I was very pleased to attend the memorial event for the Rev Dr Arthur Long organised by the Unitarian Christian Association and held at Luther King House, Manchester on the afternoon of Saturday, 15 July 2017. Among the speakers were Rev Alex Bradley, Rev Alan Kennedy and Adrian Long, one of Arthur’s sons. Unbelievably it is nearly 11 years since Arthur died but it was good to be able to share in such an occasion and to meet Arthur’s family. I am not alone in having been strongly influenced by Arthur’s learning and erudition in my time as a ministerial student. After his death I wrote an appreciation of him for the January 2007 issue of The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine. The Rev Andrew Brown, then the editor of The Herald, then asked for permission to republish the appreciation and it subsequently appeared in the Spring 2007 issue of that journal. In a timely coincidence I came across a copy of this issue today and was spurred on to track down the original text on my computer. I managed to find the text but not, alas, the original black and white photograph which I took of Arthur in his office when he was principal and which appeared in both The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian and The Herald at the time. The appreciation has something of an Irish focus because of the original place of publication but I would like to re-publish it now as my own tribute to an exemplary minister, scholar and teacher.

With the death of the Rev Dr Arthur Long on Saturday, 9 December [2006] our household of faith has lost its leading theologian and educator of recent times. In a long, varied and distinguished career Arthur was most closely associated with Unitarian College, Manchester where he was Principal from 1974 to 1988, and prior to that was a tutor from 1959. His role in the training of ministers cannot be overestimated and when one considers that in the whole of the twentieth century almost exactly half of all the ministers in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland were trained at the Unitarian College (UCM) and that exactly half of the ministers listed in the current NSPCI Aide Memoire were trained there we can see that Arthur’s influence was as significant in Ireland as much as in Britain.

Arthur was a son of the manse, his father being minister at the Bell Street Mission in London for many years, and also President of the General Assembly in later years. Arthur grew up in Wembley and was steeped in the traditions of his denomination. Because of his background his knowledge of the denomination, of ministers and personalities was positively encyclopaedic.

Following education at Exeter College, Oxford Arthur stayed in Oxford to train for the ministry at Manchester College, his father’s old college. His scholarly ability was clear from an early age and in his theological studies he developed a particular interest in the Bible, he always said that he found Hebrew particularly congenial. Nevertheless he was denied the Oxford BD although it has long been recognised that this was solely on theological grounds, yet he never showed any bitterness about being on the receiving end of such odium theologicum. At the same time, however, he was successful in being awarded a prestigious Hibbert Scholarship to go and study at the University of Edinburgh. Normally this would have been taken at a University abroad but this was in 1944 and such travel was clearly out of the question. His time at New College, Edinburgh was another key stage in his own development and he was always proud of having been organist at St Mark’s Church near the Castle during his time in Edinburgh.

Arthur was a rare figure in the world of theological education and ministerial training in that he not only was supremely well equipped for the job in terms of his scholarly background and accomplishments but he had also held long and successful pastoral ministries prior to becoming a college principal. It is not always the case that those who are charged with training ministers have any real experience of doing the job themselves but Arthur had this in abundance. He began his ministry in London, in 1945, at Stamford Street Chapel where he remained until 1952 when he moved to Deane Road in Bolton, adding the congregation of Horwich to his responsibilities in the 1960s. Here he exercised a traditional, urban parish ministry with large congregations of a type that has now almost disappeared within British Unitarianism and he carried out his work with devotion and great success. One dominant feature of his ministry was his enthusiasm for ecumenical work. The town of Bolton had the longest established local Council of Churches in England (founded in 1918) and for thirteen years Arthur worked as secretary to the Bolton Council of Churches. Fully immersed in the practical work of the ministry it is typical of Arthur’s modesty that he never expected to end up as a college principal and yet was supremely fitted for the job.

In 1959 he was appointed to the staff of the College and in 1963 published Faith and Understanding: Critical Essays in Christian Doctrine. This consisted of a series of essays which appeared originally in the Inquirer and which attempted to explain for the general reader a number of traditional Christian doctrines. The book was later instrumental in his appointment as an honorary lecturer at the University of Manchester where he became a member of the Faculty of Theology and lectured for over twenty years on the Christian Doctrine of God.

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Following the death of the Rev Fred Kenworthy in 1974 Arthur was appointed Principal of the College where he remained until his retirement in 1988. As Principal he oversaw the removal of the College from its home since 1905 at Summerville to Luther King House as part of what was then called the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. There can be little doubt that only Arthur could have handled this transition so smoothly in the face of opposition from conservative evangelicals in other denominations and narrow spirits within his own church. His ecumenical experience in Bolton undoubtedly helped as well as his longstanding co-operation with academics from the other colleges and the University of Manchester. But the result was the unprecedented creation of a new federated college which brought together the United Reformed Church, Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans and Unitarians in one site, a co-operative institution that continues to develop to this day and which secured the future of the Unitarian College.

Arthur’s knowledge of contemporary theology was extensive and was put to particularly good use in his 1978 Essex Hall Lecture Fifty Years of Theology 1928-1978 The Vindication of Liberalism. He was an able and ardent exponent of the liberal tradition and was able to tie Unitarian theology into the concerns of the mainstream. He always maintained a keen interest in the Bible, few people know the Bible as thoroughly as he did, and he could provide an apposite text for any occasion. He was often amused to be asked by University lecturers in the field of Biblical Studies (who were also ministers) for the suggestion of a text for a particular sermon. Just last year I had to preach a sermon for a congregation with sporting interests and asked Arthur for advice. He suggested a passage in the Book of Acts where we read of the occasion when “Peter stood up with the Eleven and was bowled by Grace!” Arthur had a tremendous sense of humour, an inexhaustible fund of anecdotes and had an especial liking for the works of Richmal Crompton. It is not widely known too that he was an expert in the history of the pantomime and when the federated college was set up at Luther King House, a large and lively institution, he particularly came into his own at the staff and students’ Christmas concerts when his knowledge and appreciation of music hall and pantomime were always put to good use by him in some item on the stage.

