21 People who have influenced me

Seraphim

1) St Seraphim of Sarov – a Russian Orthodox Hermit – an amazing “staretz” who incarnated the “hesychast” tradition of prayer within himself and brought healing and conversion of life to many in 18th/19th century Russia. For more…go to my books page check out “My Dinner with Anton.”

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2) New Zealander, Barry Kissell – the Associate Minister at my first church, St Andrew’s Chorleywood. Barry included me in various mission and ministry teams so I was privileged to observe Barry’s gentle and prophetic ministry at close quarters. Barry showed me that being moved by Seraphim could go much further than mere admiration to re-shaping one’s own life and ministry

 

3)  The late Prince – (thank you Zook for introducing me!) because, with tireless nurturing of his talent, Prince was unashamed to embrace and build on the contributions of predecessors. We are going to miss mountains of potential if we are not willing to stand on others’ shoulders, inherit the mantles of others and carry on where others have left off. I admire a performance ethic that was all about giving to the people. Prince’s shaking off the shackles of corporate deals to go his own way, from hand to mouth – rather successfully – is a great encouragement to many whose call is to pioneer new patterns in a world where finances are tied up with inherited patterns.

Prince’s rejection of another behemoth that others took for granted – the Tiketek/Ticket Master monopoly – made his concerts accessible to ordinary and poorer people. He was genuinely about getting his music to the people. In his home town in 2015 tickets to his concerts were $10 each. I loved his art attacks, which again took music to the people. I was in London when it was announced one morning over the radio that that same evening at the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town Prince would be playing a set of his new songs – to whoever wanted to come along.

His championing of new generations of talent mirrors the others-orientation of apostolic ministry and gave us great new talents – such as Tamar and, on the link below, Sheila E. And he is an inspiration to so many simply because it is inspiring to see anyone passionately doing what they were wired by God to do!! Notably, Prince was also unafraid to speak publically from a heart and mind informed by his faith. Many of these themes and their connection with the Gospel of Jesus Christ are echoed in the spirit and words of this song. Intrigued? Click here for some funk!!

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4) Bessie Pereira – I always smile when I see Bessie in this picture. Bessie was a kindred spirit to Ruth and me. She really was like a spiritual aunt whose friendship, counsel and comradeship we appreciated over many years, before during and after our working with her in OIKOS Australia. Bessie’s ministry to grassroots, emerging, Anabaptist and post-institutional churches was truly inspiring in the humble and open-handed way in which she ministered. Bessie modeled for me true servant leadership, the work of a mission companion, who journeys with and assists open-handedly, without coersion or taking over.

Bessie’s apostolic gifting operated entirely on a “they’ll invite you back if you’re helpful” model and demonstrated for me the spirit of grace and self-sacrifice that work at a regional or national level often calls for. Bessie was so grounded and honest in her own walk with Jesus. Her stewarding of her gifts was an example in itself of the Kingdom of God.

In my final conversation with Bessie shortly before she died she told me something that really captures something of her spirit. While she was dying in hospital Bessie told me that as she reflected on her life and ministry she could now see that everything that she had lastingly achieved she had achieved after her first diagnosis of cancer 25 years before. It was an inspiring testament to her unstoppable spirit and what the stewarding of a life with God can mean. Ruth and I are so looking forward to seeing Bessie again on the other side!

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5) Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh – who somehow seemed to incarnate the entire Russian Orthodox tradition within himself. His way of preaching, his approach to Scripture, and the real-ness of his ways of prayer inspired me. He introduced me to the Eastern tradition and many of the great teachers of the eastern tradition. And I am forever grateful to him for his making available to me his personal archive of materials on Seraphim of Sarov. (Click here for a taste of Metropolitan Anthony’s teaching.)

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6) Shelby Foote – hearing Dr. Shelby Foote talk about the American Civil War was like sitting at the feet of an eyewitness. He spoke of events as if he had seen them, and historic personalities as if he had known them personally. He made history so vivid you could hear the shells and smell the grapeshot. To bring something alive that could otherwise be just the dusty recital of abstract data; that is a skill worth aspiring to. I hope he has been an influence in my preaching and in my writing.

