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Anglican and ecumenical

22 January 2016

Petà Dunstan recalls a priest devoted to Christian unity and the religious orders

Boundless Grandeur: The Christian vision of A. M. Donald Allchin
David G. R. Keller, editor
Pickwick Publications £18


DONALD ALLCHIN (1930-2010) was a priest, historian, and theologian, who avoided preferment in the Church of England to follow his varied historical and theological research and writing. He came to influence many, and this book of essays is a tribute to his wide interests and contacts throughout the Christian Churches.

The book includes sections on each of his main interests: his dialogue with the Orthodox; his ecumenical vision; his commitment to the Welsh spiritual tradition; as well as recollections from people who journeyed with him at different times. Some essays incorporate extracts from his writings and poetry.

The book ends with the text of conversations that the editor conducted with Allchin in July 2007. So we hear Allchin’s own words and thoughts in a direct way.

This alone would make the volume significant, as it connects the writing with the person. So often, we read theology without the author’s context and, thereby, the historical dimension for understanding it.

Here we have glimpses of the places and people who influenced Allchin, as well as how his thoughts and ideas developed through his contacts with important thinkers such as Thomas Merton, Vladimir Lossky, and Dumitru Stăniloae. The self-revealing in the interviews is an insight into all that has been described in the book’s preceding essays.

The ecumenical path that Allchin trod through his life was one of his greatest contributions. He was able to combine friendship and respect with a deep and honest exchange on doctrine and practice. He became a model of the ecumenical Anglican spirit. He believed reconciliation of any conflict or divide could come only through a transformation effected by understanding and knowledge of the other side. This learning about the other is the key to the changing of attitudes which, in turn, allows people to grow together.

Allchin’s belief that the religious life led by monastic communities, in whatever form, “is absolutely invaluable”, contact with which was something that he could “never have survived without”, is also significant. It demonstrated that a spiritual life of prayer in community, led both for oneself and for others, was for him a focus of Christian life from which much else flowed. He was the warden of more than one community, and had links with many others, advising and encouraging, and yet claiming that they served him far more than he served them.

For him, the monastic tradition was an essential component in the Church’s life and witness, because, as he tells us, the religious live what he wrote about. If he were still alive, Allchin would surely have commended the Archbishop of Canterbury’s naming of the revival of all types of religious community as one of the aims of his archiepiscopate.

Unifying life, thought, and belief was central to Allchin’s understanding of the transforming power of the Christian faith. This book introduces us to all that flowed from that premise for him. It is a helpful encouragement to explore Allchin’s many writings further.


Dr Petà Dunstan is a Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge.

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