Reverend Michael Green, renown evangelist and teacher, and former Rector of St Aldates (1975-86), passed away on 6th February 2019 in hospital at the age of 88. In his time here St Aldates became well known as a spiritually alive and growing evangelical church filled with students. Our present Rector, Charlie Cleverly, as well as many in the church, were significantly impacted in their own faith journeys by his preaching and leading in St Aldates.
We are glad to host his funeral in the church, for those who have known him personally on Saturday 2nd March at 10am. There will be a separate thanksgiving service in Coventry Cathedral in September. There are good tributes online with accounts of his life beyond St Aldates, and there will be an opportunity at his funeral to share memories of Michael in community.
We have asked Simon Ponsonby to write our tribute.
A Man ablaze
Michael Green was God’s incendiary, a fire starter, a man ablaze with the love of God and the Spirit of God, and people came to watch him burn – with a heart, mind and mouth set on fire.
I first encountered him when I was a young Christian and at a home group for several weeks followed a video based course encouraging and equipping people in evangelism. I then purchased many of his books and reveled in his ability to convey theology so profoundly yet so accessibly. What a champion of the faith. In 1986 I attended Birmingham NEC for a conference introducing John Wimber and the Vineyard. With many thousands I had the unforgettable experience of watching Michael burn before our very eyes as our hearts were set on fire through his expositions of Acts. Then, what Michael carefully taught and built our faith for, John Wimber showed us, as he simply prayed “Come Holy Spirit” and God descended on us like tongues of fire.
So, it was perhaps not surprising that this hero of the faith coming to talk to me at my licensing, would cause me to go all giddy and self conscious.
This is what happened: two decades ago, I was appointed the Oxford Evangelical Pastorate Chaplain, an historic ministry, and for many years associated with St Aldates, established for the purpose of evangelising and discipling Oxford undergraduates. At my licensing in Michaelmas term of 1998, Michael Green confidently approached me. Trying to hide my sense of awe for this man who towered over me in all but physical height, I blurted out “Michael Green, you are a name on my book shelves”! I am still embarrassed by this gushing – what must he have thought? Michael replied, “You have the best job in the Church of England” – and he was probably right. To be based at the St Aldates was a great honour and to be released to focus on evangelising and discipling students was a great honour.
When I applied for the job, among the criteria they were looking for was “a man ablaze by the Holy Spirit”. This was a phrase I was not familiar with, but in my reply I simply wrote: “I want to be”. I soon discovered the phrase came from the Greek of Romans12v11 “never be lacking in zeal but ablaze by the Holy Spirit” - a phrase whose heat has rather been taken out in some modern translations. I later learned that Michael Green had been responsible for helping draft this in the application – and he being a classical scholar knew the preferred translation. I was also told he had considered applying for the job, despite being in his mid 60’s. Michael Green was certainly a man ablaze by the Spirit
Benjamin Franklin, said he went to hear George Whitfield preach because he could watch him burn before his very eyes. Whitfield’s contemporary, John Wesley was once asked the basis for his success and he replied: “First I set myself on fire, then people came to see me burn.”
As I have said: Michael Green was God’s incendiary, a fire starter, a man ablaze with the love of God and the Spirit of God, and people came to watch him burn – with a heart, mind and mouth set on fire.
Having served on the staff at Aldates now for over two decades, I have had the privilege to meet, listen, minister alongside Michael on many occasions. He would always leave an impression.
I once rang him about a very difficult pastoral problem – the next day he rang back -“its all sorted, I spoke with those concerned” and he had!
On an occasion when I was an assistant missioner for an OICCU Mission, he sent me a note stating simply “go for the jugular, love Michael”. He rebuked me for taking my spectacles off too many times when preaching and shouted at me “JUST KEEP THEM ON”. When I began to grow a beard he said “what is that on your face?”… “a Beard” I replied and he just walked off. Michael would sometimes come to Aldates on Fresher’s Sunday and sit at the front. The thought of young fresh-faced undergrads hearing the gospel preached was the most thrilling thing in the world to him. On one occasion we had two or three young women students give a testimony, and in his non PC manner, he leant over and said “all very well, but where are the men?” he had a point and we were careful in future years to be more representative. One of the greatest honours for me was that he wrote the forward to my first book, and what he wrote meant more to me than anything I wrote.
When the history of English evangelicalism in the twentieth century is written, Michael Green’s name will be very prominent. Few ministers are blessed by God with such gifts, and Michael used them faithfully and so very fruitfully over so many years: winning, training and sending leaders into the world for Christ. Michaelwas a true legend in his own lifetime –famous for making Jesus famous - a man ablaze.