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7) John Wimber – his intersection with St Andrew’s Chorleywood (12 months before I came to faith through that church’s ministry) changed the course of the renewal among UK churches. His avoidance of hype and VIP culture, the reverence and intimacy of the Vineyard songs of worship, the theological thoughtfulness, the respect and gentleness of his approach, and his enormous generosity were a great gift to the churches. Through Vineyard, St Andrews, New Wine and Soul Survivor, the DNA of John WImber’s work has impacted the world and has shaped me from the very beginning. Eternally grateful!

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8) Tina Turner – no surprise to anyone who knows me. My generation encountered Tina Turner as a fully formed and authoritative performer, bursting onto the pop scene “from out of nowhere” in the early 1980s. I had only a dim awareness of the 25 years of prior career and hard yakka that had honed these skills. For me, as for many, Tina’s inspiration is in her longevity (the image above is of Tina at 70) her perpetual energy and her ability to continually develop and adapt – sufficiently to take her musical career from a first performance in 1957 at the age of 18 to a final farewell tour in 2009 at the age of 70.

Tina’s story, as much as anybody’s –  is really a story of teamwork – the collaboration of a brilliant manager in Roger Davies, among many other musical comrades. Aside from the fun and inspiration of her prodigious stage-skills, Tina’s story gives others of us courage to play the long game, to continue developing and adapting. And it spurs me to believe that even I might prove a later bloomer! Click here for Tina Turner performing Joni Mitchell’s “Edith & the Kingpin”with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, 

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9) Bishop David Pytches – I owe so much to this wonderful man and to his courage. David very generous mentor to me in the early years of my faith. I will mention one of the many things that David modeled for me and for so many – being a non-anxious presence in the midst of all the unpredictability, conflict, mess, surprises and glories of renewal in the Church!

(Click here to hear David & Mary Pytches talk about the DNA of New Wine – and look out for me on the video!)

(Click here for a recent interview surveying David’s life and times.)

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10) Mary Portas – an amazing blend of intelligence, creativity, strength and dogged determination that finally wins the respect of others and transforms their businesses. A tough as nails model for transitional ministry, and an inspiration sometimes needed in situations that call for interventions that, by God’s grace, will help the church, but not the transitional minister’s popularity!

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11) Tony Benn – From 1994 to 2004 I was privileged to meet with and correspond with British MP Tony Benn. Tony was what we now call a “conviction politician”. As an MP for 47 years between 1950 to 2001 for the cities of Bristol south-east and Chesterfield, his steadfast principle was to represent the interests of the ordinary working people of his constituency – and of the country. I admire that he allowed himself to be defined and driven by conviction rather than career convenience – cost whatever it might. And I was very blessed by his personal interest and encouragement of me.
We talked about Jesus and the Gospel. Deeply shaped by his father’s political engagement, and both his parents’careful Christian teaching, Tony gave his life to occupying the prophetic space that speaks truth to power. As a boy he was banned from his Sunday School for ably competing with the Sunday School teacher in his earnest attempts to truthfully interpret Scripture!
Tony told me that though what he called the “mysteries of religion” didn’t particularly draw him he was fully persuaded that what he was doing was applying in the public sphere the social teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. Prime-Ministers Wilson and Callaghan, in each of whose cabinets Tony served, both complained of his bringing “theological arguments” to policy positions!
Publicly he said, “I do regard the teachings of Jesus has having a very, very radical political importance…For me social justice is everything in politics; how I should see my fellow men and women is absolutely crucial in interpreting the responsibilities that I feel that Jesus has imposed upon me.”
Courage came naturally to Tony and he seemed to have no concept that this was not a universal trait. Without knowing how he did it he unfailingly strengthened the courage of all who came close to him. Tony’s investment into younger people in his later years was inspirational. I am so grateful for the personal encouragement he generously gave me over that ten-year period. Without a doubt, Tony has influenced my preaching, my politics and my parenting. Click here to hear to Tony Benn on Jesus.
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12) Paolo Freire – This inspirational Brazilian educator understood that the most world-changing, revolutionary gift to give to people is the gift of literacy. He is like a Caxton, Melancthon, and Wyclif all rolled into one. Monastic catalysts carried the Scriptures into Amazonia, and sparked a seismic move of community transformation. Their work redefined my understanding of mission and church in the 1980s. They all understood their role in advancing the kingdom of God and emancipating those at the “base” of Brazilian society, in the light of Freire’s work.
Ruth and I see the life-changing power of literacy – and Biblical literacy – through our respective work. Paolo Freire spoke to us with a love for people and a holism of concern and vision that opens up a world of opportunity for meaningful service. My 12 years of Jesus Generation and my formation of the Simple Rule would never have happened without Paolo Freire’s influence.

