Obituary: Rev Howard Taylor, missionary, minister and university chaplain

Reverend Howard Taylor
Reverend Howard Taylor
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Born: 6 June, 1944, in Stockport. Died: 22 February, 2013, in St Andrews, aged 68.

Howard Taylor was born on the same day as the D-Day landings, and brought up in Stockport, Staines, and High Halstow, in Kent. He was educated at Gravesend Technical School, near Rochester. After an abortive attempt at working down a pit, he went to Nottingham University and graduated BSc with honours in production engineering in 1965. That same year he went to Malawi on VSO, where he taught maths and physics at Soche Hill, Limbe near Blantyre, and at the new university.

It was there that Howard met his future wife, Eleanor Clark, who was a missionary teacher at the time. They married in 1969 while he was studying divinity at New College, Edinburgh. After graduation and a period at St Colm’s College, they returned to Malawi in January 1971. According to Prof Silas Ncozana, he was the first Church of Scotland missionary to be ordained by Blantyre Synod after the Scottish mission handed over to the African church. Later he was the last expatriate to be a parish minister in Blantyre Synod (the inheritor of the original Church of Scotland mission that followed David Livingstone’s death). He requested that his first congregation be one where no-one spoke English, so as to make himself learn Chichewa. He succeeded and was rated one of the best expatriate speakers in the country. He worked in Zomba where he was minister of the town church and some rural congregations and chaplain to three secondary schools. In 1976 he taught theology at Kapeni Theological College, and when it closed he became minister of Limbe, a large urban area. The congregation grew rapidly, with six places of worship. He is still fondly remembered by Malawian ministers who say: “He was an African minister like us”, a very unusual accolade for a foreign missionary in Malawi. In Malawi the literature body CLAIM published his little book Faith Seeks Understanding, and in the same year, 1981, the family, now including three boys, Douglas, Keith and Ian, came back to Scotland. That year he was the author of the Church of Scotland Prayer Guide, Pray Today, and on 27 October, 1981 Howard was inducted to the charge of Innellan linked with Inverchaolain and Toward. It was during this period that he commenced lecturing at what was then the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, a relationship which was to continue for the rest of his working life. He also exchanged pulpits with colleagues in Atlanta, Georgia, and Grand Rapids in Michigan, and took his first parish group to Israel, another interest which developed over many years.

In 1984 his theological lectures from Malawi days were edited and expanded to allow publication as a paperback called In Christ All Things Hold Together, published by Collins in UK and Eerdmans in US. This book was used as a textbook at St Colm’s College for several years, and recently reissued by the American publishers Wipf and Stock.

After five years in Argyll, Howard was inducted in 1986 to the parish of St David’s Knightswood in Glasgow. The congregation had a thousand members, and with the many parish funerals this allowed him to develop his gifts of pastoral evangelism which became a feature of his ministry. His preaching attracted many overseas students; he and his wife gave hospitality to young people for whom he had a great concern; and he was active in local school chaplaincy. Whole families were touched by the Christian gospel. During his time in Glasgow he was also involved with the Glasgow Council of Christians and Jews.

In 1998, he completed an MTh at Aberdeen University, with a dissertation on Science and Religion. The same year he became Chaplain at Heriot-Watt University. There he saw the Chaplaincy Centre transformed into a focal point for international students from India, Africa, China and mainland Europe. At Heriot-Watt, Howard taught two degree modules, moral and social philosophy along with Dr Thomas S Torrance, and the philosophy of science and religion, which in 2001 and 2002 won a $12,000 award from the Centre for Theology and the Natural Sciences at Berkeley, California.

He continued to teach similar courses at what was to become the International Christian College in Glasgow, and was invited several times to teach at the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in China, focusing on the interface between 
science, philosophy and religion. His views were sometimes unfashionable in the current intellectual climate. For example, he used to cite empirical evidence from the fields of cosmology and biology that mind preceded matter in the forming of the universe. Although he was not “an orator”, students rated his lectures highly because he was straightforward, logical and committed both to his subject and to those he was teaching.

The current university chaplain writes: “Howard was a rare combination of a first-class mind with a warm-hearted generosity of spirit and kindness in his personal dealings. He was hugely respected across Heriot-Watt University, doing much to establish the acceptance of the chaplaincy as having a valuable role in a largely science-based educational environment.”

Howard was a member of the Church of Scotland Panel on Doctrine, and convener of a committee on apologetics hosted by the then Board of National Mission. He was a well-known conference speaker, especially on subjects like the Christian understanding of Israel.

He retired in 2008, knowing that he had begun to suffer from the disease later identified as MSA. By that time he had published several more books and booklets, such as Human Rights – its Culture and Moral Confusions (Rutherford House), Israel God’s Servant (Paternoster, co-authored) and The Logic of Belief (Handsel).

Howard and Eleanor moved to Anstruther, and during his final years he was cared for by his wife with enormous devotion, including his final months in the St Andrews Community Hospital. It was there that I found him one day with a Mal-awian staff member at his bedside, reading the Bible to him in Chichewa. Although he was increasingly unable to do anything for himself, his faculties and his faith remained firm to the end. He loved to quote, in Christ all things hold together. He believed in the resurrection and for him death is the gateway to a new and glorious life with the Lord and with all the redeemed.

He is survived by his wife Eleanor, three children and 11 grandchildren.