Then it is that the Holy Spirit of God exerts a pressure of another kind. Inward obstacles to faith or to full commitment to Christ are often not even noticed until the comparative quiet of the Warminster Year is given to a man. Like all other good things, “withdrawal” may be abused; but without it many Warminster men would never come to know the Love of God as they have done.
‘We see the two elements – the outward–looking sense of mission and the proper use of “withdrawal” – not as contradictory, but as complementary. Care for the life of the Spirit need not mean self–centredness. Repentance, reformation, the clearing of the channels of grace – these are the essential conditions for the missionary task, to be carried out first within the missioner himself. There are many priests at work today who thank God that they were given the chance, and the grace to take it, to examine themselves and to repent in a period of comparative quiet before Ordination.’
June 1960 saw the Centenary Celebrations for the founding of St. Boniface College; 130 priests and 3 bishops gathered to give thanks to God for all the College had meant to them and to the world. St. Boniface Council extended an invitation to all King’s men who had passed through the fourth–year at Warminster, and about 50 took it up. This was the first time Old Bonifacians and King’s men had met in large numbers, but they mixed without the slightest difficulty, and by the end of their time together, the two groups were as one. Thanks to the initiative of the Common Room at Warminster, six of its members spent a week at Tyndale Hall, Bristol, taking a full part in the normal life of the College; at the same time six Tyndale students shared in the daily routine at Warminster. ‘Naturally many lively theological discussions took place. The effect was startling. The disturbance of minds and to consciences was profound. How could one Church contain such contradictions? And how far were the views expressed contradictory, how far complementary? It appeared that some people were compelled to face the full gravity of these questions for the first time.’ Another initiative from the Common Room was a remarkable transformation of the wash–rooms traditionally known as “the Cotswold village” into a laundry and drying–room for members of the Common Room, and which also doubled at other times as changing–rooms and shower–baths for the football teams. All the work being undertaken by the students themselves; the workmanship of which was praised by professionals. The College Mission was to the parish of St. Peter’s, Leicester. For the second year running, the whole College, over 50 men, was transplanted for nine days. The comment was, ‘We are more than ever convinced of the value, both to parish and college, of these annual expeditions.’
The Warden in The Kingsman 1961–2 made reference to the stability which a 42–year lease supplies; allowing larger, long–term expenditures to be undertaken. ‘On their side, St. Boniface Council has provided the Chapel pews, replacing the chairs which had never been satisfactory. Past students will recall how black paint from the chairs used to come away on their hands; and how impossible it was to keep the Chapel tidy for long, when the chairs were so adept at walking in all directions. The designer of the new pews, which seat a maximum of 64, was Mr. Rushton, partner of the late Sir Charles Nicholson, architect of the Chapel and the Lodge. He has been successful in producing an effect of symmetry entirely in keeping with the lines of the buildings as a whole. We are very grateful for this addition to the comfort, convenience and beauty of our surroundings. It was a happy coincidence that the firm chosen to make the pews has its workshops in Crediton, the birthplace of St. Boniface.
‘On our side, the Council of King’s College authorised us to buy new tables and chairs for the dining hall. These were made from light Sussex oak to his own design by Mr. Edward Barnsley, a craftsman who has his carpenter’s shop set in the woods high up on the Hampshire Downs near Petersfield. He took the greatest pains to see that all our practical requirements were met, and he has given us furniture of outstanding elegance. It delights everyone who sees it. To match it, much–needed improvements are being made to the equipment and decoration of the dining hall.’ [Some of us recall not many years after, that there was an occasion of some “horse–play” in the dining room which led to one of the chairs at the high table in the dining hall crashing to the floor and breaking, and that a student, now in episcopal orders, had the unenviable task of having to knock on the Warden’s door at The Lodge to confess his transgression, and was then, by way of atonement, required to effect a repair!]
The College Mission took place in the parish of Parson’s Cross, Sheffield. It followed the same general lines as in the year before, and proved its worth in similar ways. ‘Sport’, it was reported, ‘has always been plentiful… Now an exciting new one has been added. We have a sailing club and our own boat at Shearwater.’
The Warden in 1961 delivered a paper at the Theological College Staffs’ Conference, Cheshunt, on ‘The Pastoral Care of Students at a Theological College’, and spoke about the theological college as an instrument of pastoral care of an ordinand, who could be helped by friendship, frictions, counselling, by staff and fellow ordinands, in an environment and atmosphere from which he cannot escape. In it he said: ‘A theological college is an expression of Christ’s caring for His people, directly and indirectly: directly, for the students and their salvation; indirectly, for the world and its salvation. A College is this by its very existence: it is sacramental of Christ’s Pastoral Care, and instrumental for the exercise of His Care…
‘I suppose that anyone who has worked in a Theological College for even a short time will have observed how the life in common touches the sensitive spots in the characters of men. The daily life is so fully charged with actions and reactions that men are caught up into an inter–play of forces sometimes provocative, sometimes remedial, sometimes searching, sometimes fortifying. “Thou hast searched me out and known me” – the Holy Spirit works through the community of the College, as He does through the common life in the Church, to check and prompt and stretch and purify men. He shows them the truth about themselves by bringing to light their strength and weakness in all the inter–actions of living together. This happens. If it happens too little or too feebly, the fault may lie in the instrument – it may require sharpening – that is, the community may be so loosely–knit together that its members are avoiding meeting one another in a more than superficial manner; or some other adjustments may be required. There are many possible causes of a College “losing its edge” as the Holy Spirit’s tool. But, even so, it is remarkable how again and again men are taken care of pastorally in some, at least, of their needs, by the daily life of the College; its worship, its study, its arguments, its recreations.’
The author concludes his paper thus: ‘the theological colleges as we have them today are at the moment under fire from many critics; and we are trying on the whole to accept this, and make something of it, and see that it leads to improvements. None of us wants to claim a kind of Divine Right to Theological Colleges to exist and continue to exist just as they are. But equally the truth is – so I believe – that if they are rightly used our Colleges give us one of the most marvellous institutional instruments of Christ’s pastoral care which the world has so far seen.’
The Warden in his report from Warminster in the 1962–63 Kingsman informs readers, ‘During the year past, the College has been inspected by CACTM. This was the third inspection we had enjoyed since 1948, and we were not unduly worried by the proceedings… The Inspectors were most encouraging in their comments.
‘Warminster has been mentioned in despatches in another quarter: the Preface to Crockford’s Directory for 1963 [of which previous mention has already been made] gives the College an approving nod, to illustrate a point it makes. But none of this friendly interest – and there is much of it, not only in Britain – prevents us from paying attention to at least some of the criticism of Training for the Ministry which goes on all the time in England today.’
Frank West, Bishop of Taunton at the time, on ‘Post–ordination Training’ in Theology July 1962 commenced his article, ‘The publication of the Bishop of Southwell’s book Vocation and Ministry in 1958 “sparked off” a series of letters and articles in Theology on the subject of training for the ministry. In nearly all of them dissatisfaction was expressed with the existing system: in some cases on the grounds of the remoteness of the colleges from centres of industry: in others because men who have taken theological degrees at universities are later required to attend lectures geared in to GOE [General Ordination Examination] by relatively unqualified teachers in theological colleges. Bishop Knapp–Fisher, then Principal of Cuddesdon, alone advocated a withdrawal to a quiet setting for a period of devotional preparation.’ F. R. Barry, Bishop of Southwell, in 1960 in his book Asking the Right Questions, described places of theological education as ‘secluded colleges in the middle of space’.
Graham Neville, Anglican chaplain to Sheffield University, in Theology August 1958 put the case for a radical revision in order to provide ‘Training for a Prophetic Ministry’, which he urged, ‘must start with contemporary society, dominated by the titanic figures of Darwin, Marx, and Freud. Without them, our world would be nothing like what it in fact is. And at the theoretical level the necessary “engagement” of ordination candidates with the world which they are to serve must mean a parallel study of the Bible and these makers of the modern mind… This theoretical confrontation of the Bible and modern thought should then be matched by practical activity which brings the ordinand into close touch with the actual bewildered society of the mid–twentieth century through the actual, humdrum, faltering and often bewildered congregation of an ordinary parish. The college chapel should be replaced by the local parish church, and a great part of the two years’ training ought to be spent in particular parishes.’ University–type lectures to students come in for his criticism, as ‘This type of learning will be in most cases impossible after ordination. Rather there will be only learning by reading; and there will be inevitably a lot of talking to do… Therefore the ordinand should be guided in a course of study almost entirely dependent upon private reading and his ability to speak and lead discussion must be cultivated by providing opportunities for discussion and public speaking outside the college as well as within it.’ Thus, he argued, expensive institutions could be reduced in number, and those abolished replaced by groups of men gathered round capable tutors within reach of provincial universities, where full use could be made of extra–mural courses.
Reference has already been made to the two articles in Theology by John A. T. Robinson; on theological colleges and teaching theology for the ministry in 1952 and 1958. The 1958 article noted that, ‘our immediate danger is of admitting for training [for ministry] too many rather than too few’. Robinson refers to the Bishop of Southwell’s [F. R. Barry – Professor of New Testament KCL 1923–27] chapter on theological training in his Vocation and Ministry in which Bishop Barry indicated the need for “some pretty decisive revision of policy”, insisting that the spearhead of the Church’s mission must, now more than ever, be an ordained ministry that really “knows its stuff”, and emphasising the importance of their theological training and the strongest plea that it should take place at university centres (the policy of “back to the universities”), but also acknowledging the need for an unpaid ministry from among men of all walks of secular life, in a similar way in which John Robinson had proposed in 1952. The Bishop suggested that numbers in full–time ministry would inevitably decline steadily, which meant that it was imperative that those ordained must compensate in quality for what would be lacked in quantity; Barry argued against plugging the gap with inferior material; to which end Robinson quotes Daniel Jenkins on ‘Theology and Ministry’ (Theology March 1958) – ‘If history proves anything, it is that bad clergy are worse than no clergy.’
John Robinson does take issue with Dr Barry at one point however, when Barry suggests, more than once, that if a man takes his degree in theology then all he needs is “a year to sit back and think, to say his prayers, and be given such training in ‘pastoralia’ as can be given prior to ordination”. The place of the university, says Robinson is to teach theology as an academic discipline. Doctrine is almost entirely neglected at the university, apart from some history of doctrine, as is ethics. It is in these areas that the theological college should do its teaching in theology. In the case of doctrine, denominational interpretation enters in, and there is the requirement that it should be taught “to faith” and not merely “from faith”. Robinson believes Dr Barry is right when he says of the ordinand, “What matters most is a mind trained to theological thinking, bringing Christian insight to bear on the facts of the human situation and discerning how the living God is at work in them… If so, perhaps we should be prepared to sacrifice some technically theological knowledge for more knowledge about the world itself and particularly about the currents of life and thought in contemporary society, approached from a theological point of view.” Such knowledge, Robinson holds, is gained (other than in a purely theoretical way) not in the university, nor within the walls of a theological college, but in “the world itself” [as we have referred to earlier in connection with Robinson’s 1952 article]. F. R. Barry further suggests: “It must…be quite frankly recognised that a college of thirty–five or forty students cannot be run as an economic unit”, and so he makes the case for theology to be taught in university centres – thus saving the church the expense.
Bishop Barry in one of a series of articles in The Expository Times on Selection and Training of Candidates for the Ministry, entitled ‘A New Deal in Training’ (November 1962) poses the question, ‘Could not a man, with immense gain to himself and with considerable saving of expense, do a course of preliminary preparation, in evening classes and at week–ends while still employed in a “secular” job? (“Learn as you earn.”) This would give a vastly increased realism to his theological initiation and keep his theories in touch with the common life’, and cites the experiment in Southwark diocese, amongst others. Moving on to what kind of training is required, he makes the point that traditional courses were planned for a society before the arrival of the scientific revolution and new technology, the development of the State Social Services and the upgrading of popular education. Subjects “must always include the Bible, the Prayer Book, ‘dogmatic’ theology and all that”. However in order to communicate with the twentieth–century world “there ought to be a constant background of modern history and sociology so that the Christian message can be studied in its direct contemporary relevance, not as a body of abstract ‘ideas’ which have then, somehow or other, to be ‘applied’.” Too much stress, he held, can be laid on technical ‘orthodoxy’; men should be trained as free–thinkers. Most of the current social and moral problems, he suggested, run into questions of theology; so theological questions present themselves in terms of ethics, and a precondition of pastoral work must be equipment to guide in the urgent ethical problems of society, and that Christian ethics should take precedence of a good deal else in the traditional course; therefore he describes as ‘insane’ the fact that it has been cut out of the curriculum [Christian ethics had become the Cinderella of the GOE Course, and the paper on it had been abolished in 1956. John Robinson had noted in 1958 that the teaching of the subject was virtually non–existent in this country; there being only one lectureship in it, and that at Manchester University. The restoration of the subject in GOE in 1964, was due in no small measure to Sydney Evans, at the time Chairman of the Theological Education Committee of ACCM, and he also sought to enhance the standing of the subject at King’s, with the establishing of a chair in Moral and Social Theology in 1966 in the name of F. D. Maurice]. Additionally Barry sees as a second necessity for the cure of souls, a fuller and deeper initiation into ‘clinical theology’, in order to be equipped to deal in depth with the conflicts, anxieties and other personal maladjustment which so many are heavily burdened with, as part of the Lord’s command to heal the sick and cast out demons, adding, however, that ‘little of what is called pastoralia can really be taught before ordination… It can only be done when men have begun to encounter the actual facts of pastoral experience… What we need is a thought–out comprehensive scheme of pre– and post–ordination training’ as had been indicated by Bishop Frank West in Theology July 1962.
