Obituary: The Rev Lancelot Garrard

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The Independent Online
Lancelot Austin Garrard, minister of the church and scholar, born Skelbrooke Yorkshire 31 May 1904, tutor and bursar Manchester College Oxford 1933-43, Warden 1952- 56, Principal 1956-65, President 1980-87, Editor Hibbert Journal 1951-62, Professor of Philosophy and Religion Emerson College Boston 1965-71, married 1932 Muriel Walsh (died 1984; two sons), died Reading 7 January 1993.

LANCELOT GARRARD had the manner and appearance of a typical scholarly Anglican parson of his generation. Yet for more than 60 years he was a leading unitarian minister.

The son of an Anglican priest, Lance Garrard read Greats at Wadham College, Oxford. On going down in 1927 he briefly tried his hand at schoolmastering and wisely gave it up. By then he had become a Unitarian. He embarked on ministerial training at Manchester College, Oxford, and afterwards spent a vital year at Marburg as Hibbert Scholar. Once qualified, he rapidly became the New Testament scholar to whom Unitarians looked for authoritative guidance.

Garrard had the lean, muscular build of a cross-country runner. Indeed he won a half-blue in that sport. Until his very last years, he was most energetic. In his late thirties he thought nothing of cycling to Bristol from Oxford to conduct worship at Lewin's Mead meeting. He would stay the night and cycle back the next day. During nine years' ministry at the Ancient Chapel, Liverpool, in which period he was chaplain to a Unitarian High Sheriff, he participated fully in the youth work which he encouraged. In later years, he would alarm library staff by leaping up on to sills to wrestle with recalcitrant windows. Well into his eighties he never missed his daily 'constitutional'.

Like a number of Anglican 'converts' to Unitarianism over the centuries, Garrard was devoid of any trace of Nonconformist resentment of the Establishment. Quite the contrary. A member of the Athenaeum club, in London, with a wide circle of Anglican clerical friends built up over some 30 years of residence in the heart of Oxford, he seemed almost an establishment figure.

His deeply felt liberality and commitment to what he regarded as true ecumenism accounts for the notable catholicity of his 11 years' editorship of the Hibbert Journal (1951-62). Arnold Toynbee, CEM Joad, Julian Huxley, Radhakrishnan and Anthony Flew are among the galaxy of distinguished contributors. No doubt Garrard's easy command of German secured the article by Karl Barth, and Emile Brunner's in response - Garrard was strongly influenced by Brunner's Divine Imperative.

No one would class Garrard among the great scholars. But no reader of his two chief books, Duty and the Will of God (1938) and Athens or Jerusalem (1965), could fail to be impressed by his erudition and clarity of exposition. He was one of the last of that generation of New Testament scholars grounded in the classics. In his writings he permits himself a rare, occasional aside. His quintessential Englishness is revealed in his first book. Writing of the desire for revenge, he parenthesises that it 'in most Englishmen at any rate, is not very strong', a pardonable illusion - though true in Garrard's own case.

Belonging to a small denomination which often appears to be a section of the Liberal Party at prayer, Garrard's sympathies were right of centre. This innate 'conservatism' permeates his writings. But he was no partisan and abominated bigotry and extremism from whatever quarter they emanated. Christianity needed philosophy for its articulation and philosophy needed Christianity to save it from scepticism. He believed earnestly in 'the baptism of philosophy and the union of Jerusalem and Athens'.

After nine years as Principal of Manchester College, he and his wife, Muriel, moved to Boston, where for six years he was Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Emerson College. These were happy years for both, with greater freedom and fewer academic duties. Garrard had long taken a keen interest in the history of the American Civil War. A reliable story circulates that, on one visit to the South, the Confederate flag was hoisted in his honour. It was on an earlier visit to North America that he was made an honorary chief of the Chickasaw nation. He amazed his students on his return to college in Oxford by bursting into their class in full regalia.

In his study there were always objects illustrating his enthusiasm for railways. Next to a complete run of the Hibbert, there might be a GWR locomotive name-plate, propped up in the fireplace. He seemed almost as familiar with timetables as the apparatus of his Greek Testament.

In his later years, he was not happy with the drift (as he saw it) of Unitarianism from its Christian moorings. He generously primed and supported the foundation of the Unitarian Christian Association. Increasing frailty limited his activities, but his final years were never idle. He compiled a fascinating brief memoir of a forebear (Lt-Col RC Garnham), who had been aide de camp to Raffles, the founder of Singapore. And he made an invaluable Index to the Hibbert Journal.

This modest, reticent, scholarly minister, with his keen sense of humour, will be affectionately remembered beyond the bounds of his small denomination.

(Photograph omitted)