Obituary: The Rev Raymond George

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RAYMOND GEORGE was one of the foremost Methodist scholars of his generation, and an outstanding theological educator.

He was born in Gloucester in 1912, and educated locally at the Crypt School. In 1931 he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, as an Exhibitioner, and gained a double First in classical Greats. He remained intensely loyal to his college, and would quote Hilaire Belloc's lines with approval:

Balliol made me, Balliol fed me,

Whatever I had she gave me again:

And the best of Balliol loved and led me.

God be with you, Balliol men.

He trained for the Methodist ministry at Wesley House, Cambridge, took another First in the theological Tripos, and then spent the year 1937/38 as Finch scholar, studying under Professors Heiler and Bultmann in the University of Marburg. He had first-hand experience of Nazism, saw Hitler arriving for a party rally at Nuremberg, and witnessed the tension between pro- and anti-Nazi teachers in the university. In the summer of 1939, to the amazement of his German mentors, he revisited Marburg on holiday. Heiler was appalled: "Why have you come back? We're going to war with you!" Raymond replied, with directness rather than naivete, "When?" Heiler: "Not till the harvest is in."

This international dimension of his ministry proved lifelong. In 1949, as a representative of the British Council of Churches, Raymond George paid a fraternal visit to the Kirchliche Hochschule Zehlendorf, Berlin, and over the years represented the British Methodist Conference at the North-West German Annual Conference, as well as those of Ghana and Nigeria.

He gave distinguished service on the Executive of the World Methodist Council, and was the first Secretary of the quadrennial Oxford Institute of Theological Studies, which from 1958 has brought together Methodist scholars from across the world. He also served on the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, and acted as Secretary of its Theological Commission on Worship (Europe), with Bishop Kenneth Riches his colleague as Chairman.

He was a WCC observer on the Roman Catholic Liturgical Consilium at the Vatican from 1966 onwards, advised on the revision of the Lectionary, and was completely at home in proceedings conducted entirely in Latin.

Yet, though a committed ecumenist, he was rooted in the High Wesleyan tradition of Methodism. The hymns of Charles Wesley informed his theology, worship and devotion. He gave a lifetime of service to the theological colleges of Methodism - in Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, London and Bristol. The core of his teaching ministry lay in his long spell of service at Wesley College, Headingley. He taught there from 1946 to 1967, and was Principal from 1961.

After the college was transferred to Bristol, he stayed on for a further year (1967/68), to act as head of the Department of Theology at Leeds University, during Professor John Tinsley's absence on sabbatical. He ran the department with exemplary care and efficiency, and gave further proof, if any were needed, of his professorial calibre.

He taught for 53 years in the Methodist colleges and the universities to which they are linked. His only experience of being in pastoral charge of churches as a circuit minister came in the war years at Manchester. Yet his pastoral office found full expression in his work of teaching, and he was to generations of students a trusted confidant and guide, during their college training and long afterwards.

Though an academic to his fingertips, he was always ready to use his gifts in the wider service of the Church. In 1975 he became President of the Methodist Conference, and in 1979 Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council. To these offices, as to his work as Governor of the Methodist Faith and Order Committee and to the Roman Catholic-Methodist dialogue at national and international levels, he brought his distinct gifts of clarity, firmness, and courtesy.

A considerable theologian and church historian, his main expertise was in the field of Liturgy and Worship. He was largely responsible for the Methodist Service Book of 1975, was a founding member of the Joint Liturgical Group, and chief architect of the four-year Lectionary. From 1988 he was President of the Society for Liturgical Study. His many publications include Communion with God in the New Testament (1952) and the four-volume A History of the Methodist Church in Great Britain (1965-88), of which he was co-editor.

In retirement, Raymond George taught part-time at Wesley College, Bristol, and was Warden of John Wesley's Chapel ("The New Room"), Bristol, from 1982 to 1995. He was unmarried, but was a most sociable and gregarious man, with a genius for friendship. The milk of human kindness flowed from him, and his humour and humanity endeared him to all who knew him. He combined humble faith, great learning, and the simplicity of Christ.

Alfred Raymond George, minister of the church: born Gloucester 26 November 1912; ordained 1940; Tutor, Wesley College, Headingley 1946-67, Principal 1961-67; Associate Lecturer, Leeds University 1946-67, Acting Head, Department of Theology 1967-68; Principal, Richmond College, London University 1968- 72; Tutor, Wesley College, Bristol 1972-81; President, Methodists' Conference 1975-76; Moderator, Free Church Federal Council 1979-80; Warden, John Wesley's Chapel, Bristol 1982-95; Chairman, Joint Liturgical Group 1984- 89; died Bristol 22 June 1998.