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Wesley House in the 1960s

The Rev Dr John Barrett


The curriculum, and therefore the teaching, changed little throughout the decade. Until 1967, all students read for the Theological Tripos, most being exempt part I, because they were graduates, but always one student was a non-graduate and therefore read part I first. Those of us who began with part II found it a challenge, especially learning New Testament Greek. We remember struggling with the first nine chapters of Wenham’s ‘Elements of New Testament Greek’ which we were expected to cover in the summer before we arrived.


The Principal taught New Testament and NT Greek; the Tutor, Michael Skinner, seemed to cover everything else - Old Testament prophets, Church History, Theology, Wesley Studies and Pastoralia. In addition, we went to selected lectures in New Testament, Church History and Theology in the University Divinity School. The Faculty of Divinity hosted a veritable galaxy of dazzling theological names in the 60s including Peter Baelz, Owen Chadwick, Don Cupitt, Geoffrey Lampe, Donald Mackinnon, Charles Moule, David Newsome, Denis Nineham, John Sweet, Alex Vidler, Harry Williams and of course Gordon Rupp - and it was an enormous privilege to be able to sit at their feet.


Once a week we went to Wesley Church to do voice production with Michael Prior, who also attended Sermon Class. I have always been grateful to him for being taught to project my voice without relying on a microphone - a skill I have valued more and more over the years.


When Gordon Rupp arrived he took over the teaching of Church History. The Revd John Ziesler was appointed, from New Zealand, to teach New Testament, and, after a brief sojourn in 26 Jesus Lane, he and his wife and family moved into 31 Jesus Lane, which had been reclaimed from tenants and refurbished.


In 1967, Robert Gribben was the first of a succession of Australian students to come to take the Tripos. Gordon Rupp’s arrival caused the advent, too, of other international students, most of whom were undertaking postgraduate study. Roger Ireson, an American United Methodist, completed a PhD begun in Manchester with Gordon Rupp. Others who came to continue research in aspects of Wesley studies under Rupp’s supervision were Barnabas Seki, a priest of the Anglican Church of Japan; Fr Philip Verhalen, an American Roman Catholic; and Archimandrite Gregorios Theocharous, who, alongside his study, was also priest to the Greek Orthodox community in Cambridge - the start of a relationship between Wesley House and the Orthodox community that has continued. Incidentally Gregorios went on to become Archbishop of Thyateira & Great Britain.


In the late 60s too, the House welcomed several people doing sabbatical study - Rev Brian Beck from Kenya, Deaconess Peggy Hiscock from Zambia, and Betty Benson from the Church of South India.


There continued to be a visiting lecturer on Friday evenings, usually on some aspect of ministry and mission, but occasionally on a topic in Biblical studies.


That the curriculum and teaching should have continued unchanged throughout most of the decade is remarkable. In 1961, Gabriel Vahanian's The Death of God was published. John Robinson’s “Honest to God”, and “Objections to Christian Belief”, edited by Alec Vidler, were published in 1963, and Denis Nineham and Don Cupitt were asking radical questions about the Bible and about faith. Such matters were the subject of urgent enquiry within the university, and there was some attempt at a debate of these things among Housemen, but the formal curriculum largely ignored all this. Similarly the 1960s was the age of the Beatles and ‘hippies’ and a new sexual and moral freedom, but there was no real recognition of this as a context for our study. However, students were given a solid foundation of Biblical study and church history that enabled them to approach such issues during their subsequent ministry with confidence.


Education for ministry, such as it was, was firmly in a Methodist context. There was some awareness of the other denominational colleges, and selected students were invited to spend a couple of weeks resident in one other institution as part of a short-term exchange. But there was no clear sense of shared ministry and mission, which was odd given that this was the time of the first (and abortive) Conversations between the Methodist Church and the Church of England.

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