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Arthur maintained close relations with the Unitarian churches in Romania and Hungary and while he was Principal Hungarian-speaking students began to return to the college again. These numbers increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union and a great many of the Hungarian-speaking students who have studied at UCM have also visited Northern Ireland. The high opinion in which Arthur was always held in Romania was made clear when the Protestant Theological Faculty at Koloszvar awarded him the degree of Honorary Doctor of Theology in 1995 which he was able to go to receive in person.

In 1983-4 Arthur was made President of the General Assembly and visited Belfast during that year. Arthur maintained a close relationship with the churches in Ireland throughout his career. Partly this was through his former students but was also based on his appreciation of the principle of non-subscription, something which he felt was being replicated in the Northern Federation for Training in Ministry. In his historical lectures he always included a course on the history of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, which was regularly updated following input from the students at UCM who came from Northern Ireland. His connection with Ireland might even have been closer.  In the early 1960s, when the Dublin congregation was vacant, Arthur applied for the vacancy but bad weather kept the Dublin boat from sailing and he was never able to make the journey. In 1996 Arthur visited Ireland at the invitation of the Ulster Unitarian Christian Association. He preached at All Souls’ Church, visited a number of churches and ministers, and delivered a lecture entitled Current Trends in British Unitarianism at both Holywood and Dublin. This was very well received and was subsequently published in 1997. The booklet sold out and just at the time of his death consideration was being given for the publication of a second edition.

Arthur was also a key member of the group which produced Hymns of Faith and Freedom the new hymnbook which had its own official Non-Subscribing Presbyterian imprint in 1991 and which is in use in many of our churches. Arthur had a great love of hymns and church music and compiled the very useful Index of Authors including biographical notes which appears in the hymnbook.

His knowledge and learning were also recognised by the Unitarian Historical Society of which body he was President from 1993 to 1996 and vice-President up to the time of his death. His learning is clear also in the many important articles he contributed to the Society’s Transactions in the years following his retirement from UCM. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the Unitarian Christian Association of which group he became the mainstay for a number of years not least as the first editor of the Unitarian Christian Herald, which journal he established as an interesting and useful publication. Arthur was able to address all sections of opinion within contemporary British Unitarianism and was rightly held in high regard by all, but there was never any doubt as to his own place in the theological spectrum and the Unitarian Christian Association was a strong expression of this identity.

Arthur was always in demand as a preacher, congregations were always pleased to have him come to them as a visitor. In Luther King House he broke new ground when the Federation was established and he was asked to officiate at one of the weekly eucharists there. He also preached a sermon in the Chapel soon after the Federation was established, at a time when there was still a lot if uncertainty and some tension between the colleges. His address on that occasion to a congregation of theological lecturers and students for the ministry was characterised by warmth, wit, erudition, scholarship and thoughtful reflection, and was typical of him. It was the sort of contribution that helped to cement relationships within the Federation. In later years he added another string to his bow when, through the good offices of the Rev Paul Travis, Arthur was able to participate in network television broadcasts with ITV from Liverpool Cathedral.

Arthur had great affection for the church but he was aware too of the wider needs of society and gave his time to the Samaritans for many years. He will be greatly missed. In his lectures on pastoralia and homiletics he always gave a sensitive and precise description of what the role of a minister was for every type of service. In funerals his advice, based on his years of ministry in London and Bolton, was especially detailed and helpful and he used to recommend that ministers complete the service of committal with the following words:

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for they rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.

Unto thy servant grant eternal peace, O Lord. May light perpetual shine upon him.

[David Steers – The Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 2007, The Herald Spring 2007]

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2 thoughts on “Rev Dr Arthur Long – An Appreciation

  1. I hope I may add a couple of very minor notes to this excellent appreciation. Arthur, despite the important offices he held, was able to reach out at the most human level. Two, very modest, instances will suffice. He asked to read my thesis on Carpenter before he contributed the chapter on Joseph Estlin Carpenter to “Truth, Liberty, Religion” published in 1986. His footnotes of acknowledgment and private note of thanks were typically generous. He often celebrated marriages at Hale Chapel (where I was an authorised person) and I marvelled at the way he conducted those services. They were generally pretty much his standard one, yet, every time, they met the particular needs of each wedding party. I wondered why his approach worked. Eventually, I realised it was largely because it was of himself; his integrity and conviction shone through as he used the familiar words. He was a man one could trust: his words bore weight, insight and came from a depth of experience. Beyond all that was worthy in him was his unexpected humour; few could tell a story as he could with lightness and perfect timing. Learning, spirituality, modesty, pastoral care and humour all found their place in him. Like Carpenter, he was a “learned, gentle and most Christian soul”.

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    1. Hi Jane,
      Thanks for commenting. Yes, I agree entirely. The main thing about him, as you say, was his integrity. With that too was his humour which was always perfectly pitched.
      He also wrote the ODNB entry on Joseph Estlin Carpenter as a follow up to that chapter
      David

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