LAST YEAR, Ekklesia Publishing launched a new book called Exchange of Gifts: The Vision of Simon Barrington-Ward. We are delighted to have another opportunity to promote and profile that volume this weekend (Saturday 4 March 2023), in connection with a thanksgiving service for its subject at Coventry Cathedral, in a place he loved and knew well – and with a story deeply bound up with one of his own priorities and concern, reconciliation in a world of lesions, injustices and divisions.
While the history and development of global Christianity (in both its glory and its failings and confusions) is very much about the energy of communities and movements, not simply leaders, we nevertheless know how certain people end up playing a vital role in helping the Christian community worldwide to think, relate, grow, change and – as this book emphasises – exchange gifts. Simon, who I had the pleasure of working with and for in the early 1980s, is someone whose life, work and immense personal qualities have contributed enormously to such processes of mutual benefit and spiritual growth. Through this volume, that continues.
Simon Barrington-Ward was one of the worldwide Church’s great ‘bridge-builders’, charting an imaginative path for Christianity from the local to the global, and from a turbulent twentieth century right into the challenges of a new millennium. Establishing a pioneering reputation as the Church Mission Society (CMS) General Secretary, and then Anglican Bishop of Coventry, his long and extraordinary life spanned nine decades, combining the heart of a pastor with wide-ranging gifts as a theologian, lecturer, chaplain, spiritual director, ecumenist, writer, reconciler and justice advocate. He was also Honorary Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, where this book was first launched.
All that illustrates, perhaps, that the subject of this volume was a fascinating combination of establishment figure and disturber, settler and pioneer. Ekklesia’s reputation is definitely for disturbance and radicalism. But we also recognise and honour those traits weaved within the work and life of those who seek to shape inherited institutions and patterns towards a different and better future, aligned to the gospel’s call for levelling and transformation. Simon, with all his own gifts, graces and flaws, was that kind of figure. I try to outline the struggles that involved in my own chapter, ‘Bold Humility: an Evangelical–Ecumenical Spirit’. Inter alia, that references some of the knotty issues of (and challenges to) Christian mission, not least its colonial shaping and inheritance.
This book – featuring both recognised and emerging voices – explores the range of concerns and lives Simon Barrington-Ward touched, his importance as a contemporary witness to an historic faith, and the inspiration and guidance his example offers to followers of Christ navigating an uncertain future. The fascinating life it documents, and to which it pays tribute, will be of interest both to Christians of many different outlooks and backgrounds. Here is a figure who can unite across difference and point us towards a path of hope in an often-divided world.
Part of the purpose of Ekklesia Publishing is to enable less recognised voices to find a wider public. In his activities over the years, Simon Barrington-Ward became immensely important for a large number of people, quite a few of whom have contributed to this rich and diverse collection. However, it is probably also true that his name is not as widely or instantly recognised as some of others that crop up within these pages. It is our hope that Exchange of Gifts will help to change that.
It has been a great pleasure to work with co-editors Graham Kings and Ian Randall in preparing this book – in the process, renewing contact with Graham after a number of years, and forming a new bond with Ian. They and the contributors have put an immense amount of loving labour into its realisation. May the quiet wisdom shared within these pages enrich us all.
© Simon Barrow is Director of Ekklesia and Managing Editor of Ekklesia Publishing. He worked for CMS in world church education from 1982-1987. This article is adapted from his Publisher’s Preface. Exchange of Gifts: The Vision of Simon Barrington Ward is available from major online stockists here, and in selected bookshops. The introduction to the book, by Graham Kings, can also be read here. Simon Barrow’s columns can be found here (and archived ones here). Twitter: @simonbarrow