We have already had cause to refer to Frank West’s article; the most significant point of which was the importance of a uniform course of post–ordination training comparable to that of pre–ordination training, accepted by the dioceses, to relieve the congestion in the pre–ordination syllabus. While ever the view is accepted, ‘that what is necessary for an ordinand to learn must be crammed in to his training at the theological college or not learnt at all… bishops will be laying hands on a succession of deacons, suffering from intellectual indigestion, with a slight knowledge of many things and an exact knowledge of nothing’. Bishop West’s plea was, ‘Let the college give the grounding and the diocese the interpretation.’ Ronald Preston, Canon Residentiary of Manchester and lecturer in Christian ethics at the University, responded to Frank West in Correspondence in Theology September 1962, that while one might agree with the concern of the Bishop of Taunton, ‘with the best will in the world, only a little can be done in Post–Ordination Training… we only scratch the surface of what needs to be done… The truth is that the Church is content with a low level of training, both in quality and quantity, for its average ordinand… the opinion that its deficiencies can be remedied by Post–Ordination Training… is a delusion… far greater resources in time and money [are required] than the Church at present devotes to it, and a refusal to get by on the cheap.’
Dr. F. A. Cockin, formerly Bishop of Bristol contributed to Theology January 1962, an article on ‘Ministers of the Priestly People’, based on the thinking of Hans Ruedi Weber, in which Bishop Cockin holds that the Church should be thought of ‘as the entire community of baptized people, in which every member has a share in a common, though differentiated, responsibility’. As opposed to ‘an institution governed and directed by a hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons’… who ‘shape the policy and make plans for implementing it, and then enlist recruits, the laity, to assist them in carrying out these plans’. Every member has a “vocation and ministry”. If there is substance in this contention this will affect (a) The training of men for the Ministry, and (b) The exercise of their ministry by men so trained. Clergy ‘are to be the representatives of the one who came not to be ministered to but to minister… Their business will be to “equip God’s people for work in his service”.’ This, said Bishop Cockin, is the ‘true function of the clergy… and… their relationship to the laity.’
The House of Clergy of the Church Assembly was obviously affected by this move for change, for in 1961 members discussed the need to relate the type of training at the theological colleges more closely to modern conditions. It was, they said, ‘ridiculous that the country should be dotted with small colleges, where principals, harassed by lack of experienced teaching staff, were trying to give an academic training in theology which could be far better given in or near a university centre’.The CACTM Report in 1962, The Men He Wants, stated: ‘Our inherited conception of the ministry is parochial, and, within the parish, monarchical.’
These were difficult and turbulent times for theological education and theological colleges, and especially for heads of the colleges and their staff. So many questions were being raised which challenged long established thinking, positions and practices with regard to the provision of clergy training. All theological colleges were under close scrutiny, including Warminster. Whilst the course at St. Boniface was able to be more flexible than most colleges, because of its unique nature, its ‘detached’ situation, the value placed on ‘withdrawal’ and its size, made it susceptible to the kind of criticism being raised at the time, and sometimes from a section within the student body itself, who often saw more relevance in sociology than spirituality. John Townroe was called upon to steer a steady course through these stormy seas of the `50s and `60s.
The Warden in his review on Warminster in The Kingsman 1962–63 said, ‘When St. Boniface Missionary College was not re–opened after the war, there were those who feared that, in consequence, fewer missionaries would go out from the Church of England. They were sceptical about the Church’s plan to train in future all ordinands together, and to the same standard, whether they were going overseas or not. They did not believe, frankly, that the old spirit would persist in the new conditions… there is no doubt now that the old apostolic spirit has survived, or perhaps revived… In September 1962, no less than five priests sailed in three weeks… there are now 122 King’s men, apart from Old Bonifacians, working overseas.’ The College continued full, but still found room for some who had not been in London – two Deacons from overseas preparing for Priesthood; one from Newfoundland, and a medical missionary from New Guinea. The College Mission that year took place in the parish of Walton–on–the–Hill, Liverpool. The Dean reported there were 250 students in the Strand following the three courses, the AKC and the BD Pass and Honours. 1963–64 saw the figure increase to 259, of whom 194 were ordinands.
The Warminster notes in the 1963–64 edition of The Kingsman record that ‘the high ground of Wiltshire has endured the severest winter in living memory… The Lent term had to be postponed by one week, until the roads could be cleared to ensure that supplies of food and fuel could get through. However, once it had begun, the Term went off to plan, including… the College mission… to the parish of St. Peter, West Leigh, Lancashire.’ Amongst visiting lecturers was the Abbot of Downside, Dom Christopher Butler on the Vatican Council. Other ecumenical contacts included exchange–visits with the Baptist Church in Yeovil, and the exchange with Tyndale Hall continued. Five members that year had been in Deacon’s Orders, including a missionary doctor from New Guinea; a headmaster from Pretoria; one from Newfoundland; a man from Glasgow [who would in due time become Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church]; and a Brother of the Order of St. Paul, Alton Abbey, Hampshire.
June 1964 saw the Chaplain George Hacker leaving to become the Vicar of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Ford Estate, Sunderland. Remembered with affection and gratitude by former students and staff, his main contribution had been in the Pastoral Course; ‘we understand many a parish priest now looks up the notes of the Course to find the practical guidance he needs. Famous for his readiness to “have a go” at anything, he led many different expeditions with us – notably sailing in the English Channel, and exploring the caves of the Mendips.’ The new Chaplain Michael Taylor had served two curacies in the Diocese of Blackburn, while earlier in life he had worked for ten years in Local Government in Nottingham, and had done his National Service in the RAF. Whilst waiting the arrival of the new Chaplain in October, the College was served in the summer term by an African priest, Sidwell Thelejane. SPG [The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel] had been contacted as to whether any priest might be coming to England who might be glad to stay a few weeks in a Theological College. Fr. Sidwell, a member of staff from St. Bede’s College, Umtata, was already on his way to England and was looking for somewhere to stay to get accustomed to the English way of life. The dates were exactly right for the Warminster summer term, and he was coming to read for the BD at King’s College London! ‘No skill was needed to read such signs as these.’ The Mission that year took place in the parish of Brierley Hill, Staffordshire. Ecumenical activity had been brisk with comings and goings with Methodists, Roman Catholics, Serbian Orthodox and Baptists. Exchange–visits with Tyndale Hall now included members of staff. 263 were in the Faculty at King’s, 190 of whom were ordinands.
Leonard Hodgson, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford (1944–1958), pointed out, in an article in The Church Quarterly Review (July–September, 1953) on ‘The Training of the Clergy’, that many of the clergy did not need to be professional theologians, but all of them ‘should have an intelligent grasp of the Christian faith’. He thought that the GOE ‘was a good thing and has done a good work. But it has outlived its usefulness’ and ought to be abolished. The theological colleges and examining chaplains should be able to assess the qualifications of the men. 1963 saw him expressing very similar thoughts in The Bible and the Training of the Clergy. He saw the parish priest as the general practitioner of the Church as opposed to the specialist or consultant. His concern was for those who are ‘not made for book learning’. What was needed for them was the devising of a course of study which shall not be less and worse of the same but different and equally good. Dr Hodgson is remembered for the question formulated in slightly different ways in several of his books, and which was often quoted by others, not least Dennis Nineham – ‘What must the truth have been and be if men who thought and spoke as they did put it like that?’ – the question the student must constantly be asking himself, according to the ACCM Report Doing Theology Today of 1969, which was the 2nd Report of the Theological Education Committee, chaired by Sydney Evans.
Basil S. Moss, a student under Eric Abbott and then on the staff at Lincoln Theological College from 1945 to1951, and who became Chief Secretary of the newly formed ACCM (Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry) in 1966, published in 1964 Clergy Training To–day, criticising the traditionalism of training, and urging new methods of training on the theological colleges. Sydney Evans is quoted on the outer cover as saying, “Canon Moss has done an excellent service in bringing together the best of contemporary thought and writing on this crucial concern of the Church to–day.” Having described, in earlier chapters, the Inherited Pattern, and The New Situation of the Church of England, Basil Moss turns to Training the Clergy of To–day, and writes, ‘Clergy training suffers under the same handicap as all education. The men of yesterday have to train the men of to–day for the work of tomorrow… a new multiplicity of types of leadership is required by the contemporary situation… clergy training… has attempted to produce a “general purposes incumbent”… To–day the comparable form of leadership, teaching, and pastoral care in other fields are done in team work’. Hence the need for inter–parochial “group–ministries”; non–parochial specialist ministries; ‘supplementary ministry of men in priestly orders who continue to earn their living in a secular job’; ‘auxiliary ministry’ of ‘older men..of whom it may be doubted whether they are capable of the full oversight of a growing contemporary parish…. such differentiation in priesthood would seem to be demanded both by the shortage of clergy and by new patterns of Church life’. Such ideas of course had already been advocated by Bishop F.R. Barry and John Robinson.
Moving to Theological Colleges, Canon Moss holds, ‘It is as much as the colleges can do to gear men to the GOE Course, throw in an education week and a few parish visits during vacations, and admit as many “travelling circuses” as possible on top of a grossly overloaded time–table. (By “travelling circuses” we mean the peripatetic representatives of industrial mission, social work, The Church overseas, Sunday school and youth work, psychiatry etc. Without these additional lectures clergy training would not be complete).’ Additionally he draws attention to the problems of the “mixed” colleges geared to the two–year and three–year GOE Course. ‘By “mixed” I mean (a) combining graduates in theology with other graduates, (b) combining either or both with non–graduates, (c) combining older and younger men. One has the impression of men stretched or chopped to fit a “bed of Procrustes”.’ In an article on ‘What’s to be done with GOE?’ in Theology (August 1962), A. M. G. Stephenson, Vice Principal then of Ripon Hall Oxford, had defended the standard of the examination against much current criticism (notably by Bishop Barry), but suggested that it should have its name and status altered to a Licentiate in Theology, with first, second and third classes, which could be entered in a man’s record in Crockford, thus corresponding to entries of AKC or ALCD, and for which a hood might be given. However, Basil Moss indicated, there were about a half of ordinands in colleges not capable of a university course, but who had other skills, which qualified them as capable of the parish priesthood. Here he suggests theological colleges might learn from the educational revolution taking place in many of the teachers’ training colleges, where ‘the work is not geared to examinations… a good deal of the learning is done in small groups… Much emphasis is laid upon learning by finding out, working from the basic questions, as opposed to being fed with “ready–made” facts and conclusions. The individual written work consists of a series of short essays and one long essay’, and all is done with a university Institute of Education in close proximity and which regulates the course. Thus training will be done using the best techniques of modern education, and especially adult education, which will be essential for effective lay training during a man’s ministry, and teaching which he might be called upon to exercise within a school situation.
In a similar way, Moss suggests, training must fit clergy to exercise pastoral ministry, and to help lay Christians in the exercise of pastoral care; using contemporary insights from psychiatry and social case–work, in an introductory study of the individual in his social environment, and in learning the skills of interviewing and counselling. Further, clergy need to be able to lead the Church in sensitive awareness of society, and in its adaptability to a time of rapid changes. The temptation for clergy is to retreat into “religion” and the domestic affairs of the Church. It is important therefore ‘that theological colleges..should have their windows wide open to the world… particular attention should be paid to those social factors which directly..affect the local church’s evangelist and missionary strategies… the clergy ought to be receiving in their training at least an awareness of the relevance of social studies for their ministry. The simplest way of doing this would be to establish a link between the theological college and the university Department of Social Studies’. Not surprisingly then, Canon Moss advocates fewer and larger theological colleges, of a hundred to two hundred men, concentrated on a campus near university centres, able to teach both types of college course, with recourse to the education and social studies departments in the university; which would be more economical and able to justify a good staff ratio.
There were, however, other voices to be heard other than those which called for change in ordination training. In 1962 CACTM produced a booklet, University Courses in Theology, with an Introduction by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey in which he wrote: ‘Theology is a vocational as well as an academic subject, and competence in it is as necessary for the ordained minister or for the specialist divinity teacher as is medicine for the doctor or law for the solicitor.’ Further, Dr Ramsey in a sermon at Chichester Theological College in 1965 said, ‘But the universities cannot do it all. By the time the ordinand has graduated, there is still, even if he has graduated in theology, a lot he must learn. The various bits of theology, especially if they have been studied critically, do need to be integrated and brought into a vision of the wholeness of theology. And so too the theology needs to be integrated with the man himself: his prayer and his life. And that is a process, a process of quite two years, and I do not believe it can be hurried, nor do I believe it can be dichotomised. No idea, I believe, is more fatal than that you first learn a lot of intellectual stuff and then go on somewhere for a sort of year or so of devotional and pastoral top–dressing to crown the process. That is a terrible fallacy because devotion divorced from theology and life can be a terrible thing, and theology without devotion can be a very depressing kind of gymnastics. And just because the theology, the devotion, the learning of pastoral and priestly life and the growth of the man himself are all of one piece, the great work of the theological college cannot be cramped. It must still go on. Let it go on with as much time as is needed to perform its task, and with enough resources, for it is there, I believe, that the heart of the Christian priesthood is to be found, the heart of the priest who really loves and cares for his fellows, and also has a life hid with Christ in God.’
