Saturday, May 12, 2012

A moment that changed my history

It was a trustees' meeting to decide whether we should support David Bussau establish a branch (in the UK) of what would become Opportunity International (one of the world's largest networks of micro-finance institutions). 

It was clear that some trustees were struggling with the notion of lending money to poor people (at interest) and one of them crystallised the concern by declaring, 'This is Thatcherism' (It was the late 1980s and Muhammed Yunus Nobel Prize was more than a decade away). Neither my chairman nor I (as the director) could thing of a reply. We were stumped and could see our cherished project slide away from us without the necessary consensus to go forward.

But in stepped Canon Eric James, the trust's chaplain, who no one could accuse of Thatcherism.  Indeed as his obituary notes:

 "He was a prime mover behind the Church of England's controversial 1985 report Faith in the City, which indicted the effects of Thatcherism in inner-city areas, and the subsequent setting up of the Church Urban Fund to support its mission in disadvantaged and impoverished communities." (

Eric, quick as light, simply said, 'No, I do not think it is Thatcherism. It is the parable of the talents'! 

The day was won for Opportunity, and my history was transformed. I was propelled into 'development' and into both international travel and living - Macedonia, Indonesia, Russia - all flowed from that moment of Eric's quick wittedness. 

There was an irony here. Opportunity emerged, though it has broadened since, from that evangelical wing of Christianity that thinks that homosexuality is unBiblical and disordered and Eric was gay. He famously 'came out' in a letter to the Church Times that addressed with customary intelligence and compassion that sundering in the Church's life that 'homosexuality' still represents (to the continued bewilderment of much of the 'secular' world). 

Such are the complexities from which the actual world is made: it is an irony that Eric would have understood, would that the more 'absolutists' among us did so to.

He was a great friend - erudite, charming and holy - who was immensely patient with my younger self's insecurities and nurtured my confidence to act in the world.

May he rest in peace.

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