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.

The Archives of the Board for Mission and Unity (BMU)

What is Mission?

Then: ‘Dedicated Christians, Bible in hand, going to far-away places to preach the Gospel.

Now: ‘Overseas work is still important, but the approach is different. What is more we live in a missionary situation here at home’.

The text above, which was extracted from a 1982 pamphlet published in the Diocese of Croydon, provides a succinct appraisal of the nature of missionary work at points in time some hundred years or so apart. In doing so, it sums up rather well a century-long transformation in missionary thought and endeavour which can be charted in fine detail in the recently completed catalogues of the archives of the Board for Mission and Unity (BMU) and its predecessors.

Dating from the formation of the Board of Missions of the Convocation of Canterbury in 1884 and concluding in 1991 when BMU was subsumed into the Board of Missions, the archive documents comprehensively the Church’s reappraisal of the notion of missionary work. Once considered best left to brethren of somewhat idiosyncratic societies, despatched to distant lands to ‘spread the word’, the more modern, broadened concept of missionary work saw matters closer to home come into focus, whilst the work overseas moved into the area of ‘World Development’.

Operating as an Advisory Body to the Church Assembly (later General Synod), the ‘Board’ underwent a number of name changes over time to reflect its changing responsibilities and re-structuring within the Church. After the initial Board of Missions came the Central Board of Missions (1908), Missionary Council (1921) and Overseas Council (1951). In 1949 a Council for Ecumenical Co-Operation was also formed, and in 1963 this would join together with the Overseas Council to form the Missionary and Ecumenical Council, which then became the Board for Mission and Unity in 1972. Totalling around 600 boxes of material, the archive records the central role played by the BMU (in all its incarnations) in the Church’s efforts to move away from the inherited usage of the term ‘missionary’ and the undertones it carried, and encourage clergy and laity alike to view missionary as more than ‘something we do somewhere else’ and an ‘optional extra’.

As the name Board for Mission and Unity makes clear, mission was not the only area of concern for the Board, with the ‘recovery of Christian Unity’ being an equally important part of its remit. The linking together of mission and ecumenism was an initiative at which the Anglian Church was at the forefront, particularly in the latter half of the 20c, as it reached out ecumenically to Roman Catholics and Methodists amongst others. The work of BMU would be central to this aim, as Conversations, Consultations and Conferences were all serviced by BMU staff, while the Committee on Roman Catholic Relations, an advisory body answerable to the BMU and the Archbishops, was set up in 1972 to continue work began by the Commission on Roman Catholic Relations as part of the Council of Foreign Relations.

On matters of both mission and Unity the Board acted as a conduit between General Synod and the dioceses, carrying communication in either direction: directives from Synod were carried out in the parishes and deaneries, and reports on these were transmitted back through BMU to Synod for discussion and evaluation. Further areas of work of BMU staff included maintaining close relationships with the Missionary Societies which had paved the way in the missionary field, being the principal channel of communication between General Synod and the World Council of Churches, British Council of Churches and other bodies, and keeping abreast of theological Faith and Order issues raised by the search for Unity.

In 2003 the successor to BMU, Board of Missions, was amalgamated with another General Synod body, the Board for Social Responsibility (BSR), to become Mission and Public Affairs. As part of a 16 Project made possible following the award of a generous grant from the Andrew Mellon Foundation via the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, both the BMU and BSR archives have been catalogued. They can be consulted at the joint Church Of England Record Centre / Lambeth Palace Library electronic archives and manuscripts catalogue entering either BMU or BSR as the OrderNo field.