Canon Keith Weston: Bible expositor known as one of the finest of his generation
Wednesday 03 April 2013
Keith Weston, rector of St Ebbe's Church, Oxford, was widely regarded as one of the foremost Bible expositors of his generation. He played a vital part in an ambitious plan by the then Inter-Varsity Fellowship (now UCCF) to see Bible-teaching churches in all UK and Irish university towns. Weston's twofold ministry was to allow scripture to inform the thinking of his church members in whatever sphere they served, and to raise up other preachers who would do the same.
Weston took his Anglican churchmanship seriously. He was a member of General Synod for 10 years in the 1970s and '80s, sitting on its Dioceses Commission, and serving a three-year term on its Panel of Chairmen. He was a member of the Bishop of Oxford's Council, and an honorary canon of Christ Church Cathedral.
In 1985 he moved to Norwich as diocesan director of ordinands, and was chaplain to the Norfolk County Fire Service. On a wider UK level, he served as a trustee of UCCF, and in 1987-88 as its president; and as Chair of the globally renowned Keswick Convention. His Keswick ministry brought invitations from its sister movements on five continents, often to preach to tens of thousands. This commitment to world mission was reflected in the life of the congregation. Missionaries were sent out from St Ebbe's as theological educators, schoolteachers, doctors and pastors. Valedictory services were highlights of church life. While the word "glocal" has entered the lexicon only recently, men like Keith Weston were practising it as a value decades before. There was constant interplay in his thinking, praying and preaching between global and local.
Michael Nazir-Ali, later Bishop of Rochester and now a leading figure in Muslim-Christian dialogue, was a member of St Ebbe's as a doctoral student, and honorary curate; among undergraduates in the congregation in the 1960s were NT Wright (New Testament theologian and former Bishop of Durham; also an honorary curate) and Chris Sugden (founder of Anglican Mainstream). Future academics included Oliver O'Donovan (Regius Professor of Moral Theology at Oxford), and Denis Alexander (biochemist and Christian apologist).
Keith Aitken Astley Weston was born in 1926, the third son of Sir Arthur Astley Weston, chief legal advisor to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the 1940s, and Margaret Ethelwyn Gibbs. He was educated at Merchant Taylors' School, Northwood and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he read modern languages, and then at Ridley Hall, where he trained for ordination. It was during service as a captain in the Royal Artillery in Italy and Palestine that he first sensed a call to ordination. His years in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) proved formative, and he set his sights on service overseas, but was turned down for health reasons. In 1954 he married Margaret Reed.
Weston's keen mind, sense of compassion, and sense of humour fitted him for a parish which proved demanding at every level. Running from the edge of the town centre to the River Thames, St Ebbe's parish is among the most diverse in the Church of England. When he arrived in 1964 major redevelopment was afoot, with hundreds of Victorian terraced houses with outside lavatories being demolished to give way to council flats, a shopping mall and a multi-storey car park.
After a compulsory purchase order on the rectory, in the not-so-Elysian Paradise Square, a new rectory was completed in 1971 adjoining the medieval church, which is sandwiched between Pembroke College and the Westgate Centre, and surrounded by shops and bars – a literal fusion of town and gown. Margaret's hospitality became legendary, with many people's problems sorted out at the rectory kitchen table. Here, as one former curate recalls, students found "faith, answers, challenge and friendship".
Weston was a regular speaker at the annual Keswick Convention. He was also a favourite on the speaking circuit for the university Christian Unions. Students loved him. There was little glamour in train journeys to speak to campus meetings, but it was a hallmark in that time of giants such as Weston and John Stott, and Scottish counterparts such as James Philip and Eric Alexander, that these men would travel hundreds of miles to do so. He was always back in St Ebbe's for the 8am Sunday communion service, even if it meant catching the milk train.
Preaching was Weston's passion. In the church register it was more important to him to enter the passage expounded than the name of the preacher. "I would find it difficult," he told one curate at interview, "if you were a duffer in the pulpit." The curate, now Dean of Jersey, was appointed, and proved he was not. Weston continued to preach in retirement, in Thame and nearby, despite increasing frailty; he was still preaching a few months before he died.
Keith Aitken Astley Weston, Bible expositor: born Addiscombe, Croydon 30 July 1926; married 1954 Margaret Reed (two sons, two daughters); died Oxford 5 February 2013.
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