UCCF General Secretary Oliver Barclay dies at 94

Published 13 September 2013  |  
Oliver Barclay

Oliver Barclay, second General Secretary of IVF/UCCF, died at his home in Leicester yesterday, 12 September 2013, aged 94.

He was born in Kobe, Japan, on 22 February 1919, the son of Joseph Gurney Barclay (who served with what is now the Church Mission Society). His great grandfather was the MP Thomas Fowell Buxton who campaigned with William Wilberforce as part of the influential Clapham Sect.

Oliver first joined the small IVF team in 1945, having completed a doctorate in zoology. His original hope was to teach in one of China's newer universities, but Douglas Johnson, IVF founding General Secretary (always known as DJ), persuaded him to defer his departure by two years. As Oliver's newly-created role as Assistant Secretary took shape, it soon became clear that the universities of Britain and Ireland would instead be his life's work.

Oliver Barclay served for two years as a wartime President of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) and as Chairman of the students' national IVF Executive Committee. From his days in Trinity College, Cambridge, he formed a lifelong friendship with John Stott, also at Trinity, and two years his junior. Both men would serve as lifetime Honorary Vice-Presidents of the CICCU.

As Chair of the student national IVF Executive, Oliver was privy to DJ's plans that the IVF should found a Centre for Biblical Research in a university town, to strengthen the roots of the church in the then very liberal Theology faculties of the universities. What would soon become Tyndale House, Cambridge (secured in 1944 and opened in 1945) had originally belonged to a member of the Barclay family. When Oliver heard it was to be sold, he conferred straight away with DJ, as he could see the strategic benefit of its location, close to Ridley Hall and the Cambridge University Library. Financial help from John Laing (later Sir John Laing of J W Laing Construction) and others made the purchase possible, and Tyndale House now hosts one of the finest libraries for biblical research in the world.

In 1953, Oliver became the first IVF Universities Secretary, supporting the IVF travelling secretaries [now UCCF staff workers] around the four nations. The liberal hold in the university theology faculties, and in the churches, created much opposition to evangelical influences among students. When news broke in 1954 of the invitation by the CICCU to the US evangelist Billy Graham to lead the 1955 triennial university mission, with John Stott as his Chief Assistant Missioner, The Times carried a lengthy correspondence on the matter. This was of such substance that it was later published (by The Times) as a separate booklet.

In 1963 the government's Robbins Report was published, which led to massive expansion in higher education. In 1964 Oliver Barclay succeeded Douglas Johnson as IVF General Secretary. This was the same year his first wife, Dorothy, a consultant surgeon at the Royal Free Hospital (whom he had married in 1949) died of cancer, leaving four children. The following year, Oliver married Daisy Hickey, a family friend.

Oliver Barclay steered the Inter-Varsity Fellowship through its own significant expansion to engage with the times, as new universities and colleges were founded, and as a surge of change swept through societal norms. In 1974, under Dr Barclay's leadership, the IVF office was relocated from Bedford Square in central London to De Montfort Street, Leicester, and in 1975 the movement's name was changed to the Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) to reflect the growing work in the polytechnics and colleges of education. Its publishing wing, by then known as Inter-Varsity Press (IVP) was the UK's leading evangelical publishing house.

Richard Cunningham, UCCF Director writes: 'Oliver was an able academic, author, mentor and leader, and a great friend to so many. And Daisy's welcome and care of generations of staff was legendary. Oliver always kept a loving eye on UCCF when I began as the inexperienced leader of the work he had nurtured for so many years, I greatly looked forward to my termly meal with him and the wise letter that always followed. Oliver had great belief in and commitment to the strategic work of UCCF '.

Oliver Barclay urged clear-thinking evangelical graduates to consider two major directions: to pursue an academic career; or if ordained to apply for vacant churches in university towns. Gradually the tide of liberalism began to turn.

Oliver was succeeded in 1980 by Robin Wells then a scientific Advisor to the South African Government, whom Oliver had first met while Robin was a doctoral student at Imperial College. This was just as a second stage of growth in tertiary education was beginning. Under Robin Wells from the mid-late 1980s the regional teams would be formed, opening the way for the appointment, under Bob Horn's leadership, of the first relay workers.

In retirement, Dr Barclay continued to serve on the IVP long-range planning group, and was instrumental in the founding of the UCCF Research Council to oversee the work of Tyndale House in Cambridge and the new Whitefield Institute in Oxford. He was co-founder in 1989 of the journal Science and Christian Belief, joint organ of the Victoria Institute and of Christians in Science, formerly the Research Scientists Christian Fellowship, which traced its roots back to a small group of research scientists Oliver had first drawn together in his student days.

Oliver served on the Executive Committee of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) from 1959-1983, and as its chair from 1971-79. He served as an Honorary Vice-President from 1983-91, and was always particularly thrilled to see its pioneering work pass into the hands of national leaders. This global movement now has presence in over 150 nations.

Oliver Barclay wrote several books including Evangelicalism in Britain 1935-1995 (IVP, 1997) to which he brought a unique perspective. For some titles he adopted the pseudonym A N Triton. In the 1980s he edited a book series entitled When Christians Disagree himself contributing to the volume on Pacifism and War. Here he showed how, now more informed than in his student years when he espoused the pacifist convictions of his Quaker forebears, he had moved to adopt the Just War theory.

He had no formal theological training but developed in himself – and cultivated in his staff – the ability to 'think theologically'. He read through Calvin's Institutes each year and prayed daily for a deeper understanding of the meaning of the death of Christ. He never lost sight of his dual task, to strengthen a witness to Christ both in the student world and among faculty. He followed news of UCCF missions closely until recent months, and remained as convinced as he had been in his early days that ministry in the university world was the most strategic way to build a thoughtful acceptance of biblical truth.

We thank God for Oliver Barclay's tenacity and far-sightedness, his shrewd judgment and his passion for the gospel; and we commend his widow Daisy and his four children to your prayers.

Thanksgiving Service

There will be a Thanksgiving Service for his life and work at 2.00pm on Saturday 5th October at Knighton Evangelical Free Church, Brinsmead Road, Leicester LE2 3WB.

The family invite you to join them for light refreshments after the service. Donations in memory of Oliver Barclay may be made to Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) at the Thanksgiving Service or directly to UCCF, Blue Boar House, 5 Blue Boar Street, Oxford OX1 4EE.

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