Influence of a Great Anglican: Simon Barrington-Ward, Jan 2022
by Graham Kings
Date added: 12/02/2022
Influence of Great Anglican Crossed Culture and Creed:
Credo, The Times, 22 Jan 2022
by Graham Kings
Which Anglican priest and bishop was a friend of CS Lewis, mentor to a future Archbishop of Canterbury, and baptised a philosopher on her deathbed?
Simon Barrington-Ward died of Covid-19 on Easter Saturday 2020, full of years (89) and full of faith. He had served eminently as General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and as Bishop of Coventry.
The son of Robert Barrington-Ward, editor of The Times, from 1941-1948, Simon attended Eton, where comtemporaries included Douglas Hurd. He read history at Magdalene College, Cambridge, then lectured for a year (1953-54) at the Free University, West Berlin. There, amid the broken city, his life was transformed and remade by Christ through a small Bible study group.
He would become a theologian of mission, pastor, visionary and spiritual father to many throughout his life, including me.
In 1982 Simon's prayer life was transfigured by meeting a Russian monk, Archmandrite (now Saint) Sophrony, who led the Monastery of St John the Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.
If you are interested in deepening your prayer life, read Simon's book The Jesus Prayer (1996). It is a simple introduction to an ancient way of prayer, born in the Orthodox Church, and a way of entering into the river of prayer which flows from the heart of God.
If the study of mission and world Christianity draws you, read his Love Will Out (1988), a collection of his profound CMS Newsletters. In his introduction he mentioned his cohering theme of exchange: ‘It is a constant coming together of Heaven and Earth, universal and particular, divine and human, judgement and mercy, spiritual and material, ideal and reality, structure and community, joy and sorrow, in a whole range of varied contexts.’
If you are attracted to philosophy, read ‘The Christic Cogito’, on Hegel, one of his four articles republished in Exchange of Gifts: The Vision of Simon Barrington-Ward (2022), which I have coedited with Ian Randall. The book has 12 other diverse chapters considering his life and influence.
Simon was Chaplain at Magdalene College, Cambridge, when C S Lewis was a Fellow and Professor of Mediaeval and Renaissance English Literature. They used to go on long walks together along the River Cam.
In a sermon in the chapel of Magdalene, where Simon served as honorary assistant chaplain in retirement, he said of Lewis: ‘If you stepped aside from the conflict and simply offered him some tentative idea of your own, he could snatch it up like a favour and whirl it round on his lance until it became a positive banner.’
In 1973 a young man asked Simon for ideas about a gap year between Eton and Cambridge. Simon suggested a year with CMS in rural Kenya. That year proved to have lasting effects on Justin Welby.
Simon ordained Justin in 1992 to serve as a curate in a working class suburb of Nuneaton. He told him, ‘You’ve always been with people who do things. It’s time you lived in a place where people have things done to them.’ In 1995, he instituted Welby as Rector of St James Church, Southam, in rural Warwickshire.
In his moving foreword to Exchange of Gifts, the Archbishop of Canterbury writes: ‘Simon was one who lived so transparently before the face of Christ, he became one in whom the light passed through.’
Simon’s family lent me four suitcases of his papers and his computer disc. On it, I found the sermon he preached at Little St Mary’s, Cambridge, ‘For Gillian Rose’.
Gillian was a Jewish professor of social and political thought at the University of Warwick, in the Diocese of Coventry, and an ardent seeker of the kingdom of God. She had had discussions with Rowan Williams over a period of ten years, and had befriended Simon, whom she asked to baptise her, when she was dying of cancer. She died, in 1995, on the day of her baptism, aged 48.
C S Lewis, Justin Welby and Gillian Rose, three of the countless wise people, of all races and backgrounds, who have exchanged gifts with Simon Barrington-Ward. Join them. His writings are nourishing.
Dr Graham Kings, is an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Ely, and research associate at the Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. Exchange of Gifts: The Vision of Simon Barrington-Ward, edited by Graham Kings and Ian Randall, is published by Ekklesia, £14.99.
[For a zoom invitation to the book launch at Magdalene College, Cambridge on 24 March 2022, 5.00pm, email: firstname.lastname@example.org]