THE Revd David Lane, who died in India on 9 January, aged 69, was a Syriac
scholar of considerable repute, and a former Principal of the College of the
Resurrection, Mirfield. These two facts both conceal a life of unexpected
turns, and indicate a contribution to the life of the Church for which many
have reason to be deeply grateful.
Instead of becoming a parish priest, he became an ordained academic. From a
tenured assistant professorship in Canada, he took a considerable cut in salary
to join the staff of his old theological college at Mirfield. While there, he
found himself Principal in the wake of the precipitate departure of his
predecessor for the Roman Catholic Church, and later presided over efforts to
save the college from closure. These changes of direction were all essentially
unplanned, and yet in them can be seen Lane's commitment to the Church, his
ability to adapt with aplomb, and, above all, the deep trust in God that
underlay a meticulously and yet often understatedly exercised priesthood,
firmly rooted in the Catholic tradition.
Lane's dedication to the task of formation for that priesthood - he was
never happy with vague, unqualified notions of "ministry", nor indeed vague,
unqualified notions of anything - left its mark on several generations of
clergy who passed through his hands in Barbados and at Mirfield.
David John Lane was born in Huddersfield in 1935, read theology at Magdalen
College, Oxford, and trained for the priesthood at both Mirfield and, as it
turned out, Codrington College, Barbados (then one of three theological
colleges in the care of the Mirfield Fathers). He was ordained deacon and
priest in 1962. His time in the West Indies was followed by a curacy in
Wolvercote, and the associate chaplaincy of Pembroke College, Oxford, where he
was elected Kennicott Fellow in Hebrew.
This was the beginning of the academic career in Syriac studies for which he
became widely respected, and for the published record of which he was later
awarded the senior Oxford degree of Bachelor of Divinity. At the time of his
death, he was in India to receive an honorary doctorate from St Ephrem's
Ecumenical Research Institute in Kerala, an institution to which he was a
frequent contributor in terms of teaching, and at which, as the reaction there
to his death makes clear, he was lionised as a dear friend and key supporter of
the cause of academic research and of reconciliation and co-operation among the
fragmented Syrian Churches of south-west India.
To the new student at Mirfield, David Lane seemed quite frankly terrifying,
and yet, although he did not suffer fools gladly, his kindness became apparent
in countless ways, not least to those in genuine need of pastoral support.
While the awe remained, many came to hold him in lasting affection and regard,
not least as a first-class teacher of Old Testament studies at Mirfield and the
University of Leeds.
Among many so-called "Lane-isms", let the following be representative: "You
may well think that we are talking about a patriarchal society, but let me tell
you, the patriarchs were scared stiff of the matriarchs." Or, in response to
someone who dared admit that they thought the Old Testament less important than
the New: "How, may I ask, can you read the appendix without first having read
Outside the classroom, when you sat next to him in the college refectory, a
conversation would invariably begin with "My newspaper tells me . . .", a
response keenly and yet kindly awaited.
He once strode into the Common Room and announced that he had "the mind of
St Paul and the mentality of Rabelais", a self-assessment that those who heard
it are still trying to fathom.
A ritual of each morning was the separation of "Fr Lane's Times" from those
newspapers destined for general consumption; after breakfast, the rustle of
pages in the study heralded another day of quirky comment, outrage,
resignation, or a mixture of them all. Away from the college, Lane was a keen
and accomplished gardener, and a railway enthusiast: many of his photographs of
the steam era on British Railways have been published and admired.
Through all the changes and chances, there remained the priest and Oblate of
the Community of the Resurrection, and the office and mass central to his life.
The Times, railways, and the exploits of Mr Jorrocks, let alone the Peshitta of
Leviticus, seem duller now without their trenchant enthusiast and interpreter.
He was given a grand funeral in India and laid to rest there in a marble tomb.
At Mirfield, a solemn requiem was sung in the Community Church, attended by
more than 100 former students and colleagues. The offertory hymn was by Bishop
Christopher Wordsworth, a writer of whom he particularly approved:
Sun and moon shall darkened be,
Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see his glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confest,
God in Man made manifest.
No better epitaph. May he rest in peace.