Sabbatical Report #14: You Get to Meet Some Interesting People…


This past week I have met two very interesting people in the context of my Anabaptist pilgrimage through England.
Professor Chris Rowland has the exalted title of ‘Dean Ireland’s Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture’ at Oxford University. A recent description of Chris’ interests reads as follows:

Professor Rowland, a gifted and engaging teacher, specializes in research on the Interpretation of the New Testament; the apocalyptic tradition in ancient Judaism and Christianity; the reception history of the Apocalypse; the biblical hermeneutics of William Blake; the theology of liberation; the radical tradition in Christianity; methods in grassroots readings of Scripture; group work and biblical study; and the interpretation of the Bible and developments in adult education.

Despite this formidable sounding list, I was interested in meeting Chris because he has participated in Anabaptist Network activities. He has told his own story of his discovery of the Anabaptist tradition here, and was one of the first people I contacted a few years ago when I became interested in Anabaptism. I decided to visit Oxford and emailed Chris (after having no contact for a couple of years) on the spur of the moment about getting together; to my delight he was available for a short meeting in his lair at Queen’s College. I found him to be a wonderfully welcoming person and a very provocative thinker; I was particularly interested in the connections he has made between Anabaptist thinking and radical movements in England in the 17th century, and also with contemporary liberation theology. I tend to practice Anglicanism ‘from the edge’ and I discovered that Chris does too – perhaps a slightly different edge than me, but nonetheless I found our conversation very affirming. Today I bought a book he has edited, a collection of Radical Christian Writings from the earliest times to the present day, and am looking forward to reading it.
I first met Dr. Ruth Gouldbourne at the Anabaptist Network Theology forum


at Launde Abbey a couple of weeks ago, and today I went down to her patch for a cup of coffee and a conversation. Ruth is the senior minister (not sure what your official title is, Ruth!) at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church in London. The life of their congregation is well described on their excellent website; suffice it so say that this is a congregation which is serious and intentional about reaching out to the neighbourhood around them and is finding all sorts of creative ways to do it. 

Ruth has been a pastor, a college lecturer in history and doctrine, and also a ‘what?’ (you have to read her CV!), and she has also been involved in the Anabaptist Network for some years (she’s written about that here). Her interests are wide-ranging, from Church History to Gender studies to counseling to… – well, ‘Following Jesus’ sums it all up, I think! Today, after showing me around the church, she took me over to the British Museum coffee shop for a cup of coffee, and we had a delightful conversation about all sorts of subjects, with Anabaptism and its implications for life and ministry as a sort of controlling theme (although control was far from either of our minds!).


Talking with both of these disciples of Jesus brought home to me once again what a privilege it is for me to be having this sabbatical leave. It’s great to build relationships with people whose views are often very different from mine, but who are obviously grappling with the serious issues of following Jesus in the modern world and have found some inspiration for that in Anabaptism.

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