Thursday, September 29, 2022

Oral history 4) A weird crunch point

Extraordinarily, this led to the most significant period of formation that forever changed my life.   While I was urgently seeking graduate employment, the Baptist Union of Great Britain was urgently looking to appoint someone to succeed Ray Vincent as a full-time Secretary of Student Work (and Chaplaincy).  My only qualifications were some positive experiences with RHS and BSF!  As a twenty-one-year-old I seemed massively underqualified. Tentatively, I went up to Baptist House, 4, Southampton Row, Holborn, London for interview.  Ernest Payne was in his last year as General Secretary. The job was explained - I would be expected to visit and encourage thirty plus Baptist student groups around the nation and undertake all correspondence relating to student work (including the Commendation Scheme involving two months of sorting and passing on several hundred student names from churches to relevant chaplains.  And, significantly, to represent Baptist student work to my ecumenical counterparts. 

The role was bewildering with its responsibilities and demands. I did pray about it though my father was rather discouraging.  Never a great fan of BUGB I think he felt it was a retrograde step after my education!  Living in London with a risky ambitious project, funded on a shoestring, must have seemed a poor prospect after my EACCA hopes.  Nevertheless, as I sensed God was calling me to do this, relatives in the East End kindly provided free accommodation and board.  At the 1967 Annual Assembly, in Westminster Chapel, I was welcomed into the new position by Earnest Payne before the whole congregation.  Unfortunately, a serious nosebleed on the journey from Cambridge meant a fixed expression when the full church with crowded galleries applauded me. It all seemed unreal as I returned to take my Finals.  Having never been to any BUGB function I have to say I was greatly impressed.

Many descriptions survive of Baptist Church House in Holborn, but my experience of climbing the steps under John Bunyan’s stature, pushing open the large oak doors, passing Spurgeon’s statue in the black and white tiled entrance, opened a new world. I could hardly believe that I was working there! Ascending the stairs, past different departments, the Shakespeare Room (where we held worship) and the stunning Council Chamber, I reached my own office.  Room 32 which, though I shared it with the Stewardship Dept. overseen by Ungoed Davies and Jim Findlay, was rarely used by them.  A desk, old typewriter, paper, carbon paper were waiting for me. Fortunately, I had taught myself touch typing in my early teens, so I could cope with being my own secretary.  Instantly, I was catapulted into a crash induction course about what it meant to belong to the national Baptist family. Beginning the same day as the new General Secretary, David Russell I know he was definitely better prepared than me!  So much was to happen. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Oral History (3) Next big influence

Alongside church involvement, my academic life in sixth form blossomed enabling me to enter Jesus College, Cambridge in 1964.  Here a third extremely influential connection was made.  I joined the university Baptist society – the Robert Hall Society (RHS).   My three years in RHS coincided with a peak in membership and liveliness with a range of meetings (many weekly) – prayer, mission focus, bible study, social, Sunday afternoon speakers and, importantly, summer missions. This large group's breadth of theological views and experience challenged my development intellectually and spiritually.  Because it was so embedded in the Baptist denomination drawing speakers and serving local churches it fed healthy denominational commitment.  I served in several roles, including representing RHS on the Student Ecumenical Council meeting in Gt. St. Mary’s.  Each year I attended the Baptist Student Federation annual conference where members of thirty plus student societies across the UK met with BU and BMS leaders with much lively debate.  Each summer we shared in missions based in local Baptist churches.  In 1965 and 66, in Plymouth and Dorking, I learned the disciplines of door-to-door visitation, school visits and teamwork. It is hard to calculate how much RHS’s ethos impacted me. From my period (1964-7) seven contemporaries later entered Baptist ministry.

Entering my last year of study, specializing in geomorphology, I saw my immediate future in further academic study.  Though committed to the Baptist church family and local church leadership, I was miles away from thoughts about full-time ministry. Indeed, I rejected much of what I had seen of my father’s ministry, with its constant demands, financial restraints, and powerlessness when trying to lead a voluntary organization, full of strong personalities. I admired my parents’ sacrifice but sought another Baptist way of living.

