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Obituary: Rev Dr David Russell CBE, Baptist minister

Rev Dr David Russell CBE Baptist minister. Born: 21 November, 1916 in Glasgow. Died: 8 November, 2010, in Bristol aged 93

Dr DAVID Russell was one of the most distinguished Baptist pastors in the UK: but he had a further influence on the church's affairs through his various administrative posts - especially general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.

Dr Russell travelled widely and brought his fervent beliefs in human rights to eastern bloc countries in Europe and Africa. He held two pastorates before he became principal of Rawdon College in Leeds.

Dr Russell was a much admired scholar and wrote several books on theological subjects, but he maintained a down-to-earth and practical attitude to religious teaching. On his 90th birthday he reflected on what had contributed to his successful career and wryly commented: "Hard work balanced by a considerable sense of humour."

David Syme Russell was the son of a joiner on the Clyde with a keen interest in football - he had trials for the Scottish schoolboys' side and Queens Park. He became much involved with the Cambuslang Baptist Church and confessed many years later that even as a choir boy in Glasgow he knew he would enter the ministry. "All I wanted to be was a pastor in a Highland church or in the city," he once commented. "Even England was a foreign country to me.".

He attended the World Conference of Christian Youth in Amsterdam in 1939 and after the war was one of the first pastors to see at first-hand the horrors of Auschwitz: the experience had a profound effect on him.

He studied at Trinity College, Glasgow, and his first charge was at the church of Castlegate in Berwick. He completed his studies at Oxford where he particularly studied apocalyptic writings - a subject to which he was to return in several learned books.

Dr Russell served from 1945-51 as minister in Acton, west London, and in his final year he conducted the funeral of the foreign secretary Ernest Bevin, preaching in front of Clement Attlee's cabinet.

He is remembered at both his charges as an industrious pastor, powerful in the pulpit and always ready to help and advise any member of congregation.

In 1953, he was appointed to Rawdon College, where he also lectured in Old Testament languages and literature. For 11 years he educated and inspired a new generation of ministers.

In 1964, Dr Russell was much involved with merging the college with its counterpart on the other side of the Pennines, the Northern College in Manchester. He initiated forward-thinking plans to modernise the teaching of the new college and was always keen to broaden the membership of the church.

Dr Russell became active in the European Baptist Federation and the Human Rights Programme of the Conference of European Churches: two organisations he supported with a definite passion.At meetings with the communist authorities, Dr Russell submitted his arguments fearlessly but with a delightful touch of humour. His warm and genial personality was balanced by an intense concentration on his work and a ability to articulate an argument with absolute clarity.

He travelled widely and was a fine diplomat - he had some hair-raising experiences. In the Congo, he was accosted by drunken soldiers and driven off into the bush with a pistol at his head. His tact and good humour was much needed on such occasions. Such qualities were recalled by former colleagues: the current general secretary, the Rev Jonathan Edwards, said of Dr Russell,: "David was a man of immense personal warmth, great intellect and a razor-sharp wit."

As general secretary he faced many tensions in the Baptist church, saying: "One of the most heart-breaking things has been the way Baptists have disagreed with each other." Dr Russell added with obvious relief, "since then things have been easier and tensions have reduced."

He devoted much time and energy to international and ecumenical matters and worked to ensure theological literature was sent to eastern European countries. He was even able to secure funding for a translation into Russian of the New Testament.

It was in recognition of these achievements that Dr Russell became a CBE in 1982. He was also awarded a DLitt from Glasgow University in 1967 after he had written the much praised The Method and Message of Jewish Apocalyptic.

He retired in 1982 and moved to Bristol to be close to his family. He remained active in the Baptist church and of his 14 published books six were written during his retirement. He also made significant contributions to the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Dr Russell married Marion Campbell in 1943. She and their son and daughter survive him.

 
 
 

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