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Thank You, Holy Spirit – Horace Dammers

June 29, 2014

TYHSI hardly knew the author. He was a member of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and I was branch secretary. He was on its progressive wing, seeing ‘pacifist’ as ‘peacemaker’ – a word the fellowship has unsuccessfully tried to adopt in its title but which appears in its magazine’s title.

Horace was clearly a great mover and shaker in the Anglican Communion, able to see the big picture. However, the detail wasn’t his strong point. The day to day organisation of Bristol Cathedral, when he was dean, was shambolic.

The title sounds a little twee but he intended this book to be a sort of personal testimony to what God had done in and through his life.

At Cambridge, he had agonised over whether to be a conscientious objector but he decided to fight in World War Two. The sight of charred bodies trapped in a tank, a corpse whose finger had been cut ff so that his ring could be stolen and a German soldier who read the Bible led to his call to ordination.

A nice story: One year I attended the annual conference of the United States association of veterans for peace. There were several Japanese delegates there, of one of whom, a Christian minister, this remarkable story was told. As a serving soldier in the Second World War, he was stationed in the Philippines. Some villagers had been accused of sabotaging the Japanese war effort and his unit had been ordered to go to the village the next day and murder all the men. Disapproving of this, he risked his life by stealing out of the camp by night and warning the villagers. They evacuated the village and dispersed throughout the area. I value this story as we tend to demonise the whole of the wartime Japanese military.

Although he went to India on behalf of the Church Missionary Society, there are the seeds of interfaith dialogue in his encounters.

He describes an interesting model of Bible study: member has a card divided into three sections marked successively by a candle, an arrow and a question mark. The passage is read, a period of silence follows and each member records what he or she finds illuminating opposite the candle; what strikes the heart or the conscience opposite the arrow; and any questions which the passage raises opposite the question mark. Then each member is invited in turn to share their findings (or not if they prefer). I introduced this method also to a small group of Anglican and Roman Catholic priests which I joined in Sheffield, to Bishop Hunter’s lay training residential courses, of which I became a tutor, and later to our Bristol Cathedral staff meeting and to the Little Gidding Bible Study Group. Bishop Hunter pioneered these lay training courses of three weekends at Whirlow Grange, the diocesan conference centre. On the courses at which I assisted, I was the junior colleague of my friend Robin Woods, Archdeacon of Sheffield. In one Bible Study session, we were studying the seven last words from the cross. When it was my turn, I commented on ‘It is finished’ (tetelestai in Greek) that I believed that St John means us to think of the accomplishment of Jesus’s divine work, the salvation of the world, no less. A steelworker came next and referred to his daily work of manoeuvring great ingots of white hot steel into the desired channels. By the end of the day he was exhausted and dehydrated and needed a couple of pints of beer to set him up for his tea. How much more was Jesus exhausted by his terrible sufferings. ‘It is finished’ means `Thank God that’s over’. I believe that the Holy Spirit dictated these contributions, especially the latter. In the hour of his death, Jesus is both the Son of God, as perceived by the centurion standing by, and the suffering Son of Man.

On one occasion he was invited to preach at a festival as they couldn’t get a processional elephant.

When direct grant schools were abolished, he wanted to get the Cathedral School under the auspices of the local authority, who refused, though it is now under its wing at long last. As he rightly points out, the high number of independent schools in the city is to the detriment of the education of everybody else.

His successor as Dean of Bristol, Wesley Carr went about undoing some of Horace’s innovations though he is given credit where it is due. Dr. Carr writes and speaks eloquently but he is not the easiest of personalities to get on with.

It would have been nice to hear something about his famous musician son and anti-Apartheid campaigner Jerry Dammers.

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