Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lesslie Newbigin and The New College Missionary Society

Five or more years ago,  I was in a Honolulu bookshop, looking through Lesslie Newbigin's "Word in Season" (1994). As I was thumbing through the pages, much to my amazement, I noticed the book contained a lecture titled "Mission in the World Today". My mind travelled back twenty years previously when I had invited Leslie Newbigin to come to New College and give this very lecture! And you guessed it, I bought the book!

Let me tell you how Lesslie Newbigin's "Mission in the World Today" actually came about and the hand I had in it. 

Back in the late 1980s I studied theology at New College, the University of Edinburgh. During that time, several of us were involved with the New College Missionary Society. I must mention their names-Louis Kinsey and Nigel Barge-both who are now ministers in the "kirk" of Scotland, who also provided great leadership. Together we brainstormed an innovative mission based program at New College to compliment our academic studies. The New College Missionary Society invited some "heavy hitters" in mission to New College; including Bishop Richard Holloway, Revd. Roger Simpson, Revd. Professor John O'Neill, Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan, and of course, the great Lesslie Newbigin. I actually selected the title for Bishop Newbigin, "Mission in the World Today" and invited the Bishop to come to New College, so we could make him our honorary president. The lecture took place before a packed Martin Hall at New College, on November 12, 1987.

Before discussing the lecture-let me tell you something about the man Lesslie Newbigin and what I remember from that November day. We greeted the great Bishop at the Waverly Station in downtown Edinburgh. I believe at that time, Bishop Newbigin was involved at Selly Oaks College in Birmingham, England if memory serves correct.

I recall being struck by Bishop Newbigin's youthful demeanor and energy even though he was 78 at the time. For instance, , Bishop Newbigin insisted on walking up the steep mound to New College, and made a point of spending time with each of us along the way, and yet we were strangers who had never met him before. He enjoyed being around students and talking theology. Later, we went over to a flat (thank you Revd. Barge!) where we had a simple meal, and Leslie warmly greeted other divinity students.

The address was in the early evening, and when we arrived at Martin Hall in New College, I noted it was packed with a wide range people-not just theological students. Almost everybody seemed to know him, or about him. It was impressive, especially as a Yank! I gave a brief introduction, pointing out Newbigin's Scottish roots, and "wisdom" in marrying a lass from Scotland. And then we sat back to hear Newbigin set an agenda for mission in the world today.

I'll take up that lecture up in my next blog article.

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