J. G. Davies, Professor of Theology at Birmingham University in Theology October 1964, was urging the desirability of post–graduate study for ordinands and by those already ordained. ‘The ability of the Anglican parson was once stupor mundi; it has ceased so to be, with no compensating increase in pastoral effectiveness.’ The clergy should ‘regard such activity as an essential part of their ministry’.
1964 saw the publication of the influential Paul Report on The Deployment and Payment of the Clergy. Hailed as an authorative and professional analysis, unfortunately it was based on false assumptions. Its author, Leslie Paul, had behind him a decade in which the number of ordinations and the general state of things – church attendance, finance – had been steadily improving, and he assumed this would continue. But the fact was decline was about to set in, and set in fast. Paul’s predicted numbers of ordinations for the next nine years were regarded as a ‘conservative’ estimate (i.e. on the low side); in the event they were far too over–optimistic, and the Church was grossly misled. Figures below show Paul’s predictions as opposed to those actually ordained.
The Central Advisory Council for the Ministry in 1965 launched a series of booklets on the Church’s ministry, for would–be ordinands; the first of which, The Ordained Ministry, the Council invited the Warden at Warminster, John Townroe to write. ‘The 1960s are certainly not dull years,’ he wrote. ‘Change is everywhere… No wonder then people are asking questions about the ordained ministry of the Church. They want to know what it is for… the ministry of the Church is not a matter for clergymen only. Every Christian is involved in it. To minister means to serve; and to be a Christian is to be a servant of God… There are also ministers appointed in the Church by the formal act of ordination… for special functions within the ministry of the whole Church. Ministers are ordained not only to do, but also to be. They are to be men for God… for whom God is real… to be men who give up their lives to God… what men are in themselves counts for more than what they do… the quality of what they do depends upon what they are… what he is speaks louder than what he says.
‘What is the ministry of the whole Church for?… to bring to all the world in every age the results of the unique ministry of Jesus Christ. Through the self–giving of Jesus in life and death, pardon and power came into the world. Through pardon came the power to love and obey God from the heart, and not merely as a duty… the power to live as God meant men to live – in maturity and freedom. It was God in Christ who brought it. The results for the world have been revolutionary. A new way of living has been opened for mankind. But the revolution does not come automatically: people have to enter into it. Only those who come to know and trust Christ can experience for themselves the new order of life… This is where the ministry of the Church comes in: God uses it to bring to the world the radical changes brought about by Christ… What does the ministry of Christ in his Church do?… worship God; baptize; teach; proclaim; reconcile; guide; heal; serve; intercede; suffer.’ Each of the ten aspects are then examined in turn.
Suffice to tease out a sample of quotes. ‘For the priest… prayer is a means of keeping open to God – and close to God… it is a life’s work to learn how to pray… nothing is more important… a true man of God is always a man of prayer… Jesus prayed for others’… he gave ‘time to this work… intercession, or prayer that God’s will may be done in others… must be reckoned an important part of the ministry… It could be said that [the priest’s] whole life becomes one of intercession… everything he does can take on this character of sacrifice in the spirit of prayer to God on behalf of others.’
[In 2007 John preaching in St Boniface Chapel to former students celebrating 40 years in the Priesthood, assured them ‘I am going to pray for each one of you by name every day for as long as the Lord allows’ – a commitment he has made for all who passed through Warminster in its 21 years.]
The Warminster notes for 1965–66 in The Kingsman were dominated by ‘The departure of the Sub–Warden, the Reverend Samuel Cutt, after nine and a half years of splendid service to the College… All who knew him will understand how great is the loss we are going to suffer in his going; and how great is the gain of Chichester Theological College… When Sam Cutt first arrived at Warminster in 1956, it was at once obvious that he carried his learning and academic achievements with modesty. From the beginning, he threw himself with enthusiastic loyalty into whatever work was laid upon, and turned his hand to any task, administrative or in the course of teaching, with great thoroughness. His lectures – for example, on the Parochial System, on moral Theology, on Canon Law, on Priesthood in the Church of Christ – were the fruit of many hours of careful pondering, as well as of extensive reading. His addresses in Chapel will be long remembered for the expression they gave, and gave increasingly, to his many interests and deep concerns, pastoral, historical, biblical, spiritual – with light and delightful touches from the lives of great composers and other colourful characters.
‘Above all, perhaps, in a College where so much work is done in open discussion, we all owe most to the nice judgement which Sam Cutt brought to bear upon the questions of the day. Many men will recall his remarkable capacity not only seeing the other person’s point of view, but also even more remarkably, for expressing it better than the other person… throughout his time at Warminster [he] has been first and foremost a priest of the Church of God.’
His successor was Colin Davey who joined in the Lent Term of 1966 after a year spent in Greece in special studies of the Orthodox Church; a Scholar of Emmanuel College, Cambridge [gaining a First in part i and a Second in part ii in the Classical Tripos, and a Second in part ia in the Theology Tripos], and then Cuddesdon, he was ordained in 1961 to a title at St. Agnes, Mosley, Birmingham. The College Mission took place at Winlaton–on–Tyne in the Diocese of Durham… the furthest point reached in adventures northwards. A striking transformation had come over the College buildings through the complete renewal of the Bath stone by a skilled team of craftsmen. The work had been undertaken by the St. Boniface Council – the greatest and most costly repair–work done in the last twenty years. The need was urgent: large pieces of stone were breaking away, and many surfaces crumbling. The Kingsman also reported that 186 of the 246 in the Faculty in the Strand were ordinands, compared with 204 of 265 in the following year.
In 1966–67 there were 54 men in residence at St. Boniface, which meant the College was full. The College had been divided into six groups, and an increasing amount of work was being done in these smaller groups; meeting for Biblical and doctrinal study; preparing questions for visiting lecturers; and to talk about matters of common concern. They met every Monday morning after Meditation with the whole College in Chapel, and developed on their own lines, meeting subsequently as need arose, and on one afternoon each week to say Evensong in rooms, instead of Chapel, and to continue in prayer and discussion as it wished. The group–method was seen as complementary to full College meetings, and not as a replacement. [This new innovation owed much to the fact that the Chaplain, Michael Taylor, had taken part in a Lay Training Institute in Salisbury and insights gained there in ‘group–dynamics’ were being employed in group–work in the College.] The Sub–Warden’s translation from the Greek of V. T. Istavridis’ ‘Orthodoxy and Anglicanism’ had been published in October.
The Warden reported that ‘The immediate impact of the Honest to God and the ‘New Theology’ controversy is now over… At one time it looked as if, in the College as in the Church, there might be a serious and harmful split between radicals and conservatives, to the detriment of both. Though this danger remains, it appears to be less threatening than it was.’
John Robinson had been appointed Bishop of Woolwich in 1959, and criticised traditional Christian theology in 1963 in his publication of Honest to God, in which he popularised the views of Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and to a lesser extent Rudolf Bultmann, resulting in a storm of controversy. Bishop Robinson argued that ‘Our image of God must go’; having rejected the idea of ‘a God up there’, modern secular man should also recognise that the idea of a God ‘out there’ was also outdated, and that Christians should take their cue from the existentialist Paul Tillich and consider God to be ‘the Ground of our Being’. Bonhoeffer’s ‘religionless Christianity’ was also a major theme of the book. Robinson interpreted this in a controversial way by suggesting that ‘man come of age’, secular man, required a secular theology, and that this had implications for worship and prayer. Jesus was ‘the man for others’ (another phrase taken from Bonhoeffer) in whom Love had completely taken over. Bultmann insisted on the need to ‘demythologize’ the essential message, or kerygma, of the New Testament, as it was a stumbling block to the intelligence of modern man. A further chapter on ‘The New Morality’ introduced ‘situation ethics’, based on the idea that moral codes are not set in stone, but may be subject to circumstances. Some theologians questioned whether Robinson had interpreted Tillich and Bonhoeffer aright. Nevertheless Honest to God became a best seller; over a million copies being sold. It was almost universally condemned by traditionalists, but hailed as a breath of fresh air by many radicals. Honest to God was followed in the same year by Paul van Buren’s The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, and both works were subjected to a scholarly and trenchant analysis and critique by Professor Eric Mascall of King’s, in his The Secularisation of Christianity in 1965. Christopher Evans (Professor of New Testament Studies at KCL 1962–77) described Robinson’s book as ‘a cri de coeur against any tying up of our talk about God with outmoded views of the universe which modern man cannot, with the best will in the world, adopt’.
If Honest to God was the standard popular text, Dennis Nineham’s Penguin Commentary on Saint Mark, which also appeared in 1963, was a scholarly, post–Bultmann approach which left no room for the old kind of miraculous supernaturalism, combined with a radical questioning of historicity. Coupled with this was the World Council of Churches dictum, that the Church should ‘Let the world provide the agenda’; liturgical revision; and the reforms following the Second Vatican Council, all of which led to the theological turmoil of the mid–sixties.As Trevor Beeson (KCL and Warminster 1947–51) described it in his Round the Church in 50 Years (2007), ‘The Confident Fifties’ gave way to ‘The Rebellious Sixties’, and a call from radicals for a ‘New Reformation’. The Parish and People movement, founded in 1949 as a pressure group for liturgical reform, in 1963, merged with a radical church reforming group, the Keble Conference Group, with Kingsmen Eric James, as its first full–time director, and Trevor Beeson, as editor of its journal, and became the spearhead for a new theology, a new liturgy, a new pattern of ministry, a new laity, and new and dynamic social action. The Keble Conference Group, formed in 1960, and taking its name from its venue in Oxford, had taken its inspiration from the group of radical clergy who had gathered in the diocese of Southwark around its Bishop, Mervyn Stockwood, and his suffragan John Robinson, one of whom was Nick Stacey, the dynamic young Rector of Woolwich, who had convened the first Keble Conference, and had, in a bid to revive the life of a small congregation, turned the crypt of the eighteenth–century parish church into a discotheque, housed the local Council of Social Services, and enclosed the galleries to form a coffee bar. The whole enterprise was soon dubbed by the media as ‘South Bank Religion’. 1963 saw in addition the ground–breaking Southwark Ordination Scheme launched for the training of worker priests.
Robert Runcie, principal of Cuddesdon, summed up the task for theological education in his Lent Letter for 1963 when he wrote, ‘The essential question in training for ministry is not “How can we organize theological training so that ordinands are en route to becoming priests who have the answers?” but rather “How can we organize theological training so that ordinands are en route to becoming priests who can face the questions?”’ (quoted in the ACCM Report Doing Theology Today but without acknowledgement).
John Townroe in The Franciscan (Vol. XXX Number 3 September, 1988) wrote in relation to the Anglican Society of St. Francis, that since the two world wars ‘Growth and maturity have taken place in a context of conflict. The churches and SSF felt the force of national and social disturbances, and had their own struggles, institutionally, intellectually and spiritually. Two books, outstandingly, reflected the conflicts and set some of the agenda, and still do. In 1953 the first English edition was published of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison; and in 1963 John Robinson’s Honest to God appeared. The repercussions of both books were felt immediately throughout the Church of England. SSF responded as did the Church in general with a mixture of reactions. It has been said that Bonhoeffer’s tentative ideas “were developed by a number of other Christians who greeted the secularisation of the post–war period as preferable to centuries of superstitions and oppression. They were convinced that the beliefs and organisation of the church would have to be changed radically” (D. Edwards, The Future of Christianity p.294)… Working in colleges during these years to the present day, I have felt the violence of the theological storms which have struck the churches, and which have caused some shipwrecks. I have seen how they have rocked the confidence of some ordinands (and some novices in SSF) in basic Christian practices such as worship and prayer, not only in England, but among Roman Catholic seminarians in America.’
Owain W. Jones in Saint Michael’s College Llandaff 1892–1992 writes, ‘There were, however, other problems which arose in the ‘modern’ age of the 1960s and contributed to the erosion of the quasi–monastic college discipline inherited from the past. Times were changing, not only in Llandaff but also in other theological colleges. The older disciplines were now thought by many to be oppressive, even unacceptable, and there seems to have been a general retreat from earlier positions of authority and obedience. More significant is the fact that in the sixties Anglican spirituality passed through a considerable crisis: “Much that had been written in the previous fifty years seemed unbearably ecclesiastical and narrowly pious. Was prayer possible any longer? If it was, must it be much more deeply involved with the inner and outer currents of life in our times?” It was a reaction against the Counter–Reformation spiritual techniques which had been adopted by the Anglo–Catholics of the late nineteenth century from Continental sources, and which had been cultivated in theological colleges, like St Michael’s, which had Anglo–Catholic Wardens or Principals. The devotional manuals of that period were now rendered obsolete because the sensuous, some would say exaggerated and unAnglican language, derived from these sources, was repellent to the modern mind. John Robinson was not the first to rebel for in Honest to God he quotes George Macleod who admitted to having a “bankrupt corner” in his library containing the platoon of bantam booklets enlisted at intervals to help one pray better. They had gone dead on him “because these books were conceived in medieval terms and we are not conditioned to read what they are really saying”. A number of writers responded to these challenges but it took time for their ideas to percolate downwards.’
