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25 October 2013

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 Sect.

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 faculties.

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 Evangelical publisher.

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 (1983-91).

Rose Dowsett 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 equally phenomenal.

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 something.

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 since.

ORB's prophetic 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.

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