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Gazette >

CANON MARTIN A. REARDON


IT IS HARD to overestimate the contribution made by Martin Reardon to the ecumenical movement of the second half of the ecumenical century. He stood in the line of distinguished ecumenists: Bell and Temple, Tomkins and Newbigin, the Abbé Couturier. He shared their vision, and never saw the need to abandon it. Tributes to Martin from around the world recognise in him a major player in the ecumenical movement locally, nationally and internationally, whose wisdom, quiet determination, and refusal to be despondent at setbacks were so evident.

Martin Alan Reardon was born in 1932, educated at St Edward's School, Oxford, and Selwyn, Cambridge, and returned to Oxford and Cuddesdon to train for the ministry. He spent time at the Universities of Geneva and Louvain, where he met and later married Dr Ruth Slade, a Roman Catholic, who, like Martin, was a passionate ecumenist. In a recent lecture, he reflected on the difficulties at that time of the marriage of a Roman Catholic and an Anglican, which he and Ruth discussed at a lunch with Cardinal Heenan. Both Martin and Ruth were undaunted by the cautions and excited by the promise of renewal heralded by the Second Vatican Council.

They knew in their life together, like any inter-Church family, the joys of living ahead of the rest of the Church, as well as the pain of the restriction on communion. This led them, with Fr John Coventry, to be founding members of the Association of Interchurch Families, and leaders of what has become a worldwide movement.

Martin served curacies in Rugby and in Sheffield, where he later became one of the pioneering secretaries of a Council of Churches. At Lincoln Theological College, he continued Oliver Tomkins's ministry in forming priests with ecumenical commitment.

In 1976, he was appointed the General Secretary of the Board for Mission and Unity. Many advances were achieved under Martin's wise and careful guidance, sometimes brought to birth out of bitter disappointment and apparent, but not real, failure. 

He was bitterly disappointed when the General Synod failed to give assent to the Covenant for Unity (with the Methodist, United Reformed and Moravian Churches) in 1982, and shocked by the dramatic and tragic death of his Chairman, Bishop David Brown, just as the Synod was to debate the future after the Covenant.

But Martin, determined that all should not be lost, guided the formulation of the ecumenical canons, making it possible for Christians to live more closely together and witness together locally. There was no one else who could have persuaded a cautious Archbishop Runcie or the different parties in the General Synod to take that particular step forward. Martin could do it because he had earned the trust of many, and because he combined knowledge of where theological convergence had reached - he was an able theologian - with a care for the necessary legal detail.

Martin, like Archbishop Runcie, was committed to all-round and all-level ecumenism. He had a particular concern for the Roman Catholic Church, but he could be found championing the cause of a small African independent Church at an Assembly of the World Council of Churches. He encouraged Christians locally, and was never too busy to refuse an invitation to share his vision with the smallest local group. He served on numerous committees of the British Council of Churches, where, bureaucrat though he was, he was never bureaucratic. He helped the Anglican Communion to be consistent and coherent in its bilateral conversations, serving the ecumenical sections of the 1977 and 1988 Lambeth Conferences.

It was Martin's readiness to respond positively to the overtures of the Evangelical Church in Germany which led to the signing of the Meissen Agreement, and thence to the Porvoo Agreement with Nordic and Baltic Lutheran Churches, the Reuilly Agreement with the French Lutheran and Reformed Churches, and, in this country, agreements with the Moravians and Methodists.

These new relations of closer fellowship owed much to Martin's conviction that we should never lose an opportunity to take small steps and reach new stages of committed fellowship on the way to visible unity. He saw that the goal was consistent, and the theological convergence was sound. He never minded that others got the accolades. It was enough for him that the bits of the ecumenical jigsaw were being put in place.

His friends rejoiced when on retirement he was awarded the OBE, and when he and Ruth were honoured by the Archbishop of Canterbury with the St Augustine's Cross, and by Pope John Paul II with the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice.

As if all of this were not enough, after less than two years as Rector of Plumpton with East Chiltington, Martin was appointed as the first General Secretary of Churches Together in England. He had already contributed much to the inter-Church process that led to the formation of the new ecumenical instruments in Britain and Ireland through his writing of the Lent 1976 course, What on Earth is the Church for?, the beginning of an exploration to draw out the commitment of members of the Churches to the visible unity of the Church. He did much to open a new way for a fellowship of Churches working together with lighter structures, clearer about where authority lies.

It is easy to imagine the confidence Martin's presence in the new venture gave the Roman Catholic Church and the Black Majority Churches, when they took a decision to join the fellowship.

Martin Reardon worked tirelessly in the cause of Christian unity, guided by the belief that unity is first and foremost about personal relationships of those drawn into the life and love of God. He never tired of saying that "it is interpersonal relations, the modern jargon for love, that are at the heart of what we mean by unity." Not for him an arid, structural vision of unity. John 17 informed his thinking. He refused to separate unity from mission, and was never convinced by the Synod's decision to divide the Board for Mission and Unity.

Martin's passion for unity was confirmed in the experience of his own life and relationships and, above all, in his life of prayer. He knew that it is as in Christ we pray to the Father through the power of the Spirit that we experience the gift of unity. Prayer was the first expression of his ecumenical commitment.

In their tributes to him his friends, Anglican and ecumenical, speak of him as unfailingly gentle, caring, thoughtful, utterly trustworthy, wise, and eager to draw out goodness in others. His colleagues talk of him as "unboss-like", always encouraging, always ready to forgive faults, and incredibly hard-working. There was a delightful simplicity about him: the battered panama hat with its ribbon from Guatemala reminding him of a less privileged part of the world, and the red shirt.

Martin Reardon will be greatly missed, but his contribution to the cause of Christian unity is already woven into the life of the Church. He is survived by his wife Ruth, their children Sarah and John, and by a new grandchild, Rosa.

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