Somehow, I learned of the East Asian Christian Colleges Association (EACCA) and its programme of sending new graduates to teach within Christian universities overseas. Impressed by the opportunity to serve in this way, I applied, was interviewed and approved for a two/three year term as a geography professor at Serampore College, India.  A happy combination of mission helpfulness with research possibilities! But my delight was brutally punctured a few months later by a perfunctory duplicated letter informing me that EACCA had collapsed, and all future commitments were cancelled. With only four months before graduation, I had no next step from Cambridge.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Oral History (2) Early formation

On August 24th I mentioned the 5,000 word project on my personal Baptist history. I shall only repeat a few words (Phew! relief!) but, perhaps, when I used the word 'inevitable' about the Baptist influence on the life you will see why. (Again, please ignore these posts if, understandably, they seem boringly personal!) 

My early life combines four main areas of early formation, all strongly embedded in Baptist life. The first involves being born into a Baptist minister’s family. Three Quickes are listed in the Baptist Union Directory 2000-2002. My father Walter George, commenced ministry in 1944; Stephen, my younger brother began in 1972 as did I.  Undeniably, the fact that two brothers ended up in Baptist ministry owes much to our parents’ vocation – a calling to which they gave themselves unstintingly.  My mother particularly influenced me spiritually, and I remember daily family life was dominated by church commitments. My father’s peak ministry was probably at Brunswick Road, Gloucester 1953-1961, with a large suite of buildings including Robert Raikes’ original Sunday School.  Sunday worship mornings and evenings were very well attended with the contemporary diet (as he described it) of ‘one Bible, one hymnbook and one order of service’.   Signs of decline were barely visible.

In Gloucester, through Sunday School, Boy’s Brigade and Junior Church my growing relationship with Jesus Christ was nurtured and declared in baptism in 1953.  Though an undramatic process it marked a decisive commitment, which my mother said she noted in my subsequent behaviour! This ushered in the second key formation influence.  I became immersed in the church youth group full of serious and gifted friends whose intensity of service and prayer was to impact many futures.  Taking services around village churches. holding our own prayer meetings, handing out Victory tracts in the streets, sharing in open air witness (with me playing the piano accordion) helped me mature in understanding and expressing my faith.  Each summer we reveled in Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) Summer Schools.  It is no surprise that three in our group eventually went into full-time service, one as a missionary and two of us as Baptist ministers.  Others became church leaders. I owe so much to this group. When my father moved from Gloucester to Arbury Rd. Baptist Church, Cambridge, in 1961, I continued strong commitment within a fresh youth group, with less intensity yet continuing nurturing through BMS summer schools.  Church life was lively with my father successfully initiating the first ‘All Age Sunday School’ in BUGB using US teaching materials!  Great days of Baptist life and witness.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

National mourning/thanksgiving

When I was seven I shall never forget the head teacher coming into our village school classroom and solemnly announcing that King George VI had died. For the first time I became aware of the monarchy in a personal way, and in the following months as we prepared for the coronation of Elizabeth II, like all school children, we were plunged into creativity, making crowns, painting posters, hearing about golden carriages and fine palaces.  The coronation itself was, of course, a great occasion, even if we had no black and white television to see it. .As a child I didn't understand much of the significance of our form of government with crown and parliament in tandem.  Later, especially when we lived in the US, did I realize more fully how unusual our democratic history and form of government is. 

But 70 years later as the nation mourns the loss of Queen Elizabeth, I really want to share in thanksgiving, for her qualities of service, duty, decency,  integrity, and so much more as she has exercised this extraordinary role.  But best of all, it is her Christian faith for which I truly thank God which, of course, explains her qualities of service.  In our morning worship we had a minutes quiet reflection when a series of slides were shown featuring key sentences from past Christmas addresses.  It was quite wonderful to see her affirmation of faith and hope in Jesus Christ and her willingness to share the message with the nation.  We are grateful for a woman of transparent faith who lived her long life in the glare of the international spotlight as a servant of Christ. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

The Baptist family

On Saturday, my reunions with former Spurgeon students were an utter delight.  Of course, I met several other members of the congregation. One man, slightly older than me was recognizable though his name had slipped my memory. A noted Baptist missionary he had served overseas for nearly twenty years before returning to minister in England, I knew him slightly through the Baptist network, and he shared how he had retired to the area to be nearer family.

