Wednesday, 14 July 2010

An Appreciation

Gordon was born in Cheam in 1934, the youngest of four – Ben, Isobel, Liz and Gordon. His father was a very popular GP and his mother came from a long line of clergymen. He had a happy early childhood making friends at the local primary school and becoming something of a hero at his prep school because he was good at football and could also do a triple hat trick at cricket! He beat his own father in the boys versus dads cricket match to his dad’s chagrin!

During the war, Gordon and his sister Liz were evacuated for six months to Yorkshire to stay with two aunts. It was an idyllic time roaming freely in the countryside, playing lots of games and learning to love nature with a passion. It was this experience that led to his love of Wordsworth. He often spoke about this time with great fondness and nostalgia.

St Edward’s School in Oxford was hard for Gordon but it was there that he first began to discover a love of poetry – TS Eliot and Wordsworth in particular. TS Eliot’s poetry resonated with his teenage angst and he actually wrote to TS Eliot saying how much his poems meant to him and got a very encouraging letter back!! Gordon did manage to read one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels and it was this that got him through the interview for history at Oxford.

Gordon hated Oxford, finding it claustrophobic and class ridden, but it was there that he became closer to God and felt a calling to ministry through a John Stott mission. With the help of the chaplain he realised that his passion was theology not history. He wanted to know how God spoke through history and that question never left him.

After national service with the Fourth Hussars and a time as a steward in the merchant navy, Gordon went to New College to study theology. He found it wonderfully
refreshing after Oxford and to his great surprise won prizes in Systematic Theology beating folk who went on to become Professors. But he was hopeless at Hebrew failing it every year despite memorising the AV in English! However he enjoyed his years as a student and became Charities Convenor for the University in 1959 - 60 something that didn’t help his studies but added greatly to his street-cred especially when he led the Charities Parade on a white charger! During this time Gordon got to know Dr Winifred Rushforth a psychotherapist who encouraged him to look into his dreams. She became a very important part of his life for 25 years.

Finally, Gordon got his BD and worked as assistant to Iain Reid in West Pilton. He joined the Iona Community and spent a number of summers with others on Iona, helping George McLeod, whom he greatly admired, rebuild the Abbey
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In the 1960s. Gordon became minister in Dalmarnock in the East End of Glasgow where despite being a ‘toff’ he was greatly loved by his community. He had enormous fun with his parishioners and he was made an honorary member of one of the local gang, partly because of his height!. He had a strange way of increasing the numbers in his congregation. The story is told of him discovering someone doing a robbery and telling him that if he ever caught him doing that again, he would have to come to church! On one famous occasion a service was being broadcast live from his church. It was raining, but he was planning to lead a procession. So Gordon got everyone, including the sound crew, to pray for the rain to stop and it did just in time. It began again the moment everyone was back inside. This was when he began to wonder if he a streak of Merlin in him!!

Gordon was always a bit mad and this made him a wonderful uncle to Jamie and Rob In their early years when their parents were abroad, he often took them out from school, playing make believe games where they would have to get out of the car and hide behind rocks firing guns and lobbing grenades at the enemy, then rush back into the car. He went to school sports, cricket games and plays and as they grew up engaged in countless discussions about the meaning of life. He was very important to them.

In the late 60s Gordon encountered the charismatic movement and began his PhD on Edward Irving. He was particularly interested in the healing ministry and in the theology of the charismatic movement and he became a speaker at various charismatic gatherings in the early 70s, which is where he met Elspeth. As he left Dalmarnock to study his PhD fulltime at New College, he and Elspeth met across a crowded library where she was finishing her MA.

Together Gordon and Elspeth ran the Netherbow Art centre for 6 years – a really formative time with poets, ecologists, feminists, artists, musicians, women’s guild members, dance troupes and youth fellowships all mingling creatively together.

From an early age Gordon had loved art – he preferred it to reading and did very creative things like an extremely detailed room-sized frieze of the battle of Britain aged 6! After New College Gordon was given a scholarship to study art and theology in Israel. This was when he developed his distinctive style of cosmic elemental pictures like the one here in the chancel. It is full of theology and philosophy. Almost every year, Gordon had an exhibition of paintings and photographs which was a wonderful counterbalance to his intellectual pursuits the rest of the time. Many of you here will have his pictures.

However it was writing that really motivated Gordon. After he and Elspeth married they both took a sabbatical and wrote books. Elspeth has written one, Freeing the Feminine and Gordon has now written six in all (The Pentecostal Theology of Edward Irving, Christ and the Cosmos, Jesus the Master Builder, Chartres, The Return of Merlin and Prophets of Nature) - and he was planning another before he became ill. The book that is perhaps becoming the most famous - and was briefly a best seller - is Jesus the Master Builder. It began its life in Israel, but has now become a film and you can see it over coffee in the Church Hall after this service.