When the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cowley celebrated its Centenary, it was to John Townroe they turned to deliver the Centenary Lecture in May 1966 (subsequently published, and then reproduced in Spirituality for Today Edited by Eric James in 1968). His subject – ‘Christian Spirituality and the Future of Man’. Quoting Father Congreve of Cowley in 1890 that ‘Each age makes bonfires of the last age’s ideals’, he takes as his starting point, James Erasmus Philipps writing in his parish magazine in 1866, that he was thankful to hear that the Days of Humiliation for the Cattle Plague [foot–and–mouth–disease] had been so well observed in Warminster, adding, ‘May we all own this chastisement as a loud call to us to amend our lives, and to walk more closely with our God.’ John uses this as an example of the change in thinking and spirituality between 1866 and 1966. This change he contemplates and evaluates – both its losses and gains. Here is ‘man coming of age’ (a phrase of Bonhoeffer’s – deliberately introduced by the lecturer, but one he believes to have been misunderstood), leading to uncertainty about intercessory prayer, and ‘a kind of darkness surrounding the whole matter of prayer’… but ‘At the same time… there are positive signs of a New Spirituality emerging, with a way of praying which is new in its expressions’, and he cites Michel Quoist’s Prayers of Life, which had captured the imagination of theological students. ‘Here are prayers which look to God in ordinary situations – in good times, as well as bad – and find God already present there calling men to sort out the evil from the goodness… here are… the prayers of man coming of age, who walks with God’, without attempting to banish Him from his world or escape from the world into pietism. ‘It may be significant (I believe it is) that Prayers of Life was not written by one man alone… It stemmed, says Abbe Quoist, from a group of committed Christians… these prayers were both lived and prayed… Surely this is how you should expect a genuinely contemporary spirituality to appear… It needs to grow from life… from one special and holy life… the common life of the Body of Christ.’
‘What seems to be new, or at least renewed… is the sacredness of the material world… as God’s Creation… a new emphasis on human endeavour… in working for human well–being’, as opposed to God wanting only souls, and this is apparent in Teilhard de Chardin’s Le Milieu Divin. A link is seen here between de Chardin and Bonhoeffer – ‘that God comes to us and sorts us out, both in our weakness and in our strength… and holiness given’.
There is a loss in the secular view of the world, of the sense of God, but also gain – ‘not trading with God as if with a universal provider, but walking with him as a growing son should walk with his father. Treated like this, the secular view of the world becomes a liberation.’ There ‘has been a loss of confidence… it leads some to give up praying… [some] written prayers and hymns… are objectionable, because they express a view of God which… has been largely consumed by the bonfires’. There is gain; ‘the darkness or cloud of unknowing… can be liberating… it can free man from childishness in prayer, and… make him humble… before the mystery of God… And if this state of darkness is understood and peacefully accepted, the prayer – the simple, contemplative, meditative prayer – in the darkness corrects as nothing else can the distortions in man’s soul. So by this means man is freed from the evil of the world which has found lodgement within him. Then Christian man can go out to correct the distortions which evil has worked in the world, and so reclaim areas of the world for God’s dominion.’
Regarding the notion of chastisement, ‘there has been perhaps a serious loss in the sense of God’s righteousness, and his demand on men for righteousness’. But there is gain – ‘One of the services rendered by psychology to spirituality is the revelation of those buried fears, and those horribly distorted ideas of God, which twist and torment the soul… [the] subconscious view of God as a policeman… an angry and hostile policeman… for ever trying to catch us out! The house of the soul needs to be swept clean of these devils; and it can be done only by the incoming of another view, the view of God seen in Jesus Christ. When the soul learns to rest in Jesus, trusting His absolute goodness in which there is no darkness at all, then the shadows of servile fear will be dispersed, and Jesus will show us the Father… And out of our uncertainties over chastisement can come a clearer knowledge of the goodness and severity of God, as being two aspects of the one Love – the Love of the Divine Lover who wills all blemishes to be removed from the beloved.’
Having contemplated and evaluated the change from 1866 to 1966 he indicates what this means for the future. ‘First… the secular view of the world has come to stay… It seems very probable, under God, that the next hundred years will see such an extension of man’s control over his environment that mankind everywhere, in countries not yet developed, as much as in technically advanced and industrialised societies, will grow out of a former “dependence on heavenly powers to put right the evils of life”… When this happens, it will be a dangerous moment… because then virtually the whole of mankind will be rather like the young man come of age, who enjoys his new independence, and imagines that he is no longer dependent on anyone… man may become cock–sure, thinking that he has abolished God, and that he himself has become as a god, like a titan striding over the earth… entitled to use the earth without restraint as he will. That way lies a monstrous evil, for then demonic powers will take possession of the earth. Or there is danger in the opposite direction… man could be lost in his new–found independence… He could lose his sense of direction, of purpose in life, no longer seeing the purpose God reflected in his daily life… he could lose his nerve. Then would come despair, and even the taste for life itself would be lost. But it is not the World only that will feel the invasion of these threatening forces, it is also the Church… Already we see in the Church the temptation to lose our nerve, and perhaps know it within ourselves’. There is the choice between despair and hope. ‘If we take the way of despair, we are leaving the world to fall a prey to titanism, or demonic powers, and perhaps eventually to self–destruction. If we take the way of hope, we have to realise what a task we are committing ourselves to, a task that requires nothing less than the resurrection of belief in God.
‘The Liturgical Movement has done much to restore the corporate sense of the Church’s worship… this… matches the rising corporate sense in the world… Wherever you go… in spite of all the divisions… [there is] a great yearning for unity… Christian unity has undoubtedly derived some of its impetus from this universal desire… this is of God’s doing: it is his purpose that mankind should become one… and both come within the scope of Christian Spirituality. Nevertheless, the bigger communities… need the support of smaller units or groups, in which we can experience true community… in our conurbations… People can get lost… become dehumanized. Therefore, the new spirituality… the new humanity, requires for its nurturing the small group or Christian cell, such as the one which produced Prayers of Life. And the saving work of Christ in our midst is perhaps seen specially today in this, that He keeps men human, or makes them fully human for the first time, when they are surrounded in the world by so much which dehumanizes them. That man should become fully human: this will be a theme of the Christian Spirituality of the future. But with it there must be the major theme on which it depends, “Let God be God”, or let God’s absolute lordship be acknowledged… to affirm God in every circumstance of life is also the best contribution man can make to his own future… It was to this affirmation of God in 1866 the Vicar of Warminster was calling the townspeople in their time of trouble, and his call to “amend our lives and walk more closely with our God” holds good to–day, whatever the bonfires may have done to the form and ground of his call.’
The 1967–68 edition of The Kingsman saw the Warden writing, ‘The question is often asked whether the Warminster Course changes much from year to year. The answer is yes and no. Some features do not alter, while others are frequently modified to meet new needs and new conditions. There is no wavering in the determination to provide the richest possible opportunity of learning how to study and to think for oneself without examination–pressure, so that a habit of reading will be formed that persists through the strains of parish–life. In the same way, there is no change in the aim of giving as much time as possible for private study and the development of special interests, balanced by the claims of the corporate life, with its many seminars and group–discussions, and by the valuable stimulus derived from outside, particularly from visiting lecturers. There is also no letting up in the effort to provide the best opportunity that can be devised for learning to pray in such a way that prayer will not be one of the first casualties when, later on, the conditions may become less favourable.
‘On the other hand, no year goes by without there being many detailed changes in the programme and in the arrangements of College life. Further, there is a constant development going on in the way subjects are approached. For example in 1967–68, under the general title of “Doing Theology Today”, the whole College is committed, for its corporate studies, to a sequence of theological investigations. In the Michaelmas Term, the question posed is “What do you think of Christ?”, and the concentration is upon Christology and doctrines of God, with related studies on ways of praying, problems of preaching, and mass culture. In the Advent Term, the question is… “What do you think of the Church in God’s World?”, with particular reference to the doctrines of creation, sacred and secular, symbolism and liturgy; and with attention to social services, sociology, unity and mission. In the Lent Term, the focus is on “What do you think of Man?”, looking at man in his predicament and at the Gospel–message of salvation. In the Easter Term, shortly before the Trinity Ordinations, the question is “What do you think of Christian Ministry?”, taking up the themes of the current debates and working towards a sufficient understanding of what is to be undertaken on Trinity Sunday.
‘Complementary to the Course within the College are the many outside activities, which include work done in Sambourne Hospital among old people; work with the disabled in the Club run by the Red Cross locally; work undertaken in Youth Clubs around Warminster; teaching in local schools; visits to social service centres in Wiltshire; exchange visits with Downside Abbey and Tyndale Hall; week–end visits, under the ACCM Scheme called “Opportunity Knocks”, to a total of forty–five parishes in the Dioceses of Oxford, Peterborough and Bristol; and the College Mission, which was held this year in the parish of St. John’s, Seven Kings, Ilford. Next year’s Mission, in March, 1968, is to be in the parish of St. Lawrence, Catford.’
The Memoranda prepared for the inspectors appointed by CACTM in 1962, and for ACCM in 1967, give an outline of the syllabus and time–table for study – ‘The main object of the “Warminster Year” is to prepare men for Ordination. But this is – or ought to be – a many–sided business, and the syllabus includes many different subjects, as the list of Visiting Lecturers [some 40 in the year prior to inspection] indicates, which we believe ought to receive at least some attention in pre–ordination training. In this way, the men are given introductions to many matters which will have to be followed up in more detail later.
‘We seek to continue the theological education of the students in such a way that they cease to think of “academic theology” as something quite separate from “pastoralia” or “spirituality”. The Year could be described as a prolonged exercise in understanding how right action springs from right belief. We are always uneasy, therefore, whenever people speak of this Fourth Year as if it were a “devotional year”, with little or no serious attempt to pursue the study of Theology. Although our men are in the unique position of having done their final Examinations before entering upon their last year of training, they are not encouraged to think that they have left Theology behind them in London. On the contrary, they are given daily proof in lectures, discussions, tutorials, conversations, private reading, and so on, that they have only just begun to study Theology, if by this term we understand the living knowledge of God, and a way of looking at life and of meeting all situations. It is in this spirit that the weekly time–table is drawn up.’
8.45 am Mattins
9.30 am Parish Eucharist (in the Parish Church)
10.30 am Breakfast
1.00 pm Dinner
4.00 pm Tea
7.45 pm Supper
MONDAY – FRIDAY
6.45 am Calling
7.30 am Mattins and Holy Communion
8.30 am Breakfast
9.30 am Meditation
10.00 am Lecture or Private Study
1.00 pm Mid–day Prayer
1.15 pm Lunch
4.00 pm Tea
5.00 pm Evensong
5.30 pm Lecture or Private Study
7.00 pm Supper
8.15 pm Lecture or Private Study
9.45 pm Compline or Recollection (On Friday, Address at 9 p.m.)
7.30 am Calling
8.00 am Holy Communion
8.30 am Breakfast
9.30 am Sung Mattins and Choir practice
11.00 am Sermon Classes
12.45 pm Lunch
4.00 pm Tea
7.00 pm Supper
10.00 pm Compline
Silence is kept in all corridors and public rooms throughout the College from Compline or Recollection until after Holy Communion.
From Monday to Friday, Mattins, Meditation, Evensong, Compline and Recollection are of obligation; on Saturday, Mattins and Compline; on Sunday the Sung Eucharist. Holy Communion is normally attended by the whole College on Wednesday.
“Recollection” on Monday and Wednesday alternating with Compline, was a period of silent prayer for a quarter of an hour, briefly introduced with the Lord’s Prayer and a Collect, and concluded with the Grace.
The weekly programme changed a great deal, within the daily time–table, governed partly by the requirements of visiting lecturers, partly by the internal needs of the College. The programme for the week was given final form at the staff meeting on Sundays, when the progress of the College and individuals was discussed.
John Townroe’s comment is, ‘I believe the daily 25 minutes of Meditation at 9.30 am, spent all together in silence in the Chapel, was probably the most formative part, next to the Eucharist, of our life together. It combined discipline with freedom.’
The other significant news from Warminster in 1967 is ‘that the Chaplain, Michael Taylor, who has served the College so well for over three years, will be leaving after Christmas’. The Warden writes, ‘He has made an invaluable contribution to the development of the Course, especially in connection with the growth of group–work. He has managed to pass on some of the most useful insights of group–dynamics with a light touch and a steady sense of humour. His other special contributions have lain in the administration of the Teaching Weeks, and in the organization of the College Missions. Our gratitude and best wishes go with him as he takes up his new appointment as Vicar of Clayton–le–Moors in the Diocese of Blackburn.’ He was to be replaced by Robert Lewis, assistant curate at Kirkby, near Liverpool. Educated at St. Peter’s Hall, Oxford, where he read Theology and at Cuddesdon. He had done his National Service in the Royal Engineers, serving at the NATO Headquarters in Paris; and later attended the Graduate School at Bossey.
