Tributes to leading Baptist historian
Tributes have been paid to Baptist historian and former Principal of Regent’s Park College, Oxford, the Revd Dr Barrington (Barrie) White, who died on 12 November aged 82
Barrie led Regent’s from 1972 to 1989, a period of 'great development and expansion', according to the College. He has also been described as the 'leading Baptist historian of his generation', particularly for his work on Baptists in the 17th century.
The English Baptists of the Seventeeth Century remains one of the 'definitive books on the subject', yet Barrie was 'no aloof scholar', said current Regent's Principal the Revd Dr Rob Ellis:
The Revd Dr Barrie White became Principal at Regent’s Park in 1972 after nine years as lecturer in Church History: he had previously been minister at Andover Baptist Church. He will be remembered in the College as a Principal who encouraged his students to aspire to be scholar-pastors, and modelled just this combination in his own person. A wise and witty man, he was one of the leading scholars in his field of early Baptist history, writing what remains one of the definitive books on the subject. But he was no aloof scholar - at heart he remained a pastor, gently encouraging students and colleagues, and without any ostentation showing signs of prayerfulness, empathy and compassion. While appearing reserved, Barrie was also humane and approachable. His students came to appreciate him deeply.
He would sometimes describe himself as a ‘simple bible believer.’ Such a claim, surrounded by those studying theology, is always likely to raise an eyebrow, or at least produce a clarifying enquiry. But for Barrie it was a straightforward statement of the centrality of Jesus in his life and of his own self-understanding as a disciple of Jesus. His wit could be as penetrating as it was hilarious, and he deployed it in conversation, teaching, and preaching to good effect - his remarks often being repeated to those who had missed them, and by those at whom they were directed!
Under his leadership the College both expanded its mission as a place of learning across many academic disciplines, and grew its numbers of ministerial students. He appointed the College’s first specialist tutors in ministerial practice, and built accommodation for ministerial students’ families on site - meeting a need which was urgent in its day. He was involved in the early days of Mainstream (‘Baptists for life and growth’), speaking at its first conference in 1980, and showing his concern for the state of, and renewal in, our churches. His illness struck first around this time, and became increasingly debilitating through the 1980s. He set aside the principalship in the hope of concentrating on research and teaching, but his developing illness prevented him achieving all that he, and his colleagues and friends, had hoped he might. We were deprived too soon of his scholarship and leadership. He was still a regular visitor to college through the turn of the millennium - always a welcome friend and good company We will miss him.
Elsewhere, the Revd Dr Keith Jones, President of the Baptist Historical Society, spoke of Barrie’s 'lasting legacy'.
Barrie White leaves a lasting legacy in the realm of English church history with his important work on Puritan Separatists in the 16th century and particularly Baptists in the 17th century, contributing a volume to the Baptist Historical Society published series on Baptist life and witness over four centuries.
We all benefitted from his leadership within the Baptist Historical Society as a General Editor of the English Baptist history series and as a distinguished President from 1981 until the early 1990s; as a Vice President in the 1970s and again after he ceased to be President.
There have been a number of online tributes. The Revd Andy Goodliff, minister of Belle Vue Baptist Church in Southend, said he remains one of the most important non-conformist and Baptist historians.
In addition to The English Baptists of the 17th Century Andy highlighted Barrie's doctoral work, The English Separatist Tradition: From the Marian Martyrs to the Pilgrim Fathers (Oxford, 1971), and his role as editor of three volumes of Association Records of the Particular Baptists. He also published a number of extracts of his writing.
‘There would have surely been other book-length pieces if dementia had not taken its toll on his mind from the early 1990s onwards,’ he continued.
On his Windingquest blog, the Revd John Rackley said that while Barrie will be remembered for being an 'outstanding church historian', his own memories are that of a prophet.
John referenced Barrie’s address 'Opening the Doors to God' at the first Mainstream Conference in 1980. There was nothing remarkable in what he said – apart from the timing, John said: he 'anticipated the worship wars’ which 'dominated many a Baptist church’s life in the 80s and 90s; noted the absence of intercession in many Sunday services, and spoke about ‘healthy’ churches ‘long before this would become the call-sign of our current generation of leaders.’
‘If the task of an historian is to provide commentary on past events,’ John wrote, ‘the same gift of insight can be applied to the present and that is what Barrie did.’
A thanksgiving service for his life will be held at New Road Baptist Church, Oxford, at 12 noon on 28 November 2016.
Gifts in memory of Barrie will go to Regent’s Park College or to Vale House, the care home in which he died. Please send to: Regent’s Park College: Julie Reynolds, Director of Development and Alumni Relations: firstname.lastname@example.org or Vale House: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/BarrieRWhite