Damian Thompson writes about Alpha, Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity Brompton and the new ABC

Great article at The Spectator by Damian Thompson.  Here is an excerpt, but please read it all.

Just before stepping down as Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Robert Runcie told me — in a sotto voce conversation during the General Synod — that charismatic evangelical parishes such as Holy Trinity Brompton (‘HTB’) in South Kensington, with their American-style worship, near-fundamentalist teaching and smart social connections, posed more of a threat to the Church of England than divisions over women priests. I wonder how he would have reacted to the news that, 21 years later, an HTB man has been given his job.


But if he were alive today, and had kept track of Holy Trinity’s growing influence in the Church, I suspect Dr Runcie’s reaction would be quite different. He might say: ‘Thank God that, between them, Downing Street and the ecclesiastical appointments committee have found a man from the one bit of the C of E that actually works.’ Evidence? A simple introduction to Christianity known as the Alpha Course, devised by the parish in the 1970s and still very much the intellectual property of HTB, has now been done by 20 million people across the world. In the process, Holy Trinity Brompton has changed — to the point where choosing one of its alumni to become Primate of All England seems an entirely natural step. Or, to put it another way, the Church of England’s last chance to pull itself together.


OK, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. HTB in those days struck outsiders not only as very posh but also very Protestant — and not in an Anglican way. I interviewed one young woman who remembered the point at which she decided that the whole operation was too ‘cultish’ for her. ‘There was a carefully placed box of tissues at the prayer meeting, for the moment someone cried when the Holy Spirit descended,’ she said. ‘It felt like emotional manipulation.’ Archbishop Runcie had also heard that sort of story; it was one of the reasons he felt he had a cuckoo in the nest.

The charge isn’t fair now. Nicky Gumbel, still thin and handsome but with grey crinkly hair, has been vicar of Holy Trinity since 2005. He didn’t invent the Alpha Course — designed as an introduction to Jesus for non-believers or lukewarm churchgoers — but it’s thanks to his nervous energy that it has spread to 169 countries. In 1996, Cardinal Hume invited a team from HTB to Westminster Cathedral so he could discover whether it was compatible with Catholicism. ‘That really took us by surprise,’ Gumbel told me over tea in his vicarage last week. ‘It wasn’t just that they were so enthusiastic — it was that we hardly had to change anything when we developed Alpha for Catholics.’

Actually, the bigger surprise is that HTB — which at one point in its history would have regarded Catholics as barely Christian at all — is so Rome-friendly: literally so, in that Gumbel has friends and supporters in the upper reaches of the Vatican. ‘I love Catholics,’ he says with great emphasis, and it’s interesting that he doesn’t use the term ‘Roman Catholics’, which always sounds slightly sniffy to Catholic ears.



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3 Responses to Damian Thompson writes about Alpha, Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity Brompton and the new ABC

  1. Pingback: Damian Thompson writes about Alpha, Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity Brompton and the new ABC | Catholic Canada

  2. I speculate as to why you called this posting, “Damian Thompson writes about Alpha,
    Nicky Gumbel, Holy Trinity Brompton and the
    new ABC | Foolishness to the world”. In
    any event I actually appreciated the article!Thank you,Edgar

  3. Molly Yurman says:

    We believe the Bible, comprised of the Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God (Matthew 5:18; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In faith we hold the Bible to be inerrant in the original writings, God-breathed, and the complete and final authority for faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:16-17). While still using the individual writing styles of the human authors, the Holy Spirit perfectly guided them to ensure they wrote precisely what He wanted written, without error or omission (2 Peter 1:21).,

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