In the October, 1964, issue of Theology, an article by Richard Hanson, Professor of Theology at Nottingham, noted that out of fifteen universities with Theological Faculties or Departments eight had no Anglican Theological College in the vicinity, while there were fourteen colleges not ‘near enough to universities to be able to take advantage of their courses’. The situation was clearly ‘illogical and inefficient’. The university school of theology and the theological college ‘are complementary and need each other, and can mutually benefit from each other’s presence’.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, at the request of the Principals’ Conference and ACCM, invited a small Working Party, with Sir Bernard de Bunsen as Chairman, ‘to consider the problems of the Theological Colleges of the Church of England’, arising from the steep decline in the numbers of ordinands. In 1955 began the ten–year ‘boom’ in the supply of ordination candidates which was to end in the ‘slump’ of 1965. Caluum Brown in his The Death of Christian Britain (2001), saw this as the period when the post war religious revival ended and when Church life started to decline. The number of candidates recommended for training fell dramatically from 737 in 1963 to 472 in 1965. In October 1967, only seven of the 25 residential English colleges had numbers at or exceeding their maximum accommodation; three colleges were less than half full. Its hard–hitting Report, Theological Colleges for Tomorrow (the Bunsen Report) was published in February, 1968. It went into great detail and made many recommendations; notably, that for both educational and economic reasons it was desirable to have fewer and larger colleges, situated close to a university with a theological faculty. The proposals to close some colleges and group others inevitably aroused a great deal of controversy. The maximum capacity at King’s was 205 and 54 at Warminster. Numbers in the 1967–68 Kingsman indicated that in the Strand there were 184 ordinands in a faculty of 239. Warminster in October 1967 had 44 in residence. A comparison was made in the Bunsen Report of the cost per student in the various colleges; the average was £404.1 per annum; St. Boniface came out as the second most economical at £352.8 per annum. The Report notes that ‘In King’s College, London, of those who successfully completed the ordination course in 1966–67, 61% obtained an AKC and 39% obtained a BD (either pass or honours). Thus King’s College in its own way plays its part in training non–graduates in a university setting.’
The Kingsman for 1967–68 reported that ‘October saw the beginning of yet another revision of the BD Syllabus. The double–structure of BD and BD Honours is at an end… The new degree course retains the basic features of the Honours BD, but now allows for a pass category of result in addition.’ This change in the format of the BD no doubt resulted from the problems being experienced in the failure rate relating to the BD Pass degree, which was said to be ‘causing the [University of London] Board of Studies in Theology considerable concern’. In the Universities Quarterly, Spring 1971, an article, entitled ‘70 per cent’, by a former King’s BD Pass candidate, John Richling, ‘claimed that the Theology Faculty of King’s College, in the University of London, had a failure rate of at least 50 per cent in the BD (Pass) degree over a number of years, e.g.
1965 50 per cent
1966 53 per cent
1967 70 per cent
1968 about 68 per cent’
[The BD Honours results however, never fell, during the same period, below a 90% pass rate.]
In the case of ordinands at King’s who failed the BD, results were assessed, and on the strength of those the majority were awarded the AKC, and were thus able to proceed to the fourth year at Warminster and ordination. Many questions could be posed about the situation, but the fact remains that a number of King’s ordinands, during those years, having completed the three year degree course, went to Warminster having suffered at the hands of a most unsatisfactory examination system. It is interesting to note that the author of the article indicated that the marking system in 1969 was changed by the University, in line with the BD Honours degree (instead of papers being given exact percentages, and candidates being allowed to fail on only one paper, they were graded on an A B C D basis) and ‘the failure rate came down to the region of 18 per cent! Examinations under the New Regulations were held for the first time in 1970, and the failure rate [was] in the region of 16 per cent.’
Returning to the Bunsen Report, the comment was made, ‘One year of “withdrawal”, as ordination is approached, remains a possibility (as in the King’s London–Warminster course), but at the price of breaking training into two parts, the study of theology in one environment followed by a quite separate period of devotional and practical training in another. We think that for most men a unity of theoretical and practical study of theology in an “open” college environment is desirable, and for this a larger theological college would be more suitable than a smaller one.’
Amongst the Report’s suggestions was that the ‘King’s College ordination course should remain as it is at present (but we recommend consideration of a better alternative to Warminster for the fourth year).’
The Archbishops, in consultation with ACCM, set up a Joint Planning Group which issued their First Report, ‘On the Reorganisation of the Theological Colleges’, on 16 September 1968, reporting under the heading King’s College, London, ‘The fourth year of the course has for many years been carried out at St Boniface College, Warminster. This is now to be moved to St Augustine’s College, Canterbury, in 1969, a move which offers a number of advantages, and which was welcomed by the Archbishops’ Working Party.’
Gordon Huelin in his chapter on ‘The Theological Department’ in his 125th Anniversary History of King’s, related, ‘by the late 1960s nearly twenty years had passed since the Warminster experiment was first launched and times were changing. One recalls the enjoyment of a visit to the College on a spring afternoon: the game of croquet with some of the students on the lawn; the stimulating discussion supervised by a member of the staff; the delivering of the lecture which was the main purpose of one’s visit; and finally the sharing in worship in the beautiful chapel. It was a delightful experience in a peaceful setting: but cuts made by British Rail in the train service made Warminster increasingly inaccessible, while scope afforded by the surrounding parishes with their small congregations was limited and did not provide ordinands in their final year with an encouraging prospect of the task ahead. The information that another former missionary theological college, St Augustine’s, Canterbury, was vacant offered fresh opportunities, and the College Council accordingly appointed a committee to look into the possibilities of obtaining this as a new home for the fourth–year course. Negotiations proved successful, and an overwhelming majority recommended that the move to Canterbury should take place.’
Eric Mascall in his memoirs, Saraband (1992), records that ‘a scheme of training [for ordination], unique to King’s, had been evolved which had acquired a very high reputation’. Warminster he describes as ‘a place where [the ordinand’s] final preparation for ordination could take place and where, free from the inevitable distractions of three years in the metropolis, he could spend a period of quiet study and thought and deepen his spiritual life’ and continues, ‘When in 1969 it was decided to transfer the fourth year to St Augustine’s, Canterbury, chiefly on the ground that this would offer more opportunities for experience of useful activities, I was in a minority of one in voting against the move. For I was convinced that, after three years in London, even if the third was kept in the Vincent Square Hostel, activities, useful or otherwise, were the last things that an ordinand needed.’
John Townroe writes regarding the move, ‘My position could be summed up like this: “having listened at the time to all the arguments, I was not convinced that the move to Canterbury would prove to be in the all–round best interests of King’s College London ordinands”.’ In the event only one member of the staff from St. Boniface moved to Canterbury; the Chaplain, Bob Lewis, as Tutor.
The Chaplain, Bob Lewis, wrote in The Kingsman of 1968–69 of the “outside activities” of the College in its final year ‘in the belief that they are right and proper extensions of this fourth year course, and not its saving grace’. Relationships with Wiltshire County Council and its various departments had been further forwarded; two teaching weeks undertaken in local schools, as well as a handful of men taking the odd period each week at Kingdown Secondary. Useful and enjoyable visits had been paid to Children’s Homes at Box, Devizes and Salisbury, to local youth clubs and Roundway Psychiatric Hospital. A climax of this work was reached in November with a ‘do–it–yourself’ Social Services Week. The ACCM ‘Opportunity Knocks’ Scheme had been continued in the diocese of Oxford, with visits to the Aldermaston deanery of Berks. in May and the Burnham deanery of Bucks. in November. The 1968 Mission had been to St. Laurence, Catford. Alongside this had been the regular Sunday commitments in about twenty local parishes; a much appreciated link that would now come to an end after many years.
The Sub–Warden, Colin Davey, wrote his concern had been that Warminster should be a bridge between Academic Studies and Parochial ministry. ‘First, by linking what is discerned in a given text or statement of doctrine as other men’s experience of God with their own beliefs and experience. And second, by translating these into a form which can be presented to others, either in preaching or in teaching or writing or through other media.’ He had also been concerned with Biblical Preaching. Biblical studies and criticism had often left men less, not more, capable of using the Bible in their ministry of the Word. Some had become bewildered, abandoning the Bible as an untrustworthy document; others reverting to a kind of fundamentalism and abandoning their Biblical studies as unhelpful – required only for examination purposes. As in archaeology, each strand of tradition was to be uncovered, evaluated, and then used as testimony to man’s growing understanding of God through Christ in the Church. He suggested that ‘it may be fruitful to use Scripture, as we use other men’s statements of doctrine, as testimony to what God has done among men, testimony which can be linked with our own and shared with others’.
The Dean, Sydney Evans, in the same edition of The Kingsman, wrote, ‘the Council of King’s College has made the big decision to move the fourth–year course in 1969 from Warminster to St. Augustine’s College, Canterbury. This decision was not made in a hurry but argued out at several meetings and from every point of view… it was emotionally as well as educationally a difficult choice for some of us to make – and we are sensitive about the feeling of a cut with the past which this decision would cause to many…’
Sydney Evans, in The Kingsman 1969–70 reflected on closure – ‘Nothing but gratitude and thanksgiving is appropriate at the end of twenty–one years of King’s College London at St. Boniface College Warminster. Regrets there will inevitably be, a sense of loss of a place to which many of us have become spiritually attached – chapel, library, garden, the indescribable involutions of corridors and staircases, local parishes and the Wiltshire countryside – all these peopled for us according to the date when we were there and associated with a formative year of growth in theological understanding and personal self–knowledge, in personal faith and prayer, in pastoral confidence and expectation – an association renewed for many in the annual retreat–conferences. We shall each remember those who were on the staff when we were there, but all of us will be especially mindful of John Townroe who as chaplain and warden during all the twenty–one years was under God the focal centre of imaginative planning, theological percipience, spiritual guidance and pastoral care. His has been a unique and influential ministry deeply affecting the lives of the one thousand and nine men who passed through the Warminster experience during that period.’ The Dean in his final address in the Chapel at Warminster said, ‘Those one thousand men who have passed from our London and Warminster course into the Church’s life at home and abroad know within themselves how immeasurably they and the whole Church have been enriched and strengthened by the devoted ministry here of this one priest. I will say no more. Whatever may be our individual personal feelings at this moment in time, there can be only one attitude appropriate at the end of these twenty–one years – and that is a heartfelt thanksgiving to God for all that has been done for his glory and for the salvation of men at St. Boniface College, Warminster.’
We began with a quotation; that it used to be said that King’s–trained priests had a particular stamp on them perhaps due to the influence of its Deans Eric Abbott and Sydney Evans. Most would, however, certainly agree that when one thinks of the King’s–Warminster course, there was a third important member of a ‘trinity’ who had a profound influence on its products, and that was John Townroe. No doubt in acknowledgement of the enormous contribution he had made to the College, the diocese, and the wider Church, the diocese of Salisbury appointed him an Honorary Canon and Prebendary of the Cathedral in 1969.
Life after Warminster
Under the Wardenship of Anthony E. Harvey the King’s fourth–year continued at Canterbury, with the number of staff increasing to four, and with 57 students on roll. Expenses in the first year were almost double those of Warminster – £37,821 at Canterbury, compared with £19,501 in the previous academic year at Warminster; additionally the College experienced escalating costs forced on all institutions by the inflationary pressures of the national economy in the 1970s. This coupled with the drop in the number of ordinands – from 57 in 1969 to a little more than 30 five years later, meant that changes had to be made if the College was to continue. Plans were submitted to admit theological graduates from any university in addition to those from King’s, and the course extended to two years in line with other theological colleges. The proposal was considered by the House of Bishops in October 1975 and was rejected on the grounds that it amounted (in their view) to setting up a new theological college, for which the times were clearly not favourable. Consequently, St Augustine’s closed at the end of the summer term 1976, and teaching for the theological AKC as a qualification for ordination came to an end. From 1909 the ‘non–theological AKC’ remained (and still remains) for students who followed a course of religious studies in addition to their main academic studies. In recent decades its scope has widened to reflect broad ethical, philosophical and social issues.
For John Townroe there was ‘Life after Warminster’. Bishop Fulton Sheen, then Bishop of Rochester, New York, who later moved to head his own TV station in New York, wrote to invite John to go and live in his diocesan seminary in Rochester as a Visiting Professor in ascetical theology. ‘Fulton Sheen was a charismatic, commanding and eloquent character who became known through his TV work as the Roman Catholic answer to Billy Graham. I agreed to meet him to discuss his invitation when he was staying in London (in a suite in Claridge’s, no less!), and we haggled over the tea–cups. In the end, I agreed to go on the understanding that I was completely free to teach and preach as an Anglican. He was very gracious and promised to pay more thousands of dollars I could ever have imagined.
‘So I went to America with the blessing of the Bishop of Salisbury (Joe Fison) who thought it would do me good after twenty-one years non–stop for KCL in Warminster. He was right. It did. As it turned out, I had three spells as a member of the Faculty of St. Bernard’s Seminary, Rochester, New York: January to June 1970; September to December 1975; and about the same in 1979.