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13) Revd Margaret Knight – whose courage I greatly admire in her pioneering work in the context of healing ministry and women’s leadership in the churches. Margaret helped to develop patterns of healing ministry and prayer ministry, embedding them within inherited patterns. She generously included me in these ministries when I was in my teens. A life-changing inclusion!

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14) Archimandride Sophrony – I first encountered Fr. Sophrony in print in 1987. His words changed my spiritual life from a canon of conclusions into a lifelong journey of discovery. As a monk of Mount Athos Sophrony expressed its tradition of prayer, solitude and authenticity by burying himself in an obscure part of rural Essex, UK – a tiny village called Tolleshunt Knights – where he founded and led the co-ed monastic community of St John the Baptist.

The monastic brothers and sisters living in the quiet reclusion of Tolleshunt Knights welcomed me in friendship and hospitality over a decade and influenced me deeply through patterns of prayer, hospitality and person-to-person mentoring learned from Sophrony.

Especially significant for me was not meeting Sophrony in what became a sequence of non-meetings, spanning 1987 to 1996! (The closest I came to conversing with the great staretz was to stand next to him through the three hours of the community’s eucharistic liturgy.) Somehow my repeatedly not meeting Sophrony crystallized my own abiding call to hospitality-based ministry, person-to-person impact and the prayerful path of low profile. To this day these are the themes I aspire to in my own journey.

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15) Captain Kirk
– It may seem strange to count a fictitious space captain as an influence! But as a young boy and a teenager, James T.Kirk was significant for me in the sense of helping to form my internal concept of adult masculinity. He had an untameable boyish sense of fun and ego, which somehow enabled him to maintain some kind of posture and equilibrium in the most unlikely and impossible-seeming of scenarios. A quality worth aspiring to.

Captain Kirk’s ability to combine leadership with friendship made him an appealing model. Out of the dialectic of Spock’s logic, and McCoy’s morality and compassion, Kirk’s job was always to chart a course of action. All church leaders need something of that same  mix of listening, filtering and chutzpah! So, though he’s a better boxer than me, I am not ashamed to count Kirk as an inspiration!

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16) Prof Gary R Collins – One of the most influential books in my life is Gary’s “The 60 Second Christian”. My friend Phil Steer bought me a copy from a Christian book shop in Bristol UK in 1986. His aspiration to simplicity in thought, communication and understanding of the Gospel has been a perpetual force in shaping my own faith. For the academic to be able to communicate at a child’s level is a wonderful gift and a personal challenge! I hope I can say Gary has been a powerful influence in my preaching from that day to this.

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17) Edward Dudding, another New Zealander, A.K.A. Father Gregory of the Community of the Servants of the Will of God – who through many years of quiet conversations taught me to embrace dissatisfaction and pursue ways of community that support deeper conversion of life. Fr Gregory introduced me many of the great teachers of the Hesychast tradition. A great  spiritual director and an inspirational supporter of Jesus Generation.

