Homecall of Rev. Howard Taylor
An Englishman who was first ordained into the church in Africa before serving in the Church of Scotland parish ministry and then on a Scottish University campus has now been elevated to a new position.
by the Editor
Rev. Howard Taylor: missionary, minister, chaplain
This note is not about me, but I need to admit that I am feeling a bit sorry for myself. This week I learned that I have lost – if only from this life – a dear brother, nay father in the Lord. Some of those reading this article will know Howard better than they know this writer; for others the reverse might apply; others not at all. But if you are in the latter groupings allow me to ‘introduce’ Howard to you.
I first ‘saw’ Rev. Howard Taylor looking at me out of the rear cover of a booklet published by Clifford Hill’s Prophetic Word Ministries back in 1991. The title of the booklet was The Biblical Basis of ‘Israel: the People of God’. The very brief biographical notes on the publication told me that it was written by a minister who was ordained by and into the African Presbyterian Church. They also stated he was –then –“back in Scotland”; in local parish ministry in Glasgow; lecturing part-time at Glasgow Bible College and conference-speaking on ‘science, belief and New Age topics’.
The geographical reference to ‘Scotland’ caused me to think at the time that he was Scottish; and I was also researching the New Age Movement back then. However beyond my mistaken assumption regarding his nationality and my NAM interest, I was much more gripped by the fact that here was (by that time) a Church of Scotland clergyman defending a Biblical view on God’s dealings, plans and purposes for the Jewish nation; historically, but also both in and beyond our present day. This was, and remains – in my experience at least – a rare combination, and I resolved to make contact with him; even if just to say “Hello”.
From that first encounter and since then, Howard was a source of great encouragement and biblical wisdom for me and, I am sure, to many many more throughout his life. In 'phone calls and e-mails back and fore we ranged over theology, creationism, science and philosophy.
One cyberspace encounter was on a dark winter’s night when a ‘bubble’ appeared on my computer screen telling me that “Howard Taylor is online”. Although the hour was late indeed, I hit the Skype button – only to discover that my friend was in fact sitting at the time in a bedroom in China, and about to go down to breakfast. (Howard was in fact delivering Bible-teaching to students in China.)
During his period as a university chaplain I was, as a parent with a child 'on campus', very grateful for his pastoral ministry back then. It was during this time we first met together in a face-to-face setting. Subsequently, and following his retirement, my wife and I had the pleasure of spending a short time in the company of Howard and his loving and caring wife Eleanor.
David Torrance and Howard Taylor speaking on camera
The last time I my friend was back in April 2011 when, along with Ross Maclean – a Christian videocameraman colleague from Thistle Channel TV – I visited the Taylors and one of their closest friends, Rev. David Torrance.
The context was the recording of video interviews with both of these highly-respected Church of Scotland ministers – speaking on the subject of Israel.
(Together in 2007 they wrote and published the book ‘Israel, God’s Servant’ with Howard using the psuedonym George Taylor because of the sensitivity of his work in a multi-faith environment at that time.)
During the course of the day’s filming in Anstruther we were joined over lunch by two more of his good friends and fellow Church of Scotland clergymen, Jock Stein and Alistair Donald. (The latter was and is successor to Howard as chaplain at Herriot Watt.) By that time the debilitating illness which marred his latter years was taking a severe toll on his energies.
Though he spoke in earnest fashion during the camera sessions, it was indeed a struggle for him.
"They are two biblical teachings which are most at odds with, and offensive to modern secular thought."
That was to be the last time I was to see Howard. On Friday past - 22 February 2013, Rev Howard Taylor BSc. BD. went home to be with the Lord. Jock has written an eloquent and fitting obituary for the Scotsman newspaper which needs no embellishment. It is copied below.
Following Howard’s homecall, a fellow clergyman has written:
‘I once remarked to Howard that it was unusual to have two specialist interests as seemingly unrelated as Science and Faith; and the place of Israel and the Jews in God’s plan. His reply? “No, they’re not unrelated. They are two biblical teachings which are most at odds with, and offensive to modern secular thought.” Food for thought!’
The “Food for thought” remark couldn’t be more apposite in the days in which we live. The video footage of David and Howard sitting together and speaking to camera on the subject of Israel and the Jewish people is still in the editing process, but the implications for the Church of Scotland - indeed for the universal body of Christ - will surely escalate dramatically as we get ever closer to the return of Jesus Christ.
“The spiritual movement [of the Jewish people] to Jesus, and their return to the Promised Land belong together.”
In the course of the interview Howard stated concerning the God’s Jewish people and His prophetic word: “The spiritual movement [of the Jewish people] to Jesus and their return to the Promised Land belong together.”
Howard will see those things of which he spoke as God works out His purposes and ‘watches over His Word to perform it': but my friend will now observe the scene from a prime seat in the gallery.
by Jock Stein
Rev. Howard Taylor:
Born: 6 June, 1944, in Stockport. Died: 22 February, 2013, in St Andrews, aged 68.
Howard Taylor was born on the same day as the D-Day landings, and brought up in Stockport, Staines, and High Halstow, in Kent. He was educated at Gravesend Technical School, near Rochester. After an abortive attempt at working down a pit, he went to Nottingham University and graduated BSc with honours in production engineering in 1965. That same year he went to Malawi on VSO, where he taught maths and physics at Soche Hill, Limbe near Blantyre, and at the new university.
