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Horizons widen in the East

by
13 January 2017

Christopher Hall reads about the founders of a Christian ashram

Apartheid veteran: as Desmond Tutu dances in London in the 1980s with South African exiles, one of them, on his far left, is Brian J. Brown, whose memoirs, Born to Be Free: The indivisibility of freedom: A Methodist minister’s quest for justice and freedom on two continents, are available from him at 29 Nigel Avenue, Birmingham B31 1LH (£9.95 plus £3.75 p&p)

Apartheid veteran: as Desmond Tutu dances in London in the 1980s with South African exiles, one of them, on his far left, is Brian J. Brown, whose mem...

Pilgrimage of Awakening: The extraordinary lives of Murray and Mary Rogers
Mary V. Cattan
Pickwick Publications £37
(978-1-4982-7909-3)

 

MURRAY and Mary Rogers were missionaries in India in the 20th century, sharing the approach adopted by Hudson Taylor in the 19th century in China. Of him it was said that he “followed Christ’s example, changing location, learning a foreign language, adopting local customs and clothing in order to bring Good News to the world”.

Similarly, in 1946, the Rogerses — already with two small daughters — went to India to convert Hindus and Muslims. Their incarnational contacts with Asian faith expanded their own Christian faith into a broader inclusive understanding of God, just as Jesus experienced through meeting the Syro-Phoenician woman.

Mary Cattan, their biographer, knew them for 25 years before they died within weeks of each other in 2006 and 2007. Drawing on her frequent meetings with them and with their children, regular newsletters, and a wealth of personal correspondence, Cattan has compiled an intriguing story of cross-cultural, cross-continental, spiritual, ecumenical, and emotional relationships.In Uttar Pradesh, in 1953, they started a small Christian ashram — Jyotiniketan (”Place of Uncreated Light”) — where they maintained a dawn-to-dusk pattern of prayer and eucharist. They were joined by Heather Sandeman, a teacher from their children’s school, St Hilda’s, Ootacamund.

From 1971, the trio changed their ashram’s location, inhabiting “borrowed stables” in Jerusalem, Hong Kong, Canada, and finally Oxford. In their own pilgrimage of awakening they profoundly influenced many believers around the world. Murray travelled frequently to share in the World Council of Churches’ consultations, while Mary and Heather continued reaching out to their neighbours.

Cattan’s story suggests answers to many questions. Did they betray the Christian faith and Murray’s ordination vows? How were they influenced by their encounters with other faiths? How did they survive their voluntary poverty? Was it fair on their two daughters and son? How did the trio function? Why did they part company with the Church Missionary Society, when the future Bishop of Winchester John V. Taylor was its General Secretary? Should Murray have been given permission to officiate in Oxford?

It is an intimate personal and spiritual story with insights for those who are already, or need to be, engaged with contemporary inter-faith challenges.

Canon Christopher Hall is the honorary secretary of the Li Tim-Oi Foundation.

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