Michael Harper: From All Souls to Orthodox Archpriest

Michael Harper was one of the leading figures in the spread of the charismatic movement between the 1960s and 1980s. His ministry took him around the world through his organisation the Fountain Trust, while his personal convictions took him on a journey from being an Anglican vicar to Antiochian Orthodox Archpriest.

Born on 12 March 1931, his father had a poultry firm at Smithfield Market in London and his mother was a beautician. His father expected him to go into business but on accepting Michael’s decision to be ordained he said “Well, if you have to ‘go into the church’ you had better be the Archbishop of Canterbury”.[1] Harper’s path was to be quite different. After attending Emmanuel College, Cambridge he studied at Ridley Hall becoming a deacon of the Church of England in 1955. His first curacy was at St Barnabas Church, Clapham Common under Reginald Bazire, a former missionary in China who had ended up in the same internment camp as Eric Liddell (portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire). It was through Bazire that Harper came to know John Lefroy (later Vicar of Christ Church, Highbury) and ultimately John Stott, Rector at All Souls Langham Place, who offered him a Chaplaincy to those working in Oxford Street.

All Souls Church, Langham Place, where Harper was a curate. Photo: Tony Hisgett (available via Wikimedia Commons), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

It was during his time at All Souls that Harper received a Pentecostal baptism in the Holy Spirit. His wife Jeanne later wrote that he saw “a vision of the Church as being the Body of Christ… this over-whelming truth concerning the doctrine and nature of the church was to underlie and motivate all his ministry”.[2] Harper’s experience of the Spirit led him to speak in tongues which caused some friction with Stott and other conservative evangelicals such as Martin Lloyd-Jones.  At this point Harper decided to leave All Souls to focus on developing his ministry through the creation of the Fountain Trust in 1964.

In the same year Harper wrote Power for the body of Christ which was translated widely (the Library has translations in 6 languages). Harper embraced the charismatic renewal movement which emphasized spiritual gifts such as divine healing and group worship including speaking in tongues. Interdenominational and international contacts were made quickly including David Duplessis (Pentecostal), Larry Christenson (Lutheran) and Dennis J. Bennett (US Episcopal Church) in America. January 1966 saw the first issue of Renewal (also part of the Harper Collection) a magazine produced by the Fountain Trust which both encouraged the charismatic renewal movement and engaged with its critics. Throughout the late 1960s the Harpers travelled around the world visiting churches and witnessing renewal movements such as that of the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas.

It was the Guildford Conference in 1971 that was a turning point in the influence of the Fountain Trust and the charismatic renewal movement as a whole. Following the conference, the Fountain Trust was established or linked to organisations in France, Norway, Australia and New Zealand. The conference emphasised ecumenism (the need for greater unity between different Christian traditions) and in particular the Roman Catholic Renewal was represented through Kevin Ranaghan speaking and Bob Balkam on the Conference Committee. The success of the Guildford Conference was followed by four more international and ecumenical Conferences, the second in Nottingham and then the rest in London.[3]

Harper still wanted to develop a network that would help spread charismatic renewal throughout the Anglican Communion. To this end he organised a Charismatic Conference for Anglicans before the Lambeth Conference in 1978 and this led to the formation of Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA). At the conference there was a prophetic call “to care for the nervous system of the Body of Christ” and SOMA started cross-cultural missions between different dioceses within the communion, focusing on the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. Alongside this, Harper’s ecumenical work focused on The International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelism (ICCOWE) where he chaired meetings in Brighton and Prague as part of its ‘Decade of Evangelism’ in the 1990s.

St. Botolph’s without Bishopsgate, where Harper served the Antiochan Orthodox Church. Photo: John Salmon (available via Wikimedia Commons), https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

The last twist in Harper’s life was when he joined the Antiochan Orthodox Church in 1995. This was due to his objections to the Church of England ordaining women the year before. One of his last books The true light : an evangelical’s journey to Orthodoxy explained his reasons for entering the Orthodox Church. He became a senior priest of the Orthodox Parish of Saint Botolph in London, which meets at St. Botolph’s without Bishopsgate and was also involved in establishing The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies (IOCS) in Cambridge. After Harper’s death in 2010 his wife Jeanne continued to support IOCS and wrote his biography Visited by God.

The Library has 76 boxes of archive material and over 70 books donated by Michael and Jeanne Harper. There is also correspondence concerning Harper in the papers of Archbishop Coggan and John Stott. You can search our catalogues here: https://www.lambethpalacelibrary.org/content/searchcollections

[1] Harper, Jeanne, Visited by God : the story of Michael Harper’s 48 year-long ministry (Cambridge : Aquila, 2013), p. 5.

[2] Harper, Jeanne, Visited by God : the story of Michael Harper’s 48 year-long ministry (Cambridge : Aquila, 2013), p. 7.

[3] Au, Connie Ho Yan, Grassroots Unity in the Charismatic Renewal (Eugene, OR : Wipf & Stock, 2011), pp. 125-131.

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