The Revd Nigel Uden, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, reflects on the work, service and reputation of an influential Church leader
Bernard Thorogood, who has died aged 92, was General Secretary – first, of what became the Council for World Mission (CWM, from 1970 to 1980), and later, of the United Reformed Church (from 1980 to 1992). Obituaries appear elsewhere. This blog is a reflection that arises from Bernard’s reputation.
I met him, but not often. I was ordained while he was at Church House. Shortly afterwards, he was greatly encouraging and supportive when I left for service in Johannesburg with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa. I valued his moving capacity to be affirming and so respectful of one more than a generation his junior, sharing wisdom from his effective work in the Pacific. I also have the privilege of working alongside Neil, one of his sons, as we collaborate in the life and work of Westminster College. Neil and I often speak of Bernard, and so much I respect in the father comes from those discussions with the son. I cannot say, though, that I knew him well personally.
In a sense, that is what makes my real point. I honour Bernard Thorogood not because of our close association but because of his fine reputation, his far-reaching influence and his lasting legacy. That seems to me be even more of a tribute than one shaped by the bias of friendship. It certainly emerges in conversation with colleagues in the URC and the global Church. More, however, it emerges from reading Bernard’s valuable writings.
I served churches in South Africa during the final years of institutionalised apartheid. The Church, galvanised by the South African Council of Churches, was significant in campaigning for the end of what it described as a doctrine that was heresy and a practice that was sin. In that country at that time, the prophecy of Amos inspired and challenged me, with its withering critique of those who think keeping quiet is a prudent thing to do (5:13). Bernard Thorogood’s A Guide to the Book of Amos (SPCK, 1971) – in simple, sometimes stark, language – prodded me to take the prophet to heart: ‘Amos was not a prudent man. He could not “keep silent in such a time”, but felt compelled to speak.’ I still remember wondering whether the six-monthly renewal of my work permit was a lamentable sign that I had been too prudent. Continue reading