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Many conferences on journey to East

24 January 2014

Bernard Palmer reads about a Charismatic who went Orthodox

pat thomas

Promoting renewal: Michael Harper when an Anglican Charismatic

Promoting renewal: Michael Harper when an Anglican Charismatic

Visited by God: The story of Michael Harper's 48-year-long ministry
Jeanne Harper
Aquila £12.50
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AT THE start of his biography of the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, Rupert Shortt tells a delightful anecdote about Michael Harper, the subject of this book. Harper, who had left Anglicanism for Russian Orthodoxy, and now sported a bushy beard, was strolling along the south bank ofthe Thames in London. As he approached Lambeth Palace, a passer-by asked him whether he was the Archbishop. Harper quickly denied the charge. A few minutes later, he met the real Archbishop and told him of his recent encounter. "Rowan Williams grinned, pointed towards the palace gate and said: 'Do go ahead.'"

The previously clean-shaven Harper might now look like an archbishop, but he could also have played the part, as he was a priest of exceptional talent. His special concern was the ministry of Charismatic renewal in the Church, of which he was a leading light for many years both in Britain and overseas (until 1995 as an Anglican). In 1965, he founded the Fountain Trust, and was later executive director of SOMA (Sharing of Ministries Abroad) and chairman of the International Charismatic Consultation. The Charismatic Movement enjoyed considerable success in England from the 1960s onwards, cutting across boundaries of theology and churchmanship; and its growth was due in no small measure to Harper's enthusiasm in promoting it.

His early ministry had included a six-year curacy at All Souls', Langham Place, under John Stott; and from 1984 to 1995 he was a canon of Chichester Cathedral. His later ministry was spent as an Orthodox priest in London; his decision to switch Churches was a consequence of the GeneralSynod vote in favour of women priests.

Harper was a prolific author, his 21 books including Equal and Different, in the course of which he argued that the ordination of women was against nature. Most of his books were published by Hodder & Stoughton, whose religiouseditor, Edward England, thought so highly of them that he told Harper: "You raised the whole level of Christian publishing to a level of excellence which it never possessed before."

Harper died in 2010. His widow's decision to write about him herself was because, we are told in the foreword, "there seemed no one else available to write the book that had to be written." This seems surprising in view of Harper's outstanding success in promoting the ministry of renewal. Jeanne Harper is a talented musician, but she is not a born writer; moreover, her admiration for her late husband inevitably robs her book of the objectivity that an account of his ministry requires.

The book is described as a "memoir", but there are virtually no domestic details about their family life together. Instead, we are treated to lengthy accounts of Charismatic conferences and the like, which are bound to be of more interest to specialists in the field than to the general reader. This is a pity, as one would like to know more about Harper as a person. Of Jeanne Harper's dedicated sincerity, there can, of course, be no doubt whatever; and maybe her book will inspire a church historian to take up the cudgels less subjectively on her late husband's behalf.

Dr Palmer is a former editor of the Church Times.

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