DR OLIVER BARCLAY, who
died on 12 September, aged 94, was the second General Secretary of
the Inter-Varsity Fellowship (IVF), from 1975 the Universities and
Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF).
He was born in Kobe,
Japan, the son of Joseph Gurney Barclay, who served with what is
now the Church Mission Society. Dr Barclay's great-grandfather had
campaigned with William Wilberforce as part of the Clapham
Barclay first joined the
small IVF team in 1945, having completed a doctorate in zoology.
His original hope was to teach in one of China's newer
universities, but it soon became clear that the universities of
Britain and Ireland would instead be his life's work. He served for
two years as a wartime president of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate
Christian Union (CICCU) and as chairman of the students' national
IVF executive committee.
At Trinity College,
Cambridge, he formed a lifelong friendship with John Stott. Both
were to serve as lifetime honorary vice-presidents of CICCU.
Barclay was instrumental in 1944-45 in securing Tyndale House,
Cambridge, which had originally belonged to a member of the Barclay
family, as a Centre for Biblical Research.
In 1949, he married
Dorothy Knott, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital in
London. She died of cancer in 1964, leaving four children. The next
year, he married Daisy Hickey, a family friend.
In 1953, Barclay became
the first IVF Universities Secretary, supporting the IVF travelling
secretaries (now UCCF staff workers) around the four nations, in an
effort to weaken the influence of liberalism in university theology
In 1964, just as the
expansion in higher education encouraged by the Robbins report
began, Barclay became General Secretary of the IVF. He steered the
Fellowship through its own expansion to engage with the times. In
1974, the office was relocated from Bedford Square in central
London to Leicester, and in 1975 the change of name reflected
growing work in polytechnics and colleges of education. Its
publishing wing, the Inter-Varsity Press (IVP), was a leading
Barclay urged Evangelical
graduates to pursue an academic career, or, if ordained, to apply
for vacant churches in university towns. Gradually, results of this
policy became apparent. Oliver retired in 1980.
In retirement, he
continued to serve on IVP's long-range planning group, and was
instrumental in the founding of the UCCF Research Council to
oversee the work of Tyndale House, and of the new Whitefield
Institute in Oxford. In 1989, he co-founded the journal Science
and Christian Belief.
He chaired the executive
committee of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students
from 1971 to 1979, and served as its hon. vice-president
adds: I first met Oliver over a bowl of soup. It was 1963, and
the first mealtime of an IVF conference at The Hayes, Swanwick. In
the midst of several hundred chattering students, a quiet slim
gentleman slid into the seat beside me. "Tell me about yourself,"
he said. As a first-year student, I had then only the vaguest idea
of who he was, but one gentle question after another drew out
information from me about my studies, the Christian Union at
Bristol, my family, and my hopes for the future. When I told him
that I hoped one day to go to Japan with OMF, he responded, with a
twinkle in his eye: "That's where I was born."
And so a friendship
began; for Oliver's capacity for friendship across generations and
backgrounds was phenomenal - surely a gift from the Holy Spirit.
His memory, too, for people and all that he learned about them, was
ORB, as he was
affectionately known by staff colleagues, was not especially at
ease in public speaking, but he was an exceptional
behind-the-scenes visionary, and strategist for the cause of the
gospel, in Britain and beyond. During most of his life, there were
few whose Christian influence was so seminal.
He could see beyond what
people were to what they might become under God's hand. He believed
passionately that student-led witness, however unpolished, and
student leadership, however inexperienced, could be used
effectively by the Lord to make disciples of other students. What
was more, such responsibility was invaluable in producing
Evangelical Christian leaders for the Churches, for the
professions, and for world mission.
That trust in God at work
in young people became very personal when he invited, first, my
husband Dick, and then, a year later, me to become travelling
secretaries: Dick, straight after graduation, me after one
postgraduate year. Plenty of people would regard it as insane to
entrust the responsibility of advising and nurturing up to 16
university Christian Unions to 22-year-olds, but ORB quietly
encouraged us, mentored us, prayed for us and with us, and, when
necessary, gently suggested that there were better ways of doing
His concern was always
that we would be faithful to God's Word as we taught it, and
trained group-Bible-study leaders, and that our faith-sharing
should be centred on the person of the Christ, crucified and risen.
He constantly inspired us to explore the way in which the
scriptures were to transform our thinking and living. That model
and that inspiration have shaped my life and ministry ever
discernment of what was needed enabled him to be a catalyst in
developing IVP from a largely in-house publisher to one of the most
significant Christian publishers in the world; to help Tyndale
House become a globally important biblical-research centre; to
identify and invest in overseas students who would go on to be key
players in developing Evangelical student movements in many
countries; to stimulate numerous Christian professional bodies; to
bring Evangelicals into ordained and lay ministry across the
British Churches; and much more.
I am thankful to the Lord for giving us such a fine friend and
wise mentor. There must be thousands who would echo that. But ORB
himself would want all the glory to go to the Lord.