The 1970s

It was quite clear to Gordon Rupp, on his appointment as Principal, that changes in the day to day routine, ethos and physical structure of Wesley House were needed. Circumstances were to converge to make big changes necessary and possible.


The first change was more symbolic than anything else - Gordon Rupp commissioned V.A. Hilary (a relation of Sir Edmund Hilary) to create new decorations in the Chapel. He created a representation of the opening of the heavens on the Chapel ceiling by a series of clouds. These were generally considered a failure and were painted out quickly.


Students training for the ministry had been permitted to marry for a number of years but Flemington had worked hard to keep the number at Wesley House as low as possible. With the new regime the number increased quickly. By the academic year 69/70 there were seven married students. This change also bought young children into Wesley House for the first time. This necessitated more changes. The college accommodation was stretched to its limit. Wesley House had become a year round home for some of its students and it was vital that a new form of accommodation be made available.


Michael Skinner had proposed very early on to Gordon Rupp that a street side building be created to complete the quad of Wesley House. Rupp was in agreement. A new benefactor of the level of Michael Gutteridge was needed and attention turned to Lord Rank. Rank was theologically conservative and slightly eccentric. He was interested in what was being taught at Wesley House and the Governors and Trustees accepted a statement about the importance of the Holy Spirit (and the teaching about it) that Rank approved of. After much pursuing Rank finally gave his permission for the money to be given and due to the sad passing of his wife asked if the whole sum could be given in memory of her. And so work began on site on the Lady Rank Building in the summer of 1971.


This was also a time of great ferment in the world of ministerial education. It was widely believed in Methodism that the expenses required to run six training colleges were too much. Added to that ecumenism was at its height at this period and conversations were taking place about the joint training of clergy across denominations. A commission was set up which recommended that Wesley House remain largely for graduate students and that the rest of the national training of Methodist ministers be concentrated in three colleges. This led to heated debate around the Connexion and at Conference. And it was occasionally suggested that Wesley House was being given special treatment because at that period it was the only one of colleges that was excluded from the debate about closure.


Another element to all of this was at the same time the Anglicans were also looking hard at the resources that they had to train clergy. The Church of England had two colleges in Cambridge (Westcott and Ridley) and Gordon Rupp was to say in later years that the thinking behind what was to become the Cambridge Federation of Theological Colleges was not a utopian vision of shared working and thinking together but the self preservation of the colleges involved. Ridley was facing a cap on its numbers and Westcott had been put on a prescribed list to be closed.


In March 1968 Rupp had reported to the Trustees of Wesley House that unofficial conversations had taken place with Westcott. The Rank Building, rather than cause problems for these conversations, actually offered an opportunity. An extended Dining Hall that could accommodate larger numbers (with a written commitment that Westcott would make use of the new facility), and a building with spaces for larger lectures, meetings and services. Also married accommodation that could be used by Westcott and Ridley. The launch of the Federation of Cambridge Theological Colleges in 1971 meant that for the first time the colleges could offer their own internal, vocationally based training program (without necessary recourse to the University) thus broadening the range of students that could be offered places.


Within a year of the inauguration of the Federation Wesley House had accepted its first woman student training for the ordained Methodist Ministry.


A decade of important change indeed.


21 October: Inauguration of the Cambridge Theological Federation


14 June 1973 HM The Queen Mother opens The Lady Rank Building


18 October 1975 Golden Jubilee. Service in The Leys School Chapel. Preacher the Revd A Raymond George, President of the Conference, former student.