By Ruth Redpath, Assistant Priest at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, and former member of All Soul's Langham Place.
It was in the 1960’s that All Souls Langham Place, London, 200 metres from Oxford Circus, and next-door to the BBC, became known as "John Stott’s Church." Rector since 1950, John had become known to many as he led University Missions in the UK and abroad. One such was at Melbourne University in 1958. During the week, he gave memorable lunchtime addresses, later published as the classic “Basic Christianity”. His concluding address was given at Sunday’s Choral Evensong in this cathedral, with 1800 packed in, including some of us here today. It is not surprising that many travelling in UK and Europe or in London for postgraduate study, made All Souls their spiritual home.
It was not just John’s preaching that was the attraction. The welcome given to all, their easy incorporation into the fellowship group network, and the varied ministries, reflected his strategic awareness of the church’s central location in London and its opportunity to offer teaching and leadership training for young people at such formative times. John also established the clubhouse community to serve a disadvantaged part of the parish and appointed a chaplain for the Oxford St Department stores and for the Polytechnic.
But All Souls was not "John Stott’s Church", and it was clear that God was calling for his many gifts to be offered to the church worldwide. In 1970, a daring plan was initiated – to appoint someone to free him from the responsibilities of Rector, while allowing him to keep All Souls Church as his support base. Many said it would not work. That it did so is tribute of course to Michael Baughen who became Rector, and those who have succeeded him, but no less to the humility of John himself, who unfailingly supported the Rector to whom - as he delighted to tell everyone - he was now licensed as curate.
Today we all have many memories.
I picture John in the pulpit - always with clarity of diction and of thought - urging us to have faith of the BBC kind – Balanced Biblical Christianity. He always encouraged balance between head and heart, deploring the superficiality of some evangelical worship, always exhorting us to develop a Christian mind, with a double listening - to the word and the world.
I picture John in his tiny flat - one up, one down - the setting for innumerable meetings. This was where young professionals from law, medicine, business and other fields, gathered to help him earth his analysis of ethical issues on which he was preaching and writing - himself doing precisely that double listening.
I picture John in his second home, The Hookses – the simple farm cottage and barns in Pembrokeshire – his retreat for writing and study. While he had his separate quarters, the buildings were generously shared with groups from the church and with friends. Here his passion for bird-watching was in evidence and he was always urging others to take this up, because, he said, birds had so much ornitheology to teach us.
Perhaps my most abiding memories are of John standing at the church door after the service, always with a long queue of people wanting to greet him. His natural charm and grace, coupled with an prodigious memory for names and faces, was allied with a pastoral concern for all, great and small, adults and children. He gave each one his undivided attention.
John was associated with All Souls Church for virtually his whole life. We are shortly going to hear his dream for that Church at a particular point in its story. But, even in its simplicity, it is a timeless dream, a dream applicable for the church universally.
We thank God that John himself, in the exercise of his many God-given gifts, along with unquestioned integrity and his gentle Christ-likeness, contributed in extraordinary ways to the ongoing fulfillment of that dream not just at All Souls but in the church of Jesus Christ around the world. What he would surely want is for us to do our part in making it come true.