For the past 18 years or so I have been loosely aware of a man who has had a defining influence on the Church in England, but who hasn’t perhaps been the household name of some of his contemporaries (e.g. John Stott) or his successors.
A couple of weeks ago I felt a prompting from the Lord to be more like this man, whom I had never met, nor heard a sermon from, nor read anything he had written.
The following morning I was visiting St Paul’s Hammersmith 8:30am and met an older couple there who had known him from his days in Cambridge, and then later as their vicar in London. He had been asked to head up the CU there (CICCU) and had to be asked again as he hadn’t expected the invitation (quite prestigious then!) and had put it down to a funny dream upon waking the following morning.
As I have been interviewing Church Planters this man has been variously described to me as ‘exceptionally humble’, ‘the most humble man I have ever met’, and ‘the person second most like Jesus that I have ever met’.
He is 89 years old, living in Adelstrop village in the Oxfordshire countryside. He has mentored and nurturing vocations in scores and maybe hundreds of young people, and handed over the last church he was incumbent of in such a way that it could thrive – a way so unusual in the CoE that it is rarely attempted, and requires extraordinary grace from all sides to do.
I chauffeured two of his great old friends to see him, and saw the sheer delight from them all in catching up, and the deep love that had grown in them over decades of friendship.
In recent years he had faced challenges that can rock anyone – illness and bereavement among them – but I had such a deep sense of privilege to see him. His daughter and granddaughter were both with us for lunch and the love, respect and ambiance was palpably wonderful.
Asked what he might do differently in his ministry if he could do it again, he paused, hesitated, and then quietly said: I would have taken sin and prayer more seriously. “your sin or the congregations!!” I plucked up the courage to enquire a little forwardly… “Mine” he chuckled. “There’s more than enough there to start with.”
His friends afterwards expressed surprise at this answer, seeing it as a mark of his acute humility. But when you see God more closely I imagine it gets harder and harder to think of yourself too wonderfully.
His favourite verse I believe he said was: ‘rejoice in the Lord always’. A man for whom humility and holiness are not to be defined by what you don’t do, but who you are and can enjoy being in Christ…
If you still need a few more clues…
His curates included John Mumford, David Watson, David Maclnnes and Sandy Millar.
It has been wonderful to have been in his company today.
Many blessings tonight on Revd John Collins.