April 22 – Trevor Huddleston

These weekly “People to Commemorate” posts are a kind of calendar for the commemoration of the saints, reproduced here from a Uniting Church Assembly document which can be found in full here. They are intended for copying and pasting into congregational pew sheets on the Sunday closest to the nominated date.

Images (where provided) are of icons by Peter Blackwood; click on the image to download a high resolution copy of the image.

Trevor Huddleston, renewer of society

Born in 1913 into a privileged background and later an Oxford education, Trevor Huddleston sought Anglican ordination in 1937, then joined the Community of the Resurrection in 1939. This religious order had been founded by Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford, with the apostolic community depicted in the Acts in mind. Gore had also helped found the Christian Social Union, which focussed the energies of High Church Anglicans on questions of social justice.

The Community sent Huddleston to South Africa in 1943 for what were to be 13 fruitful and tumultuous years. Apartheid became official policy in 1948, although racial segregation practices were much older. Working as parish priest in the slum area of Sophiatown, Huddleston became one of the fiercest opponents of Apartheid. His opposition to the regime and his association with leaders of the African National Congress earned negative attention from the South African police and government.

For blacks, however, he was a marvel. Desmond Tutu remembers meeting him when aged nine, and the way Huddleston treated his mother, who was cook, at a women’s hostel:

“I was standing with her on the hostel veranda when this tall white man, in a flowing black cassock, swept past. He doffed his hat to my mother in greeting. I was quite taken aback; a white man raising his hat to a black woman! Such things did not happen in real life. I learned much later that the man was Father Trevor Huddleston”.

The Community recalled him to England in 1956, and although he had become a South African citizen, he was refused re-entry to his adopted homeland as long as Apartheid reigned.

The publication of his book Naught for Your Comfort, also in 1956, was instrumental in the world’s discovery of the scandal of Apartheid. Desmond Tutu (whose son, Trevor, was named after Huddleston) stated: “If you could say that anybody single-handedly made Apartheid a world issue then that person was Trevor Huddleston”.

For Huddleston, this scandal was a Gospel matter. He was utterly convinced that the God who had taken on human flesh in Jesus Christ, and offered his own life for the life of the world, demanded nothing less of him as a Christian and a priest than immersion in the struggle to assert the dignity of all persons.

Huddleston was drawn back to the African continent. He became Bishop of Masasi in Tanganyika (later Tanzania) in 1960, and served there for eight years before returning to England as Bishop of Stepney in London. Ten years there were followed by his election as Bishop of Mauritius, and concurrently Archbishop of the Province of the Indian Ocean.

He retired in 1983 and returned to England, where his energies were thrown into the Anti-Apartheid Movement, of which he became President. He was eventually to return to South Africa and had the joy of seeing his friend Nelson Mandela elected President of a democratic nation in 1994. Mandela has said that no white person had done more for South Africa. Trevor Huddleston died in 1998.

In Naught for Your Comfort Huddleston wrote:

“I trust in the mercy of God for my forgiveness. For He too is a Person. And it is His Person that I have found in Africa, in the poverty of her homes, in the beauty and splendour of her children, in the patience and courtesy of her people. But above all, I have found Him where every Christian should expect to find Him: in the darkness, in the fear, in the blinding weariness of Calvary. And Calvary is but one step from the empty Tomb”.

Rev Dr Andrew McGowan