An Interview With Dick Lucas
John Nicholls recently interviewed Dick Lucas, Rector Emeritus of St Helen’s Church, Bishopsgate and closely involved in the Proclamation Trust. His ministry in the City, the financial heart of London, has been one of the most remarkable and encouraging features of the capital’s spiritual life in the past half-century. John Nicholls is Chief Executive of London City Mission.
How did you find the situation when you first came to minister in London?
The first thing I think I must say is that when I came in 1961 I didn’t come to London so much as to the City of London, which is a very odd, small part of London. Of course, the City didn’t come into the City to go to church: many of the churches in the City were largely defunct. It was striking to me when I came that Holy Communion was the only service on offer, which after all is a service for the insider, so I stopped our own Holy Communion services. The only effective witness in the City then were the Christian Unions. So when I came to the City it was quite clear to me, as well as to those who encouraged me to come, that it was a mission field.
Under God, your ministry at St Helen’s, particularly the lunchtime ministry, made a big impact on thousands of City workers. What were the key factors in that success?
I suppose the biggest factor was the group of senior Christian men who had been praying that they might do something of effectiveness in the City. It was they who urged me to take this church when it was on offer, and they stayed with me for ten or fifteen years until they retired and left the City – and we were never quite the same after that in terms of getting the senior executives.
The second great ingredient was the preaching of the word. That was my contribution: I often look back and realise that I wasn’t much good at anything else, but at least I never went into the pulpit unprepared. I’m not sure we thought it through, but we quickly realised that the preaching of the word was powerful. And so we stuck at it, and it went on for thirty-eight years.
Our position, of course, was remarkable: I used to say that Jack Nicklaus could hit every financial institution in two shots. Canary Wharf has changed that.
I think finally you have to say that the reason it got off the ground and was successful was because it was God’s time for that particular thing; it blossomed from the beginning.
Did you consciously adapt your style of preaching for the City?
I didn’t preach any differently there than in any other place; there was no special message. I was learning to do expository preaching, and I was learning to be concise and clear, which was essential. People came to trust us when we said the lunchtime service lasted half an hour: if we’d been more than that they’d have begun to realise that, as with so many churches, you can’t trust the timekeeping.
How do you see the lunchtime ministry developing in the future?
I think the City work culture is tougher. We had the enormous benefit of the institutional, set hour for lunch, which my successor doesn’t have. There is a difference between invitation evangelism and invasion evangelism, and ours was really invitation evangelism – in an astonishing way in those days people were still willing to come. I think my successor knows that he’s got to invade the City – little lunchtime services around the City, and more one-to-one work.
Among the fruits of your ministry is The Proclamation Trust, which runs, among other things, the Cornhill Training Course, which looks to identify and develop gifts in young Christians in a range of ministries, and the Evangelical Ministry Assembly. What contribution do you think they have made to the wider church scene?
I think that the drawing together of gospel men through the Evangelical Ministry Assembly has been a really significant thing. Anglican and Free Church evangelicals have come to realise that they’ve got things to give each other, and I think this has been an enormous strength.
As regards the Cornhill Training Course, I think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and these kinds of courses are going on now increasingly all over the country. What we need to realise is that if we believe in every-member ministry, we’ve got to train the Christian as well as the minister, and that in these days of ignorance everybody needs Bible training. All that Cornhill has offered is one year of thorough Bible training plus a placement with a church – Cornhill took a lot of trouble to find placements where the churches would look after the students and give them real opportunities for ministry – and it is astonishing how effective that has been. One year of that would certainly be more effective than all I learned at theological college. There is no substitute for knowledge of the Bible, and that’s why I think God has blessed the Cornhill Training Course.
How different is London’s spiritual climate today than it was when your ministry began?
In some way things are worse: there’s an intolerance of anything definite, there’s a vagueness and an ignorance, there’s an unwillingness for self-discipline, and the call to radical discipleship is harder for people to receive because people are softer. And yet I think there is a greater hunger. God is at work today in different ways, and it’s so important for us to be ready for these new things.
What is it that’s kept you preaching the word and developing in your preaching ministry through the years since your ordination in 1951?
I think the preacher is the one who learns most, and I think the word of God kept me going. The point of the parable of the sower is to say that in sowing the seed we shall be infinitely discouraged, and yet there will be a great harvest. So I learnt fairly early not to worry too much about discouragement, which I think is the chief temptation of a preacher, but to realise that the harvest is not only in this world but in the world to come. Then I was fortunate over the years in having the support of friends and some wonderful Christians in the congregation. But above all, a merciful God. I think you can only say that God who began a good work continues it. I’ve been sent back again and again to the word of God, to bore into it and to find out what God is really saying, and I think that’s spoken to me, as well as to other people.
I think one of the great things from the times I was in St Helen’s on a Tuesday lunchtime was that whatever passage you were on, there was powerful application there to the unbeliever as well as to the believer. How important is it to actually use the Bible in our evangelism?
Because I realised I had to teach the Christians on Tuesday, I was sent back to the scriptures, and then I discovered, as we all have to discover for ourselves, that this met the needs of the unbeliever as well as nurturing the faith of the believer. The word of God, if taught, does both. I found that, and still find that, immensely encouraging. And it stops one either being a teacher of doctrine for the Christian or a simplistic evangelist for the non-Christian.
For more information, visit www.proctrust.org.uk and www.st-helens.org.uk.
This interview first appeared in Changing London, the magazine of London City Mission, spring 2006 (www.lcm.org.uk), and is reproduced here with permission.
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