‘I lived and worked fully in the huge Seminary, giving courses of lectures, some of them public, leading classes/seminars every day, going out into the Diocese to monasteries, convents, deacons’ groups, lay conferences, etc. in each case to give talks and engage in Question and Answer sessions. One of the most fascinating places was the Trappist Monastery of the Genesee (described in Henri Nouwen’s The Genesee Diary). It was an amazing experience, to be allowed to enter so deeply into the life of the RC Church in America, and of about 300 young men, some straight from the Vietnam War.
‘This time in the USA led to more ministry of various kinds when I returned to England, especially with the “Movement for a Better World” based in Italy and its “Communitarian Retreats”. Above all it led to personal ministry, as RC priests sought help from an independent source… In this country there was five University Missions, work with the Armed Forces (retreats and Chaplains’ Conferences), the Communities, with the base of personal work in St. Boniface Lodge, which is what endures.’
On King’s withdrawal from St. Boniface in 1969, the Lord Weymouth Grammar School, its near neighbour across the road, leased the College from the St. Boniface Trustees, as an extension to the school. John Townroe in his report to the St. Boniface Council, on the year 1988–89, wrote, ‘Just when it may have appeared to some that [St. Boniface’s] work was done and there was no hope of any future to speak of, it has emerged that the College is alive in a new and extended form, reaching into many parts of the world. With increasing revenues from rents, it has an increasing ability to fulfil the Founder’s aims.’
The Charity was originally established for the benefit of the Church of England, in particular (i) as a site for a college for education and training of missionaries to spread the Christian Faith in foreign parts, and (ii) the celebration of Divine Service in the chapel of the college in accordance with the rites and doctrines of the Church of England. The Charity’s funds were also to be used for any other object or purpose concerning the spiritual or temporal welfare of the Church of England or its members. Under a scheme sealed in 1980 the object was defined as the advancement of the Christian religion in accordance with the principles of the Anglican faith in all parts of the world and in particular but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing by the provision of education and training of priests and laymen of the Anglican Communion by the award of scholarships and maintenance allowances.
The Charity is operated by a Council, which meets annually, and a local standing committee which meets four times a year to consider grant applications. Members of the Council and Trustees number amongst them a good representation of King’s–Warminster men, and Canon John Townroe is included as a Consultant. The rent from the school and other income from investments provide funds for making grants, varying in size from about £200 to £3,000, to individuals and institutions in accordance with the objects. The grant–making policy was reviewed in 2001, and a decision made to attempt to allocate 50% of the grant budget to overseas projects and training, in order to ensure that the Charity’s worldwide missionary objects continue to be met. The remaining grants would be used for general training, book grants, sabbaticals and marriage support for clergy. The Committee also decided to actively seek out overseas projects worthy of the Charity’s support, instead of relying solely on responding to applications for assistance. The amounts disbursed in grants is not inconsiderable. 2008 showed that 94 grants were considered, compared with 77 the previous year; 17 applications were refused, and grants ranged from £150 to £2075 within a budget of £43,000.
Additionally Canon Townroe gives an annual report, and usually takes it as an opportunity to reflect, comment and draw the Council’s attention to what he calls his ‘attempt to read the signs of the times’, and to indicate initiatives which they might consider taking as a result. 2006 saw him reviewing the progress being made in relation to four projects the Council was seeking to support, namely: Support for clergy marriage; Clarification of the meaning of a Sabbatical; Clergy retirement and its problems; Assisting experiments towards a mission–shaped church. Of dissensions in the Church about women bishops, sexual orientations, what is sinful in behaviour – heterosexual as well as homosexual. The need for right relationship for the sake of a better world and the establishing of the Kingdom of God, and the pain and costliness of it. His conviction was that a religious revival has begun, and he ends, ‘I feel sure that the purest, strongest, and most enduring source of new life is that “quiet strain of piety and devotion in the Churches”.’ In 2007 it was the Conflict in the Anglican Communion and the dangers that lay ahead, together with what we mean by the Anglican Way. The following year the threats seemed not to be a schism of the Anglican Communion into two unequal parts, rather a shattering into a multitude of small pieces – a muddle, which required patience, and a steady nerve (in Christian language – a need to walk by faith). 2009 saw a post– mortem on the Lambeth Conference – ‘not leaving all the problems behind us, but with fresh hope and vision renewed. Divisions still, but not total fracture’, and a reflection on ‘the great economic storm which [has] hit the world… our plight is world–wide, inclusive, global… Is it fanciful to see here that God is seeking to bring the whole human family to its senses, to re–assess its values, and to recognise its inter–dependence and that the word of the Lord is that we must begin to work together as never before for the common, global good, or perish?’ Of the possibility of reaching out to our hard–pressed fellow Christians in modern China, remembering that three Old Bonifacians had been murdered or martyred in China in 1910 and 1912; two of the Chinese silk cassocks of the martyrs had been brought back and kept in the college library, until one was stolen; the remaining one is now kept in The Minster.
Always gratitude is expressed by Canon Townroe in his annual report for the support of the Council for St. Boniface Lodge, as a centre for the activities of the St. Boniface Trust, and as a location for his personal work and ministry ‘in caring for many different kinds of people, young and old, men and women, lay and ordained’.
As already indicated, John Townroe, after the closure of Warminster, devoted his ministry to teaching, lecturing – on prayer and spirituality; conducting retreats; and the exercise of the personal ministry of spiritual direction. At about the same time he was writing articles for various journals, and contributing to the symposium, The Study of Spirituality edited by Cheslyn Jones, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Edward Yarnold SJ, first published in 1986.
In October 1978 an article on ‘La Direction Spirituelle dans la Tradition Anglicane’ by John Townroe, was published in the French journal Vocation, in which he wrote [all quotations are from a translation of the French] ‘The foundation of this ministry of spiritual direction is the Anglican concept of priesthood. Anglicans find its definition in the priesthood of Christ. They see in Him the two aspects of ministry, the God–centred or liturgical ministry, and the Man–centred or pastoral ministry. They see in Him the model of liturgical adoration – the offering to His Father of Himself, the High Priest of the Epistle to the Hebrews; and they see, too, in Him the model of pastoral service – the Good Shepherd of St. John’s Gospel, who lays down his life for his flock… The priesthood includes both liturgical and pastoral acts. It is the continuation, across time, of the praying Christ and the healing Christ of the Gospels, whose love goes out to all those in need. It is the Spirit of Christ which, today, moves the disciples of the Lord to put themselves at the service of their brothers. Spiritual Direction is a special form of this service.’
The article in Vocation then continues by reproducing a contribution John Townroe made to The Franciscan (September 1978) under the title, ‘Notes on the use of Spiritual Direction’, in which ‘the right use of spiritual direction’ is seen ‘as one of the many means by which God seeks and finds us’.
In response to What is spiritual direction? John Townroe answers – Spiritual direction is an enabling ministry. It seeks by dialogue to enable people to respond to the Spirit of God, who is the true director, through whatever they may learn to discern as the movement of the Spirit in their lives at that moment. For example, it seeks to enable people to grow in prayer; to grow up as human beings; to walk by faith instead of being driven by fear; to find freedom in spirit by accepting whatever “yoke” of discipline fits them; to live within their limitations; to rely upon grace instead of “law”; and to lose themselves in the service of the Kingdom of God, for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s. In short, it seeks to help people to see God in their own situations – “enable with perpetual light the dullness of our blinded sight”.
What should we expect from spiritual direction? is the second question posed.
1. Adjustment of our focus in life. Our original vision (of God, of our purpose and our call) may fade or become distorted… in the laying out of our personal life before God, which is the substance of spiritual direction from our side, we shall receive an adjustment of focus, so that the vision is renewed.
2. Disentangling the threads of life. The various strands of personal life may get so tangled .. Emotional intensity .. pull the knots tighter, until people despair of ever getting free. A very important function of spiritual direction is to help to sort out the strands, and to clarify the issues.
3. Guidance in prayer. The Gospels show Jesus in a relationship of intimacy and openness with God, whom he confidently called “Abba, Father”. They show the disciples being invited to share this relationship, and the way of praying that goes with it. So it has been ever since: the Spirit of Jesus draws people today into the same relationship of trust and surrender to God, and moves them to pray – to express, intensify and deepen the faith–relationship. As for Jesus, so for the disciples of every age, prayer is an act of will to co–operate with the Father, so that God’s plan for the world may be carried out. Here lies the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. We should look to spiritual direction for help in exploring the implications of this for ourselves, both in seeking the best methods of prayer to suit our circumstances, and in the overall purpose of gathering up the whole of our life (“recollection”) in the loving offering of ourselves to God.
4. Consultation on a pattern or rule of life. Christians… may find great strength in having a simple, basic pattern of life, especially concerning the time given to prayer… Living an ordered life under the yoke of Christ is a discipline that brings joy. Leading an over–burdened existence under a weight of graceless rule–keeping crushes the spirit. It is the business of spiritual direction to enable people to recognise in themselves the difference between these two ways of living. When we see the difference, we can be helped to shake free from the servile way, and find the joyful way.
5. The opening of our grief…. a way of dealing with sin and the bad conscience it brings… Those who open their grief with a listening heart on their side as well as the director’s, will find that again and again they will ‘hear’ God’s voice – that God can seek and find and speak to them, sometimes through the director’s words, and sometimes in spite of his words.
6. The discernment of spirits. How can we be sure that a spiritual experience, such as an inner prompting, is from God and not from some sick part of ourselves?… The demonic – that is to say, the destructive, distorting and parasitic elements around us and within us – may parade as the divine. …Direction may be able to help us in detecting one of the surest signs that a prompting or line of thought is not from God, which is that it whips up over–anxiety, increases confusion, and robs us of peace and joy. God is a God of order: the demonic specializes in chaos.
The third question is What should our attitude to spiritual direction be?… in particular the approach needs to be by careful preparation .. surrounded by trusting prayer.
Is there a place for obedience in spiritual direction? Yes… the kind of obedience we may give to a doctor whom we consult about our health. There would not be much point in continuing to consult him, if we disregarded everything he said… there are times in life… when obedience may be particularly necessary, if we are to be rescued from the grip of our sickness.
Obedience to Christ is what matters supremely. This can be assisted by training in discernment… spiritual direction [is] an enabling ministry. To enable is to empower… The right use of spiritual direction can empower us to respond to the touch of the Spirit, and to be more open to receive his gift of ‘comfort, life and fire of love’.
‘Notes on Spiritual Direction’ was written from the perspective of the directee; The Epworth Review (Volume Thirteen, Number Two, May 1986) invited John Townroe to contribute to a series on ‘Styles of Counselling’ under the title ‘ Spiritual Direction’, but this time he writes from the perspective of the director. Both articles, as one might expect, cover a good deal of common ground. Looking back, John speaks of what he has ‘received from this resource as an Anglican… of having been supported… by a living stream of pastoral counselling in the Anglican Communion’. Those who ministered to him over fifty years each ‘had a different style… but each had a manner that was easy, yet purposeful; human, yet professional; strong, yet not overwhelming. I can see that they too were being upheld by the stream, but were also enlarging their viewpoints as the stream itself widened. For it is as if the stream is being fed by tributaries as it flows along. For example, one of the many recent tributaries to this tradition has been modern psychological insight. Another… a deeper understanding of what health and healing mean, and what is required to bring about wholeness. Another… a re–awakening to the importance for all human beings of trying to keep a contemplative/active equilibrium in living.’
‘…the Anglican style of pastoral counselling, past and present, at its best [is]… Not monologue, not dictation, no imposition of preconceived notions, but conversation… or dialogue… [which] has three qualities in it: honesty, gentleness and freedom… What is the subject–matter of this “conversation”? Practically anything – anything that is of importance to the person seeking help…
‘…the scope of this counselling is different from… say marriage guidance counselling or psychotherapeutic counselling. I want to avoid sharp distinctions between Christian… and so–called secular counselling. Both have human well–being as an aim, and the Spirit of God is surely at work everywhere to save and heal… The counselling I am describing is not problem–centred… Nor.. “client–centred”… It is… God–centred.’
Should counselling be “directive” or “non–directive”?… ‘it should be non–directive’… ‘On the other hand… counselling cannot help being “directive”… in so far as it is directing both parties to look Godward.’
The article goes on to consider the value of openness; attention; questioning; sacramental acts; reading, and guidance in prayer.
‘What is the best training for counselling?… the best training of all… is to allow oneself to be helped… Reading in the literature of Christian spirituality, ancient and modern… is essential… [it] can help a counsellor to understand… what may happen to others and what may best assist them… Reading in moral theology… in history… Less easy is reading in psychology… Must we choose between a very extensive knowledge and none at all?… a great deal that is valuable can be gained… by reading the books of reliable middle–men. …These are some examples of study which can gradually build up a reservoir of knowledge… to be drawn upon when required.
‘What about the danger of dependency in counselling? It is… inevitable that there will be, at least for a while, a dependency of some kind [examples are given of the driving instructor and the doctor]…. God alone is the true counsellor… The Holy Spirit alone is the reliable director. It is prayer… which keeps both parties in active touch with this truth…. Good counselling, far from prolonging immaturity of spirit, will lead people to live more and more responsibly in dependence on God alone.’