It was there that Howard met his future wife, Eleanor Clark, who was a missionary teacher at the time. They married in 1969 while he was studying divinity at New College, Edinburgh. After graduation and a period at St Colm’s College, they returned to Malawi in January 1971. According to Prof Silas Ncozana, he was the first Church of Scotland missionary to be ordained by Blantyre Synod after the Scottish mission handed over to the African church. Later he was the last expatriate to be a parish minister in Blantyre Synod (the inheritor of the original Church of Scotland mission that followed David Livingstone’s death).
He requested that his first congregation be one where no-one spoke English, so as to make himself learn Chichewa. He succeeded and was rated one of the best expatriate speakers in the country. He worked in Zomba where he was minister of the town church and some rural congregations and chaplain to three secondary schools. In 1976 he taught theology at Kapeni Theological College, and when it closed he became minister of Limbe, a large urban area.
The congregation grew rapidly, with six places of worship. He is still fondly remembered by Malawian ministers who say: “He was an African minister like us”, a very unusual accolade for a foreign missionary in Malawi. In Malawi the literature body CLAIM published his little book Faith Seeks Understanding, and in the same year, 1981, the family, now including three boys, Douglas, Keith and Ian, came back to Scotland.
That year he was the author of the Church of Scotland Prayer Guide, Pray Today, and on 27 October, 1981 Howard was inducted to the charge of Innellan linked with Inverchaolain and Toward. It was during this period that he commenced lecturing at what was then the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, a relationship which was to continue for the rest of his working life. He also exchanged pulpits with colleagues in Atlanta, Georgia, and Grand Rapids in Michigan, and took his first parish group to Israel, another interest which developed over many years.
In 1984 his theological lectures from Malawi days were edited and expanded to allow publication as a paperback called In Christ All Things Hold Together, published by Collins in UK and Eerdmans in US. This book was used as a textbook at St Colm’s College for several years, and recently reissued by the American publishers Wipf and Stock.
After five years in Argyll, Howard was inducted in 1986 to the parish of St David’s Knightswood in Glasgow. The congregation had a thousand members, and with the many parish funerals this allowed him to develop his gifts of pastoral evangelism which became a feature of his ministry. His preaching attracted many overseas students; he and his wife gave hospitality to young people for whom he had a great concern; and he was active in local school chaplaincy. Whole families were touched by the Christian gospel. During his time in Glasgow he was also involved with the Glasgow Council of Christians and Jews.
In 1998, he completed an MTh at Aberdeen University, with a dissertation on Science and Religion. The same year he became Chaplain at Heriot-Watt University. There he saw the Chaplaincy Centre transformed into a focal point for international students from India, Africa, China and mainland Europe. At Heriot-Watt, Howard taught two degree modules, moral and social philosophy along with Dr Thomas S Torrance, and the philosophy of science and religion, which in 2001 and 2002 won a $12,000 award from the Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley, California.
He continued to teach similar courses at what was to become the International Christian College in Glasgow, and was invited several times to teach at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in China, focusing on the interface between ?science, philosophy and religion. His views were sometimes unfashionable in the current intellectual climate. For example, he used to cite empirical evidence from the fields of cosmology and biology that mind preceded matter in the forming of the universe. Although he was not “an orator”, students rated his lectures highly because he was straightforward, logical and committed both to his subject and to those he was teaching.
The current university chaplain writes: “Howard was a rare combination of a first-class mind with a warm-hearted generosity of spirit and kindness in his personal dealings. He was hugely respected across Heriot-Watt University, doing much to establish the acceptance of the chaplaincy as having a valuable role in a largely science-based educational environment.”
Howard was a member of the Church of Scotland Panel on Doctrine, and convener of a committee on apologetics hosted by the then Board of National Mission. He was a well-known conference speaker, especially on subjects like the Christian understanding of Israel.
He retired in 2008, knowing that he had begun to suffer from the disease later identified as MSA. By that time he had published several more books and booklets, such as Human Rights – its Culture and Moral Confusions (Rutherford House), Israel God’s Servant (Paternoster, co-authored) and The Logic of Belief (Handsel).
Howard and Eleanor moved to Anstruther, and during his final years he was cared for by his wife with enormous devotion, including his final months in the St Andrews Community Hospital. It was there that I found him one day with a Mal-awian staff member at his bedside, reading the Bible to him in Chichewa. Although he was increasingly unable to do anything for himself, his faculties and his faith remained firm to the end. He loved to quote, in Christ all things hold together. He believed in the resurrection and for him death is the gateway to a new and glorious life with the Lord and with all the redeemed.
Footnote: During the interview referred to in the above article David Torrance has spoke of a visit made by his brother The Very Rev. Professor Tom Torrance to the Holy Land as Moderator of the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 1976. The visiting clergyman was at that time welcomed by his Jewish hosts as someone coming from “the only European country without a history of anti-semitism”. Very sadly this benevolent view of Scotland's past cannot be sustained in our present day; and tragically, the national church is a now a prominent part of the growing anti-Israel 'boycott, disinvestment and sanctions' (BDS) bandwagon.
As an expression of his concern relating to this matter, David Torrance wrote to the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 2007. A copy of his letter has been published on Christians Together along with a recorded interview he gave at that time.