However, I was a little startled to hear him say: 'We were upset and angry when we heard you were going to the States.  We said: Why go there when they already have plenty?  Why?'   Even as he spoke he still seemed upset!   Twenty-two years later!  When I tell my Baptist story I obviously include the fact that in 2000 Carol and I felt called to move to Northern Seminary, near Chicago.   I knew at the time that some in the denomination were unhappy but I was surprised at this 'we' comment from someone I barely knew. 

Comments like these, totally unexpected and heartfelt, wake you up to wider dynamics and relationships. I guess such comments reinforce the sense of belonging to a wider Baptist family!  We do share cares and concerns about each other and can miss each other!  That's humbling and rather wonderful.

Carol and I do believe that God was calling us to take the risk and serve in another branch of the Baptist family, albeit in the US, and we also believe we can discern 'signs following' that authenticated this was God's call.  But this comment was a reminder about the reality of Baptist belonging.  I shall hold this in mind as I recount part of my oral Baptist story.  

Monday, September 5, 2022


I will return shortly to my oral history but I must mention a service last Saturday.  Mat Wilson was inducted to the pastorate of Shirley Baptist Church and he invited me to preach. I suffered was over 20 years that this was my regular task as students left Spurgeon's College.  Mat left in 2000 to serve as Pioneer Missionary in Albania, later as Director of the International Mission Training College in Birmingham, and most recently as senior pastor of Pavilion Christian Community in Rowheath. A colourful and demanding journey of service, accompanied by his gifted wife Hannah and family.  And now he had received a unanimous call from Shirley.

The large church building was packed - I couldn't see more than a couple of empty chairs at the front. Singing was joyous with the right balance of worship, seriousness and sheer delight at the new thing God was doing.

And a key reason why this service meant even more to me was the fact that five ministers in the congregation were all students in my era at Spurgeon's.  Neil, now a Regional Minister led the service.  Ed, Nick and Mark were Mat's contemporaries and as we greeted each other I was deeply encouraged (yes, I think deeply is the right adverb) that all these men, with wives happily partnering, were still in active ministry, still (they said) grateful for their training in Spurgeon's and still on fire for God.  That's quite wonderful, isn't it?  They commented about words they heard way back in college chapel.  One said that throughout his ministry he kept reminding himself of three things I once said:  God made you. God loves you. God wants to use you.  I have no recollection of saying that (!) but you can imagine for an old Baptist minister its humbling to hear years later some God words stuck.

So, deeply encouraged and grateful. 

Friday, September 2, 2022

Holiday Bonus

Out of the blue we have just been able to enjoy a week by the seaside in Minehead.  All the rooms in the Baptist Holiday Apartments were fully booked until 3 weeks ago when a couple of sets of people dropped out, So we seized the opportunity to go with our London family. Separate apartments - good idea!  Much was enjoyed together.

On our journey to the West Country we stopped at a mall and, in need of tea and tea-cake, we joined the queue in the M & S cafe.  As I neared the till the lady in front asked me whether I was having two drinks.  Somewhat surprised I confessed that I was. And I was even more surprised when she then produced two tokens for free drinks. 'I have these spare, so why don't you use them?; she said.  You can imagine I thanked her profusely.  It seemed a good omen for the holiday ahead.

Arriving in Minehead before our apartment was ready we were in need of another tea.  Going into a supermarket cafe, where other vital supplies such as bread and milk would be purchased, we peered at the options on view.  Behind us was an older lady who sweetly enquired whether we would like free drinks and slices of cake.  She had two tokens which unfortunately she could not use, expiring that day!   You can imagine our delight at the pattern emerging!  We thanked her profusely. She turned out to be a local. Enquiring where we were staying she commented that she knew it and that as Church of England she was happy to help some Baptists!

From then on we were on the lookout for ladies with spare tokens....but I guess this was already enough of a bonus.