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18)  Bishop Trevor Huddleston (above, top). I met and talked with Trevor Huddleston at the offices of the African National Congress. My parish in King’s Cross was part of a sub-culture of churches with spiritual roots in the East End of London. Common heritage with Fr Trevor. But just as significant for me was that Fr Trevor is the person responsible for giving the pioneering jazz trumpeter, Hugh Masakela (above, below), his first trumpet.

My encounter with Fr Trevor and my sense of his legacy forever challenges me to minister to people’s potential and invest in their beginnings. His involvement in South African (and therefore world) politics perpetually challenges me to promote democratisation and engage prophetically with issues of social justice in my own country. His testimony constantly asks me how holistic and wholehearted is my engagement with the networks and places in which I live and move.

(Click here for a tribute to Trevor Huddleston)

Gramp

19) My Gramp was born in 1900 in Brynmawr, Wales. When he taught me to count to ten in Welsh Gramp was speaking a language that the British Government had illegalized during the years of his own childhood. People could be fined for speaking Welsh in public. Families could be fined if their children were heard speaking Welsh at school. The logic from on high was that if there were no Welsh language then there could be no Welsh culture – which would make the Celtic principality rather easier to govern.

In 1926 the General Strike closed Brynmawr’s pit. The whole town depended on its economy. My great-grandfather, my Gramp and all his siblings were employed there. My Gramp was forced from his ancestral homeland – and became what today we call an economic migrant. He walked 250 kilometers to High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, where he found work and got himself some basic digs and a bike. The local dialect was difficult to understand at times but one day a fall from his bike introduced him to my Gran. As a consequence my maternal great-grandmother took him in as a boarder and the family taught him the ins and outs of local language.

Gramp worked in a factory and later as a road-builder when he would cycle two hours a day to reach the work-bus. The long days and hard work supported my mum’s family through Britain’s years of depression, war and post-war austerities. As a young boy I remember staying at my Gran and Gramp’s and watching for the bus to bring him home. If at that time you had asked me what my Gramp did for a living I would have proudly told you, “My Gramp’s a coalminer.” Never mind he hadn’t mined for coal in 50 years. That was just who he was! I loved my Gramp. When he passed away I made a decision to inherit his prodigious Celtic story-telling gift and have sought to hone it ever since.

My political convictions are also rooted in my Gramp’s story – a belief in weighing social costs in the formation of policy, a concern for regions and the impact on them for good and ill by the decisions of national governments, for indigenous peoples whose cultures are so often seen as an inconvenience in national politics; for those forced to leave their homelands whether by war, persecution or simply the need to find work, and for the interests of ordinary working people to be democratically represented.

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20) Joyce Huggett – Joyce was very significant for me in being the first (non-editorial) reader of my first book, “Rough Ways in Prayer” which she launched with a stellar endorsement and foreword. Her brave and pioneering book, “Listening to God” courageously opened the world of contemplative prayer and an engagement with the wider and longer tradition of Christian faith to the British evangelical world.

Without Joyce’s book mine would not have found a market. Her amazing sequel, “Listening to Others” opened up the paradigm of the Kingdom of God in a way that opened the minds and hearts of her evangelical readers to seeing a much bigger world of divine activity and a greater fellow feeling for human beings.

Joyce’s literary career was built on other pioneering titles, generously helping young Christians engage with sexuality and learn about sex-life in preparation for marriage. Though dated today, in the climate of the 1980s her books were ahead of their time. Truly a brave and significant figure in the C20th church in Britain who modeled for me how pioneering leadership can be exercised through a ministry in print.

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21) Phyllis Tickle – a woman whose joyful, intelligent and prophetic ministry is never about self but always about recognizing, serving, supporting and promoting what others are doing. I relate to that call and am inspired by Phyllis insightful and progressive example and am grateful for her great generosity to one such as me! Her encouragement of and belief in my writing was unfailing. She was a faithful and nurturing correspondent with me over more than a decade and I am forever grateful to Phyllis for generously endorsing three of my books in her wonderful, enthusiastic and effusive way.

 

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