Obituary: Canon Roger Hooker

ROGER HOOKER often quoted the saying that the question of other faiths was the biggest issue to face the Christian churches since Darwin. Forty years of his adult life were spent engaged with those issues at every level: theological, social, emotional, and personal. After 13 years as a Church Mission Society (CMS) missionary in India, he became widely respected and consulted as a Christian authority on inter-faith relations in Britain.

Hooker was born in Hove in 1934, and educated at Charterhouse and Oxford. Ordained in 1960, he was a curate in Stockton-on-Tees and then trained as a CMS missionary, during which time he met his future wife Pat, the daughter of Max Warren, who was general secretary of the society. Max Warren provided Hooker with an incomparable theological partnership; from 1965 to 1978 they corresponded weekly between Britain and India.

Initially Roger and Pat Hooker ran a hostel for Indian boys in Agra before moving first, in 1969, to Bareilly, where Roger lectured at the North India United Theological College, and then to Varanasi (Benares), where he was himself a student at the Sampurhanda Sanskrit University. From that experience, and the systematic reflection on it in correspondence with Max Warren, came the quiet confidence and the wide sympathy of a rare missionary personality.

One of Hooker's stories was about the Hindu friend who told him that Christian missionaries didn't usually think it worthwhile to spend time with people like himself. Hooker reacted against the strategy-driven Christian thinking which that story illustrates. Like other Christian ministers in frontier situations he adopted the principle of "loitering with intent". He was always willing to meet people as individuals and never simply as potential converts.

He spent years acquiring a thorough grasp of Hindi and Sanskrit, and wrote a highly acclaimed doctoral thesis on the contemporary Hindi novel (soon to be published in India as The Quest of Ajneya). While never uncritical of the waywardness of the Indian church or the image-obsessed English one, he gave his energies to both. He lit up national and local church committees with the wisdom born of long experience.

He had a fund of often hilarious and always illuminating stories. My favourite was his description of an inter-faith meeting in Varanasi where people read extracts from their own scriptures. His own offering from the New Testament in Hindi was met with disappointment, and the question why he had not read it in the language of Jesus - English. "But English was not Jesus's language, and if I had read it in Greek, you would not have understood a word!" "Why should that matter? We would still be hearing the words of God!"

On returning to England in 1978, he and Pat lived first in Selly Oak, Birmingham, engaged in the training of missionaries at Crowther Hall, and then settled in Smethwick, where he acted as a consultant to the Birmingham churches on inter-faith relations. Hooker was in demand nationally as speaker and consultant on Hinduism to the Archbishops, and participated in the creative period of the British Council of Churches' engagement with other faith communities.

In his last years he began a deeper engagement with Judaism, and his 1996/97 Teape lectures, published as Narrating our Nations, reflect his growing concern with the way that religion, and specifically a theology of the land, can be used to underpin an exclusive sense of communal identity. Few topics could be more important to believers and non- believers alike in most countries of the world, and not least in the Middle East and in India.

Christopher Lamb

Roger Hardham Hooker, priest: born Hove, Sussex 21 September 1934; ordained deacon 1960, priest 1961; CMS mission partner in India 1965-78; Tutor, Crowther Hall, Selly Oak 1979-82, Diocesan Missioner, Birmingham 1982- 98; Honorary Canon, Birmingham Cathedral 1989-98; married 1943 Pat Warren (one son, one daughter); died Smethwick, West Midlands 11 January 1999.

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