Round Church Talks
The Christian Heritage Story by Founder,
When Susan and I moved to Cambridge in 1996 the last thing we expected was something like Christian Heritage. All we knew was that L’Abri in Hampshire needed younger hands and hearts and that our place was elsewhere. I was approaching retirement. Seven years earlier during a sabbatical in Cambridge in 1989 I’d prayed a prayer not unlike Edith’s in 1955: ‘Lord, show us a house quickly’. In less than two weeks, just before returning to Greatham, we were the owners of a little terrace house in Newnham. So seven years later when it came time for us to leave the Manor we did know we’d be moving back to Cambridge. That had been part of my prayer. But we didn’t have a clue what awaited us. All we wanted to do was respond to the Lord’s leading - and be an extension of sorts from the L’Abri in Greatham. Meanwhile, the Round Church in the heart of the city and university stood virtually empty. Plans to make it into a bookshop had stalled. It was being used as a brass-rubbing centre. On our return in 1996 people who had heard me speaking earlier about the possibility of it becoming a ‘heritage site’ began to urge me in that direction. Finally, to cut a long story short, I decided this made sense. It really was what I should do.
However, big hurdles remained and it wasn’t until January 2001 that Christian Heritage, as a newly incorporated charity, was granted a ‘licence’ from its Church of England landlord. Gradually, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, CH planted itself in the heart of the city. Over the next 15 years its real identity, its informing vision if you like, steadily emerged, with the faithful work of Martin Lown. To begin with looked as if it was simply about ‘the Christian past’, about heritage: we made a video of Cambridge’s history; a kitchenette and toilets were installed; a library was established; the stunning History Displays by Ian and Elaine Cooper were devised and created - and so on. This was all ‘heritage’ certainly. But our strap-line had always indicated a broader calling: ‘Recovering the past; Challenging the present; Shaping the future’. Slowly the second and third aspects became apparent, yet without disturbing the Visitor Centre. David & Sarah Illman’s arrival in 2011 was a key factor in this. They had first come for a brief summer internship in 2008 where CH and Cambridge cast its spell, and three years later they were back. Under their leadership the ‘challenging’ side of the work has blossomed. A series of monthly Round Church Talks designed to raise awareness of Christianity’s intellectual and cultural riches started. They also created a training facility called a ‘CH Intership’ – an annual ten month graduate mentoring programme.
On May 18 2015, the Christian Heritage Board invited Andrew Fellows to come to Cambridge as our new director. All this constitutes one of the best things I’ve experienced in years. Andrew is just the person we need right now and his coming has all the marks of divine provision. At the same time it represents a striking example of continuity with the past, which is how God often works.
As well as being the co-ordinator of the Hampshire L’Abri since 1997 Andrew has also been L’Abri’s international director in recent years. It was a path I followed decades earlier. But the continuity stretches further back, even to the beginnings of L’Abri in 1955. Andrew and Helen’s coming to Cambridge simply echoes, through what happened to Susan and myself in 1996, the Schaeffers’ first move to the little village of Huemoz, Switzerland. Francis and Edith had experienced all sorts of difficulties in early 1955 - sickness, avalanches, polio, church opposition, even, believe it or not, expulsion from Switzerland. In the midst of the storms they asked God to lead them to what was right. True, they’d longed for a place that could be a ‘shelter’ (a ‘labri’) for young people searching for answers in life, like their home in the Canton of Valais across the valley had briefly been. But they weren’t expecting it. In fact, having been expelled from the very country they wanted to stay in they weren’t expecting very much! They were without a home and they had little money. What lay ahead was a complete unknown. Slowly, L’Abri took shape around them. With its twin convictions about ‘True Truth’ and ‘True Spirituality’ it began to shine like a slender lighthouse across the shadowlands of the sceptical West. In other words, the work of L’Abri wasn’t planned. It was as much a surprise to them as to others.
Andrew and Helen Fellows only deepen and extend what David and Sarah have begun. Andrew brings lecturing gifts which will enhance the ‘challenge’ side of CH’s work. He will also head up weekly talks to attract both Christian and non-Christian students. In addition he and David will coordinate visiting scholars to extend even further the outreach and training aspects of CH’s mission. Their aim, like mine before them, will be to foster a real thinking community which, amongst other things, challenges Scientific Naturalism’s prevailing hegemony.
So there you have it. CH grew out of the L'Abri work. The two organisations work differently in many ways. But the continuity of ideas and ethos is unmistakeable. Susan and I brought it with us in 1996: we remained L’Abri Members (as I still am) and Andrew and Helen will do the same. What I’ve shared with you is present reality. The main way you can help (and I mean this) is to pray. CH continues to exist simply by God’s grace. Its calling is sufficiently unusual to make it hard for people to grasp what it’s all about. But that was true of L’Abri. Yet God used that little work in immeasurable ways and still does. CH’s impact, hopefully, will be along those lines. Having grasped the glory of God’s Word not only experimentally but intellectually, and having come to love the God of truth himself, individual graduates will be equipped to go out from Cambridge and make a difference in the world whatever their area of expertise.
I could say more but this must suffice. Please stand alongside at this exciting new moment. Obviously, bringing Andrew and Helen up here will involve new financial commitments. If you can support CH as a regular donor, especially over the next two years, that would be wonderful.
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Ranald Macaulay, Founder
Registered Charity 1076750