‘Retreat’ is one of two contributions in 1986 John Townroe made to The Study of Spirituality in which he writes: ‘To make a retreat, in the Christian sense, is to seek God and to rest in his presence in a time set apart for prayer and reflection. Solitude, silence and stillness, in varying degrees, are normally regarded as necessary conditions. But the essence of the experience is not a matter of having special surroundings. It can be discovered in the midst of the city, and in the course of everyday life. For retreat is a kind of spiritual journey, paradoxically accompanying the stillness, and it is a journey inwards to know God at the centre of all things. Formal retreat is but a planned and more prolonged way of entering what is always accessible everywhere.
‘Behind the practice of retreat, and influencing its development in the past and in the present, lies the idea of the desert. The desert in Christian tradition has symbolized the setting in which the traveller, stripped of non–essentials, comes face to face with God. It means a stark spiritual landscape with few landmarks, not to be crossed safely except by the highway called the way of holiness… It stands for a place of pilgrimage and passage from captivity to freedom. It represents a place of spiritual combat, where the powers of evil are likely to be discovered, without and within. In Christian eyes, it signifies the scene of temptation, and of Christ’s triumph after trial… Some or all of these features of the symbolism are likely to reappear in the making of a retreat. For the purpose of retreat is to dispel illusion, to set aside distraction, and to penetrate the crust of superficiality in personal existence, which can deaden sensitivity to the reality of God.
‘Properly understood… retreat is not an escape into unreality, but the very opposite. It is a time for facing the truth and for coming to grips with the real situation in the retreatant’s life. It can be a time for conversion. Consequently, a period of struggle may be necessary before the retreatant can enter into the peace of God, and experience inner “rest” in harmony with God’s will. For fantasies are slow to let go of their prisoners… Retreat can be seen… as the work of Christ in the retreatant overcoming the opposition, and setting the disciple free.’
‘Christian Spirituality and Healing’ is the second of John’s contribution to the symposium, where he indicates that ‘Between the twin poles of the passive acceptance of unavoidable suffering and the active care of health and work for healing, Christian spirituality moves with varying emphases, first in one direction, then the other.
‘In the twentieth century, Christian spirituality… has moved in the second direction, showing a more challenging attitude towards disease, and a wider concern for human development, personal and social. Wholeness in body, mind and spirit is presented as a goal to which ascetics need not run counter, and should indeed subserve. Wholeness and holiness, if not precisely synonymous, are regarded as related. The incarnation is seen to have implications for the redemption of every aspect of the world’s activity. At the same time, in society generally, a larger concept of health has begun to take hold, as meaning not merely the absence of sickness, but the realization of human potential…
‘It is in this changing atmosphere that the ministry of healing, as distinct from forms of “faith–healing” which deny the value of scientific medicine, has been renewed in the churches… A fruitful meeting–point between spirituality and medicine lies in the fact that it is the vis medicatrix naturae, the recreative power of nature, which brings healing. Physicians and surgeons do not directly heal anybody: they seek by their skills to remove obstacles to nature’s healing energies, as when they correct chemical imbalances in the body, or take away diseased tissue. Means which touch the human spirit, such as are employed in the ministry of healing by prayer and sacrament, may equally be seen as seeking to liberate and quicken by grace the God–given forces within human nature.
‘Three aspects of the subject attract attention, and developments in each can be expected.
1. Inner Healing, or the Healing of the Memories …there appear to be “blocks” in a disordered world and within human personality to receiving God’s healing energies. Such obstacles may be moral, in the form of unrepented sin… [or] due to emotional disturbances caused by past “wounds” to the spirit. Inner healing is concerned to bring to light the causes of inner pain; to help the sufferer to interpret them correctly; and to release the person from the emotional grip of the past. Prayer and meditation play a crucial part in this exodus from captivity. Deeper levels of the mind are reached in contemplative prayer, when the focus is upon God alone, and the soul waits upon him. Inner healing comes also in corporate worship… Closer union with God in the depth of the spirit thus brings an integration of the whole person around the new Centre, and it is quite usual for physical health to be improved.
2. Healing and Community. Diseases are caught in a diseased society. Environment counts, for better or for worse…
3. Varieties of Healing Ministries. There is in some churches a growth of less formal kinds of reaching out to the sick in the Name of Christ, alongside the sacramental ministries of Eucharist, anointing, laying on of hands, reconciliation of penitents, and occasionally exorcism. The dedicated use by every member of Christ of his or her personal gift of the Spirit enables the local church to become an actively healing community…
But, as with the mission to evangelize the world, so with the healing work of Christ in his Church, opposition abounds and the story is one of failure as well as success. God reigns, and the word is preached “with signs following”. But the end is not yet, and in Christian perspective the total healing of people and nations waits for the consummation of all things, when God shall be all in all.’
The Franciscan in January 1999 published what amounts to a reappraisal of ‘The Practice of Penitence’ by John Townroe, within which he raises the question – ‘What are the marks of the truly penitent? One mark is an absence of fuss about their failures. They are more interested in what God can create from acknowledged failure. A second is a refusal to be discouraged even by their serious lapses. A third is that they do not go back remorsefully to moan over the past once they have asked for God’s forgiveness. “Ask… and receive.” A fourth is a liveliness, a spiritedness, because the well–springs of life within them have been released. A fifth is confidence because they have discovered that Christ is reliable where as they themselves are not. How quickly he raises them up after a fall when they turn to him in penitence! A sixth is the humble awareness of living always under the Divine Mercy. As one person described it, it is “knowing that my state is ever and always one that calls for mercy”. A seventh is looking more at God and the signs of the Kingdom than at themselves. They look up more than down. This gives them an orientation towards the future.
‘The truly penitent are content to leave it to God to make them whole eventually. They see that their healing is but a tiny part of the New Creation in Christ. Their healing or perfecting will only be complete within the greater Whole, when God shall be all in all and when the Kingdom shall come in fullness. Happy are those who leave it at that!’
Dr Owen Chadwick in his The Founding of Cuddesdon (1954) observed that ‘a theological college has (if it is lucky) no history. There should be none to write. There are only anecdotes of members of staff.’ Robert T. Holtby in his biography of Eric Graham 1888–1964 (Principal of Cuddesdon 1928–1943) commenting on this wrote, ‘Certainly in the theological and devotional training of men for the Ministry the most important influences are inconspicuous, and colleges..tend to preserve their customs over the years, changes of staff notwithstanding. Neveretheless, in such a small community the personal influence of the Principal is bound to be of great consequence… the Principal embodies the whole ethos of the College and exemplifies its ideals… and the immediate and subsequent influence of the College on a man’s life and ministry could largely be explained in terms of what the Principal taught – could with greater truth be accounted for in the light of what he was… So much of his influence was intimate and personal that it is impossible to describe it in general terms, impossible perhaps adequately to trace it at all, and certainly its quality cannot sufficiently be conveyed by a catalogue of those events which most easily admit of historical record.’
In compiling this account of the Warminster Venture, the Editor has been acutely aware of the truth, which Robert Holtby eloquently expresses, of the significant and profound influence the head of a theological college has on its ordinands in their priestly formation. One recalls Edward King at Cuddesdon, and B. K. Cunningham at Westcott. Kingsmen, depending on their vintage, will be able to substitute in place of Holtby’s ‘Principal’, any combination of Eric Abbott, Sydney Evans, and John Townroe, and give thanks to God for all they received from them in and through King’s College, London at St. Boniface College, Warminster.
The Editor gratefully acknowledges memories contributed by the Very Revd Trevor Beeson; the Revd Canon Geoffrey Bird; the Revd Dr Colin Davey; the Revd Robert Lewis; the Revd David Low; Bishop Edward Luscombe; the Revd John Palmer; the Revd Leonard Skinner; the Revd Canon Michael Taylor; and the Revd John Wylam, but regrets, that due to space and costs, they have not been able to be included, but have been safely housed in archives.
The prayer used at the closing of the College as a Missionary College in 1941
Most gracious Lord, we praise and worship Thee for all Thy many and great blessings granted to Thy servants in this place; for Thy countless gifts of grace and mercy, of truth and hope and love, and for vocations to the Ministry of Thy Church given, proved and deepened, which have borne fruit in the lives of faithful Priests. And now we commend to Thee the future of this College, praying that in Thine own good time it may again fulfil the pious intentions of its Founder, but praying above all that Thy Holy Will may be done and Thy Blessed Kingdom enlarged, for the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom with Thee and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory now and for evermore. Amen.
The Editor thanks Bishop Edward Luscombe for drawing his attention to this prayer. Bishop Luscombe came to Warminster as a ‘Patriarch’ in 1962 in Deacons orders, and eventually became the Primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland. He has been a very regular attender at the annual Conference and Retreat through the years, and in thanksgiving for all he has received at St.Boniface he has very generously financed the publication of this history, for which we are enormously grateful.
It is certainly a prayer which bore witness to the reality of life at St. Boniface, and not least in that it had a continuing life from 1948 to 1969, and continues still to fulfil the intentions of its Founder through the work of the St. Boniface Trust.
Sources consulted in addition to those already cited in the text
F. W. B. Bullock : A History of Training for the Ministry of the Church of England 1875–1974
David Dowland : Nineteenth Century Anglican Theological Training 1997 – chapter 3
‘King’s College London: The Premier College’ 1976
Anthony E. Harvey : St Augustine’s College Canterbury 1969–1975 accm occasional paper no 7, March 1977
Adrian Hastings: A History of English Christianity 1920–1985 1986 & 1987
Ronald Jasper : Arthur Cayley Headlam 1960
Michael Manktelow: John Moorman 1999
John Moorman : B. K. Cunningham 1947
S. P. T. Prideaux : The Story of St Boniface Missionary College Warminster 1948
Memories of Warminster – George Hacker, Chaplain 1959 to 1964
The college had capacity for just over fifty men (double the amount of most other colleges, when you consider that they were only there for one year). As Sam Cutt said to me at the time: ‘We have it in our power to make or mar the Church of England!’
Each of the staff members had their own particular brief. John Townroe gave lectures on Christian spirituality, moral theology, the personal ministry and a number of theological topics, notably ‘creation’ and ‘the last things’. Sam covered a variety of subjects, including canon law, the Thirty Nine Articles, priesthood and the eucharist, and the theology and law of marriage. My brief was to teach pastoralia – all the practicalities of ministry, preaching, visiting, ministry to the sick, taking baptisms, funerals etc. Eric Abbott had given a superb series of pastoralia lectures while he was Dean of King’s, and the intake of 1959 were the first lot of students at Warminster who had not heard them. So there was a big gap to be filled. The expectation was that I would work through formal lectures, with the first term devoted to preaching, and the remaining terms to the other subjects, and I followed this pattern, though always with time for questions, and later supplementing the lectures with sets of duplicated notes.
The year was greatly enriched by the number of visitors who contributed to the programme. Many of these were one off – I particularly remember the occasion when the Abbot of Downside gave us a fascinating (and unexpurgated!) account of the workings of the Second Vatican Council. And long before the days of Myers Briggs, Fr Christopher Bryant SSJE in a single talk gave a deeply illuminating explanation of Jung’s eight psychological types, and how our preferences in prayer, worship, artistic and musical appreciation amongst other things are affected by whichever one we belong to. Not all were as good as these, but generally the standard was high, and there were few disasters.
Then there were the regulars. Probably the most influential was Fr Jim Wilson from the Guild of Health, who came every year while I was there to lead several days on the ministry of healing. He was about ninety, but had lost none of his fire, and sustained a demanding programme of two lectures during the day and an open forum in the evenings. John valued him particularly for the prayer sessions that he led each morning, in which he introduced us to the form of prayer that had brought him back to health after a serious illness in his forties, which he called ‘contemplative meditation’. But he made a big impact in other ways too. The teaching at King’s was very much in the liberal tradition, and it was interesting to see the astonishment sometimes on the men’s faces when Jim talked about the healings he had known that had followed from prayer and ministry. Yet they couldn’t call him a liar, and a number confessed to having had their lives turned upside down as a result of his visit.
Another regular was Ernie Southcott from Halton, a large working class housing estate parish in Leeds. He was a tall angular Canadian, with a hooked nose like an Indian chief; and he spoke with great fire and passion. ‘There’s a surplice on the Church’ was one of his favourite sayings, and he sought to remedy this in his parish by moving out from the church building into people’s homes during the week, both for worship and teaching and discussion. For several years I took a group of men from Warminster to his parish for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and it was a great inspiration to see it all in action. It was also pretty exhausting, as the house communions started at an early hour and there was always something on in the evening. He never spared himself though, and his tall figure in its black cassock could be seen tramping the streets of the estate before 7 am by men on their way to work, and again late at night when they piled out of the pubs.
Then there was Dr Frank Lake with his Clinical Theology sessions. We were never entirely comfortable with him, but continued to invite him year by year as we felt that his diagnosis of the human personality had important insights, and also dispelled for good any simplistic ideas that the men might have about sin and guilt. And we valued the way in which his psychological approach helped to illuminate some basic doctrines, notably that of the atonement in particular. But definitely, we felt, to be received with caution.
