A correspondent writes:
THE Revd John Burrell spent a quarter of a century working for
reconciliation in Africa, the highlight being his help in
engineering a historic meeting between Robert Mugabe and Ian Smith
in Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, surrounded by men wielding AK-47s.
At that time, John had been working in the country for Moral
Re-Armament (MRA), and befriended Alec Smith, the son of Ian,
former Prime Minister of Rhodesia.
That friendship led Smith junior, who had become a Christian and
was looking to put his faith into practice, to suggest to his
father that he meet Mr Mugabe, who had just won the 1980 general
elections. Many experts today judge that encounter as ensuring that
Zimbabwe avoided a civil war.
John's friendship with Alec Smith, who had been a heavy drug
user, demonstrated what would be hallmarks of his later ministry:
patience, a non-judgemental approach, and a desire to see personal
Born in Langham, Rutland, in 1949, to the son of a clergyman,
the Revd Arthur Burrell, and his New Zealand wife, Patricia, John
was educated at Ardingly College, Sussex, and Reading University.
He received a teaching diploma from The Queen's College, Oxford,
where he was a keen oarsman, and then started to work for MRA.
Along with Zimbabwe, this work placed him in war-torn Ethiopia,
Eritrea, and South Africa. In the latter, he took considerable
personal risks by talking to people on both sides of the apartheid
divide in trying to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy.
It was during this period that he met his wife, Suzan, the daughter
of George Daneel, a former Springbok rugby player, who was one of
the first ministers in the Dutch Reformed Church to speak out
against apartheid. Their wedding, in January 1977, generated press
attention, as it was attended by both black and white guests.
Later, he decided to go back to England, to train for ordination
at Wycliffe Hall, and then served a curacy in Didcot, Oxfordshire.
Not long after, he returned to South Africa as a chaplain of St
Alban's College, Pretoria, months before Nelson Mandela was
released from prison. At St Alban's, John was influential in
ensuring that it became one of the first boys' schools in the
country to stop using corporal punishment. It was a move that many
After school ministry, he became the Rector of Trinity Church,
Lynnwood, and then Archdeacon of East Pretoria. But, in 2001, he
swapped the lively, colourful church life of South Africa for a
more sedate and rural ministry in Lighthorne, Warwickshire, where
he took charge of four parishes.
Despite what must have been an initial culture shock, John
developed an impressive ministry, which, in true Anglican
tradition, included the whole of the local community. Some of his
best friends in the area never darkened the door of a church. He
later became Area Dean of Fosse, and continued his reconciliation
work by forging close links with Coventry Cathedral's work in this
His final move was a return to the diocese of Oxford, to St
Helen's, Benson, where he spent four happy and productive years. He
died suddenly, aged 66, on 28 May, after officiating at a
His own funeral was held on St Barnabas's Day at Dorchester
Abbey, the church in which he had been ordained a deacon almost 30
His widow, three children, and a grandchild survive him.