However to the great delight of Elspeth and Gordon it wasn’t just a book that began its life in Israel, but Christopher! From the start Chris and Gordon were great friends, but it was when Elspeth started to study for her BD that things really took off. Chris remembers countless hilarious half term holidays to Plockton and the Lake District, sometimes with friends and sometimes alone with his dad. The family albums are full of pictures of Chris and Gordon having enormous fun together and all Chris’s school essays were about some adventure or other that they had. . As Chris says for someone in his 60s he didn’t do too badly! In fact he was a brilliant dad and Chris has very fond memories of Gordon coming every Saturday to see him play football in the rain, playing cricket in the garden, going to the park every Sunday, reading Asterix, Rupert Bear or Tintin in bed and generally being a dad to be very proud of. Despite the difficult years when Gordon was depressed, he has been a mentor for Chris especially once he began to study politics and philosophy at University. In fact it was Gordon’s own academic achievements, his PhD, his books and his career as a teacher that inspired Chris on his own academic path. Gordon wanted to read every single essay Chris wrote and when Elspeth was out, loved talking about them over a meal that Chris had cooked. They were very important to each other and one of the last things Gordon did when in hospital was clap Chris for getting into honours.

Gordon was a maverick thinker who liked to put ideas together and see what they produced. From early days in New College, he battled with the more conventional side of the church often preferring people who were on the margins. Over the years he has been a key speaker at many alternative events such as the Wilderness Conference in Findhorn where he apologised on behalf of the church for its attitude to nature, a crop circle conference where he lead everyone in meditation because it was 11o’clock on a Sunday and druid celebrations of various kinds. He has led Merlin pilgrimages and Ruskin walks and generally enjoyed the company of people who were on a quest. For him Christ has always been at the centre but he loved to talk to people who were exploring.

Above all Gordon loved teaching and he loved people. He was very sad last year to have to give up teaching at University after over twenty years of extra mural classes and also teaching in the Department of Architecture and, briefly, New College. However to make up for this, he and Elspeth began a series on monthly Grail quest evenings in their home where former students came together to share their own quest and this became a really delightful continuation of the pilgrimage he had been on all his life. He loved to talk about ideas to anyone who would listen and latterly liked nothing better than meeting folk for coffee or lunch after walking Gavin to the shops. In these last few years when he was not so well, he and Elspeth were able to spend more time together to the great delight of both of them.

Gordon was exploring the theories of Dan Brown before Dan Brown was out of short trousers. If only Gordon had been able to write as badly as Dan Brown he could have been a millionaire.

On a couple of occasions I enjoyed travelling with Gordon in France. To observe him in those situations was always fascinating. He had a quick eye and a keen nose for the line of enquiry that needed to be followed. It was a cause of regret for me that although we both visited Rennes-le-chateau (the mystery enfolded village in south west France) we were never actually there at the same time.

Because, truly, Gordon looked at thing with different eyes from the rest of us, but then he would go on to draw us Into a new view of the landscape and environment around us, that left us excited and somehow colour was added to the monochrome before our very eyes. Andrew Gilmour will be talking later about Gordon as teacher, and it is true that formally and informally countless numbers of us have cause to be grateful for that gift.

I would love to tell you a bit about Gordon’s waspish and wicked sense of humour. But there are too many people still alive who might be upset to remember that quick riposte at their expense.

As a friend we had so many coffees, so many lunches, so many talks after church.. He was a good friend – ready with generous praise, and ready too to say if he thought things weren’t quite so. One Epiphany I committed the ultimate sin – and seemed to suggest that the infant Jesus in some sense subjugated the power of the Magi. His riposte was swift and heated – but the point is that even in that kind of exchange you felt that you learned something relevant.

There is a Gordon that we say farewell to today who is undefinable. He moved among us – supremely here in Bruntsfield – stopping sometimes to look inquisitively or with wonder at the world around him. It seemed almost ethereal. When he lost the power on that sad night 7 weeks ago or so – to communicate with us as before, there were only left to him one or two words out of the countless thousands he had made his own. One of those words was “wonderful” – and as I remember earlier times it occurs to me that I loved Gordon best when I observed him looking at the world around – and in look, gesture and word he would share with us that sense of wonder –

In his semi retirement these last few years he said he wanted to spend more time with Jesus. And today it is our joy to know that for Gordon the quest is complete, mysteries are no more, looking through a glass darkly a thing behind and forgotten.

And Gordon will look around him in this new-found place, his eyes light up, his hand slightly raised, he will say “wonderful”.

1 comment:

  1. Hello John,
    I was just looking for some information on Gordon's books for a friend and found this blog. I met Gordon, must have been about ten or so years ago when he gave a talk in St Davids, Pembrokeshire. He was testing out some research for his next book and had me in thrall....not just his erudition but his passion and enthusiasm were infectious. I'm very sad to hear of his death and wish I'd had more opportunity to hear him talk.

    Thank you for this lovely memorial.

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