Each year also we invited a priest from the Orthodox Church to come and talk about his tradition and celebrate the Liturgy. Most years this was an exiled priest from Yugoslavia, a Serbian Orthodox, and he came with a young man who acted as his ‘choir’. He was delightful, but one had continually to remember that he came out of a situation in which his Church was under persecution, and so tended to see things very much in black and white. ‘Communism is an evil; we must crush it’, I remember him saying at our first meeting – but said with the most gentle and disarming smile. Needless to say he was not amused when one of the men, who we knew had communist sympathies, asked why we prayed for the exiled royal family in the Liturgy and not for Marshal Tito! As always it was good for us to be confronted by such people, and to realise how privileged we were living in a country where religious freedom was taken for granted.
A much more testing confrontation came with the annual visit of trades unionists from the aircraft industry. That was a real eye opener – not so much in what they said, but in the attitudes which came across – especially their suspicion of all in authority (and this included the Labour Party front bench and many leading Trades Unionists). Asked what newspapers they trusted to give a truthful picture in a labour dispute they replied surprisingly: ‘Only two – the Daily Worker and the Times’ (that was of course before the Times became part of the Murdoch empire). The Herald and the Mirror, traditional supporters of the Labour Party, were not included. It was a salutary experience to listen to these men, and take on board how they felt about society, the Church, and life in general, whether one agreed with them or not.
Another and very different sort of confrontation was the annual exchange visit with the conservative evangelical college, Tyndale Hall, in Bristol. The exchange lasted for the best part of a week, and involved about half a dozen students from each college and a member of staff. Two particular memories remain in my mind. One is of a Tyndale staff member, who was one of the kindest of men, and who wouldn’t have hurt a fly, explaining ‘double predestination’, a doctrine which, as far as I can make out, portrays God as a cruel and arbitrary tyrant. The other is of Colin Buchanan, who was a student at Tyndale at the time, and came on one of the exchanges. When it came to a public discussion about anything, the others left it all to him. And one could see why. He was a pretty formidable debater. Shades of things to come!
In practice the move to Warminster often came as a real shock to many of the men. They had had some experience of community life in their last year at King’s, when they lived in the hostel at Vincent Square, but London was on their doorstep then with all its culture and buzz, and they were part of a much wider student body. At Warminster there was no escape – either from the other fifty or so men living under the same roof, or from themselves. But that was part of the idea – a real ‘wilderness temptation’ before the start of their ministry. ‘Thou hast searched me out and known me’ – that was how John Townroe summarised the part that the college community played in the preparation of men for ordination in a lecture which he gave at the Theological College Staffs’ Conference in 1961.
If this is what you hope from a place, you must also have safeguards, and provision for help and guidance at the personal level. Part of our role as members of staff was to provide this. John Townroe set a wonderful example here – he had a very sure touch with people, seeming to know instinctively when to be gentle and when to be tough. And he had a way of putting his finger on what was really at the root of the trouble. The three members of staff met every week after church on a Sunday, and we spent a lot of the time on individuals. It was a new dimension in pastoral care for me, and I am very grateful to have experienced it (and I experienced it also at the receiving end, when in my second year I went through something of a crisis myself; and John saw me through it with his usual mix of insight and practical common sense). I am not surprised that many of the men continued to use him as a spiritual director after they had left the college, and that he was always much in demand at old students’ conferences and retreats. His was a very special gift. And it was good that when the college moved to Canterbury in 1969, he was able to stay on at the Lodge and share it with the wider Church.
I mentioned John’s practical common sense. The college chapel, which was beautiful and a joy to worship in, had one disadvantage – its chairs, which were uncomfortable for kneeling and gave out a scraping sound when moved. John managed to get some money to replace them with pews, and as things progressed a representative from the firm concerned duly arrived with a sample pew for our approval. It was a lovely piece of furniture and I could see no problems, but John immediately got down and knelt in it. The result was a number of modifications – minor in themselves, but making all the difference when it came to praying. An object lesson, and one which has helped me time and again in my dealings with architects and other professionals!
He was practical in spiritual matters too. The three members of staff sat at the back of the chapel, and he was quick to observe warning signs. I remember him becoming quite concerned about one of the men, because he always had his hands in his pockets during the saying of the Te Deum. I was the man’s tutor and John suggested that I looked into this. I don’t think I thought it that important, and certainly my half hearted efforts to probe got nowhere. But the man concerned had a lot of problems in his first curacy, and I have a feeling that had John been his tutor the story might have been very different. And there were plenty of other occasions when his keen observation averted trouble. As he himself said in that address at the Theological College Staff Conference already mentioned: ‘The member of staff is not much use pastorally until he has learnt how to use his eyes continually… The good shepherd keeps watch; and he cannot do this if his eyes are shut, or if he is so occupied with other things – perhaps with himself? – that he does not notice what is happening to his flock. Men and women unconsciously send up distress signals when they are in trouble, but these signals may be flashed in the smallest details of behaviour. An accumulation of such small signs may, in time, build up into a very fair indication of what is wrong’.
All in all my time at Warminster was an important and formative five years for me, and something I shall always be grateful for. It was not always the easiest of times, and the ‘wilderness temptation’ element was always there in the background. But one needs such times, if one is to grow at all, and like many of the two hundred and fifty men who passed through the place during those years, I am grateful for that side of things, as well as for all the enjoyable and inspirational things which came our way. Eric Abbott’s vision was a sure one, and the Church is all the richer for his having given it practical expression in that final year at Warminster. The college and that year were truly, in John Townroe’s words, ‘an instrument of Christ’s care’.
A Message from the Chairman of St Boniface Trust
The Council of the St Boniface Trust, Warminster, acknowledges with gratitude the considerable time and care Revd David Wilding has devoted to the research and writing of this history of the King’s College London’s tenure of the buildings of St Boniface Missionary College, Warminster.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has kindly commended it with the hope that it will be widely read and studied.
The objects of our Trust state that it will “help with the provision of education and training of clergy and lay people in the principles of the Church of England”. The Council, therefore, has pleasure in its task of promoting its distribution to as wide a readership as possible. We hope that it will contribute to the ongoing development of training and education in the Church.
The Venerable Robin Turner CB, DL
Since compiling The Warminster Venture the author became aware that the annually produced King's College Calendar contained, from the Theological Department, an Annual Report of the Council which it presented to the Court of the College, which often contained information which was not necessarily included in the AKC Gazette, and its successor The Kingsman. It is from this valuable source, which we add the following gleanings.
In the Report for 1948-49 was the appointment of the Reverend A J Trillo. 'The Council are assured by members of the Professorial Board that they will have in Mr Trillo a very patient and painstaking teacher of New Testament Greek, and this is always needed in the Faculty of Theology, where New Testament Greek is compulsory for the AKC and is studied to a far higher standard than in the General Ordination Examination; there are always students in fair numbers who find the language their greatest difficulty in the course.'
Greek continues to feature, in that in the following academic year, 1950-51, 'With some concern the Council learned of the seven failures in the final AKC examination, and noting that these failures were chiefly caused by the students' weakness in Greek, promised itself a discussion on this matter in the 1951-52 session.'
Subsequent to this in 1951-52 it is reported that, 'The Council made no move towards a relaxation of its demands for proficiency in Greek as a qualification for the AKC Diploma for theological students, and any exemptions from Greek automatically result in the loss of the Diploma.' Mention is also made that, 'For the third and last time the Master of Selwyn College, Cambridge [Dr William Telfer], acted as External Examiner for the AKC on behalf of the Central Advisory Council of Training for the Ministry … and he has sent reports to the Central Advisory Council in which he makes clear his great respect for the AKC; claims for it the status and standard of a Pass Degree, and particularly applauds the retention of Greek as a subject for examination without which no student can be awarded the Diploma.'
The Report of the 1954-55 Session makes a further reference to the AKC vis a vis the General Ordination Examination, when it comments on 'the comparatively small number of BD students (roughly one-third of the men in the Faculty) must be offset by an AKC Diploma, the standard of which shall be rigorously on the level of a Pass Degree. AKC men may be non-graduates, but with their four-year course they ought to be non-graduates of a special type, from whom the Church can look for a clergy of high quality. The entry for the AKC course is now so numerous that the College might serve the Church better by raising the AKC entrance-standard and thus making clearer the distinction between the Diploma and the General Ordination Examination as taken by other non-graduates.' Action was taken in this respect, when in the 1956-57 Calendar it was announced that, 'From October 1958 applicants for the AKC course will normally be required to have obtained a General Certificate of Education with five passes in at least five subjects, of which at least one is at Advanced level; one of these subjects must be English Language.' Prior to this the minimum entry requirement was five passes at Ordinary level. In October 1966 it was raised to include at least two at Advanced level.
In the Annual Report for 1963-64, 'The St Boniface College Council proposed, and the Council of King's College accepted the proposal that the hood previously awarded to members of the St Boniface Missionary College should be awarded to all King's College students who spent their final year of training at Warminster, including those students who having failed the AKC had in other ways satisfied the academic requirements for ordination, together with such older men who had fulfilled their special course of training at Warminster.'
The hood is black, of full (or Cambridge) shape, bound on all edges 1" nobilta purple (i.e. sarum red), silk, the cowl binding being set in by ¾".
THE AKC AND ACADEMIC DRESS
The use of distinctive academical hoods by alumni of theological colleges has been very thoroughly addressed by Dr Nicholas Groves in his Theological Colleges their hoods and histories (2004), and the author gratefully acknowledges his debt to him and his research in much of what follows.
The 58th Canon of 1604 decreed that '.. such Ministers as are graduates shall wear upon their surplices .. such hoods as by order of the universities are agreeable to their degrees, which no Minister shall wear, being no graduate, upon pain of suspension. Notwithstanding, it shall be lawful for such Ministers as are not graduates to wear upon their surplices, instead of hoods, some decent tippet of black, so it be not silk.'
The problem is ascertaining what is meant by a 'tippet'; an issue which has been much discussed and debated by students of Academic Dress. It has been argued to mean a black scarf, or alternatively a simple black shoulder cape, without a hood. It is generally agreed, however, that at some time non-graduates (literates) began to wear a black stuff hood, with no lining, which became known as the 'literate's hood'.
For theological colleges who took in non-graduates, there was a feeling their alumni should have a distinctive hood, and hence the creation of theological college hoods. In an earlier part of the main body of the text (page 14) we saw how in 1862 the Revd Dr Richard William Jelf, the Principal of King's College London, secured the right of AKCs to wear an academic hood which he himself designed. It is to be noted, however, that in King's case, unlike other theological colleges, it is not a 'college hood', but is specific to holders of the Theological AKC. 'Under the special sanction, dated March 26, 1862, of the late Archbishop Sumner, permission to wear a distinctive hood was given to Associates of this Faculty in Holy Orders.'
As colleges began to design their own particular hoods, with the introduction of colour and silks, individuals and one corporate body, began to question the propriety and legitimacy of such a move, in various periodicals, the press and the Church press. The AKC hood, along with other theological college hoods, was subject to such questioning by the Durham University Association. In The Durham University Journal July 5 1884, the Association made a presentation to Archbishop Benson of Canterbury indicating that his predecessor, Archbishop Sumner, is said to have sanctioned a hood of silk to be worn by the Theological Associates of King's College, London, so similar in form and colour [to the Durham MA], that it is generally impossible to distinguish between the two when worn by officiating ministers. Durham University having adopted Durham Palatinate purple as their distinctive colour in the MA hood, was very like the AKC mauve, and that the King's hood, worn by non-graduates, of silk and coloured, was an infringement of the 58th Canon of 1604, and requested the Archbishop to take action to avoid such confusion. The Archbishop declined to intervene, but this, and other representations, regarding the design, colour and material of theological college hoods, led to the Upper House of Convocation to revise the 58th Canon on February 15, 1882, when it decided that all college hoods should conform to a pattern - to be 'black, and not silk' but that each Theological College should, 'by discretion of the Ordinary', be allowed to introduce in it some slight variation, such as a narrow border, fringe, or binding, of some other colour than black, by which their own students might be distinguished.
It appears that King's, in conformity with the revised Canon, modified its hood in March 1885. As a result the AKC was thereafter edged instead of lined with mauve. A further, and final modification was made in 1909 to the design which we are now most familiar.
Theological AKCs, in addition, were allowed an academic gown; reference to which is to be found in a William Northam (Robemakers) Workbook of 1859. The gown resembles the classic MA design of black stuff, with a black button and cord at the back of the yoke, square-ended sleeves, inverted-T armholes, which may be bound ½" black velvet; the facings may be covered with black velvet also. The square cap, to accompany the gown, is bound round the skull with black velvet ribbon.
The date of 1859 indicates that the gown in fact predates the introduction of the hood in 1862. Could this in fact be the gown which alumni of the college wore during the period before King's enrolled its students for the University of London degrees, when it granted a general AKC to its successful candidates? It is not unreasonable to assume that following the College's decision to present its students for London degrees, Theological AKCs were permitted to adopt, and continue in the use of, the former AKC gown.
David Wilding. October 2021
The Warminster Venture was published by the St Boniface Trust in 2010 in book form. The book is Copyright © 2010 St Boniface Trust.
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