Monday, August 1, 2011

Meeting John Stott

This great English evangelist died recently, and the papers have carried helpful obituaries. They list some online biographies, and I was delighted to read one that gave credit to The Rev E.J.H. Nash (known as "Bash" to all who knew him) for influencing John when he was a Cambridge undergraduate. This brought up some happy memories. I first knew them both, over 70 years ago.

In those days, "Bash" was the chief organizer of the "VPS Camps". These were under the auspices of the Children's Special Services Missions, which ran Evangelical activities at the seaside during the summer holidays (vacations).

"VPS" stood for "Varsity and Public Schools". They issued a short prospectus, which used the word "Christian" just once.
They promised recreation and supervision, designed to attract parents who could afford the relatively modest expense, and were content to part with their sons for a spell during the school vacations. (If there was an equivalent opportunity for girls, I have no idea!)

These "camps" were held at a minor public school (Clayesmore), located in the village of Iwerne Minster, in the county of Dorset. Boys were told to bring their bicycles, and take a train to a small station (Semley), a few miles north of Clayesmore. There they were met by one of the staff; luggage was put into a vehicle, and the boys cycled down to the school.

I was recruited for my first camp in the summer of 1940 by a wonderful teacher, Harold Elborne, known as "Jumbo" to the campers. "Mr. Elborne" was the "Maths Master" (teacher) at my excellent Prep School, Port Regis, which flourishes to this day. He also taught Scripture and Engineering. For many years, "Jumbo" was one of a few older members of Bash's staff, most of whom ( including John Stott) were undergraduates.

It was wartime, and in the summer we worked for about five hours a day as farm laborers, with a break for a packed lunch and a soft drink. (In the other vacations, we did "forestry", clearing brush, etc.) But the real purpose of the camp soon became clear: to indoctrinate us to become evangelical Christians. The efforts were unrelenting--but I still had a great time, and returned some ten times. I learned a lot about the bible and other aspects of the Christian life. I just didn't "buy" the fundamentalism of the evangelical wing of the Church of England.

John Stott was impressive, even then, clearly the most promising of Bash's young men.

His mother took him as a boy to All Souls, Langham Place, in the West End of London, and that remained the center of his church life, as curate, vicar, and emeritus, during the many years when he was traveling all over the world.

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