Obituary: Canon Michael Green

by
15 February 2019

UPP

The Rt Revd John Pritchard writes:

WITH the death of Canon Michael Green on 6 February comes the passing of a generation of remarkable evangelists whose mark on the Church of England is ineradicable. Among a galaxy of Evangelical clergy in the 1960s and 1970s he helped to create a culture of mission and evangelism which we now take for granted.

Michael Green was a scholar, a writer, a lecturer, a parish priest, a mentor, and a friend to countless Christian leaders all over the world, but, above all, he was a passionate evangelist. In his last days in hospital, knowing his condition was precarious, he was still saying that he had found many opportunities to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.

He had a lifelong passion for the gospel and a personal hunger for God, which he combined with a charming humility and a captivating sense of joy. He will be hugely missed by countless people who have been inspired by his life, his talks, and his writing.

Edward Michael Bankes Green was born in 1930 to a Welsh Anglo-Catholic clergyman father and an Australian mother. His secondary education was at Clifton College, where he found faith for himself through the mature ministry of the 17-year-old head boy. Then began a long association with Iwerne camps, from which he learned much about evangelism and pastoral care, although he subsequently recognised what a rarefied experience that was.

He read Greats at Exeter College, Oxford, and then theology at Queen’s College, Cambridge, gaining first-class degrees in both disciplines. After National Service, he trained for ordained ministry at Ridley Hall, where he was greatly influenced by the modest, scholarly Evangelical Professor Charlie Moule. Later, he received doctorates from the University of Toronto (1992) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (1996).

A happy three-year curacy at Holy Trinity, Eastbourne, started in 1957. Michael had met and married Rosemary at Oxford, whose blue in lacrosse matched the fencing blue that Michael gained at Cambridge. By 1966, they had four children, and Rosemary had her hands full. It was inevitable that Michael would be found by a theological college where his academic ability could be matched by his evangelistic and pastoral enthusiasm. Nevertheless, it remained something of a surprise to him that he should have spent so much of his ministry in theological-training institutions when he had, in all honesty, gone through Ridley Hall without any deep engagement, except to his degree.

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Michael thrived at the London College of Divinity, teaching, among others, George Carey, later Archbishop of Canterbury, and Janani Luwum, later the martyred Archbishop of Uganda. The college relocated to Nottingham as St John’s, and Michael became its Principal, giving him even more opportunity, with a talented team of tutors, to enthuse his students with the exciting possibilities of ministry.

It was a productive period. Michael was writing some significant books and serving on the Doctrine Commission (1968-77) and as a consultant to the 1968 Lambeth Conference. He was an obvious choice to become Rector of the strategically important St Aldate’s, back in Oxford, where student ministry was paramount, and the opportunities were immense. The pace was relentless, however, and Michael did not always judge it well, but he developed programmes for students which were to inspire and equip them for lifelong Christian service and mission.

In 1987, Michael and Rosemary went to Canada, where he was Professor of Evangelism at Regent College, Vancouver. They returned in 1992, when Michael and the Rt Revd Michael Marshall became the two advisers to the Archbishops’ Springboard initiative for the Decade of Evangelism. There followed more travelling and more writing, until a notional retirement in 1996, when, inevitably, he picked up another job as Senior Research Fellow and Head of Evangelism and Apologetics at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

There was still one more post in Michael when he went in 2005, for two years, as Rector of Holy Trinity, Raleigh, North Carolina.

All this time, Michael had been writing. There were more than 50 books in all, ranging from significant studies of evangelism in the Early Church and on the Holy Spirit, to a stream of books on apologetics; he made sense of faith in the face of contemporary objections, and gave sharp responses to contemporary myths.

He was always ready for debate, and demonstrated that most especially in the university missions that he continued to lead with extraordinary energy right through until last year. He both taught and led missions all over the world, and was particularly drawn to the fast-growing churches of south-east Asia, and the newer churches of Eastern Europe.

Theologically, Michael remained orthodox and conservative, but he was always open to discussion and debate, challenging views with which he disagreed with clarity, charm, and humour. There was an irresistible quality about Michael’s faith, and a joy that never failed to bubble over and embrace those to whom he was talking. He was entranced by the reality of the risen Christ, alive in the world today, and welcomed the full working of the Holy Spirit, which he demonstrated by his openness to the Charismatic movement when it emerged controversially in the 1960s.

Rosemary was Michael’s talented helpmeet through six decades, and has her own much-valued ministry in pastoral care and counselling. They took huge pleasure in their large family and holidays together. Michael sensibly never lost his love of cricket and other earthly pleasures, but his love of his Lord was paramount, and he will be sorely missed by legions of those who loved and respected him as a foundational figure in their faith.

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