In memory of Barry Kissell: a balanced man

Barry Kissell(Photo: The Philo Trust)

The passing of a fellow Christian worker, particularly after long years of service, brings mixed feelings. There is the inevitable sadness but also a curious sense of fulfilment: the awareness of a life lived; a race well run; of 'mission accomplished'. I felt this mixture of emotions on hearing of the passing of Barry Kissell.

Barry, along with his tremendously supportive wife Mary, was a great friend of mine for over forty years. He was also an important figure within church circles, both in Britain and worldwide, for well over four decades.

After breaking his neck in a surfing accident in New Zealand in 1997 (recounted in his fascinating book Riding the Storm), Barry made an extraordinary recovery after intensive medical treatment. The ordeal that he went through – he felt that he had, quite literally, been led by God through the deep waters of suffering – gave him a new ministry to many who were facing difficulties in life.

Thinking about Barry's life, I am struck by the fact that he was not just gifted, but exercised those gifts with balance. For instance, he was both a charismatic leader and an evangelist, two ministries that do not always go together. He encouraged and exhorted many people into a deeper understanding and richer experience of the gifts of the Spirit.

Yet he was also an evangelist and he never allowed any quest for experience to overshadow the need for people to be called to Christ. Barry believed that the preaching of the Word had always to be in the power of the Spirit, and that any experience of the Spirit had to be linked with the proclamation of the Word. He was also well aware of the vital truth that 'signs' are just that: signposts that point people to the saving work of God in Christ.

Another area of balance was the way that Barry was both an independent man and a great team player. He was part of the 'system' but, at the same time, also stood outside it. Barry was born in New Zealand (he never lost his accent) but he spent his Christian ministry as a naturalised Briton and an Anglican clergyman.

Nevertheless, he was always, to some extent, an outsider. Now, I found this very important. As a young but enthusiastic Christian from a Greek Cypriot background, I struggled with the formal, deeply traditional and profoundly 'English' mood of the Anglicanism in which I found myself involved in the 1970s.

Under those circumstances, I found the very existence of Barry profoundly encouraging. We bonded, not quite as rebels but as those who had what I like to think of as a spirit of 'holy rebelliousness'. Barry never let this sense of independence drive him into becoming a 'lone wolf'. He was always a team player and there were many initiatives, such as Soul Survivor and New Wine, as well as many Anglican activities where, for many years, he played an important and greatly valued role working with others.

There was balance, too, in the way that Barry was simultaneously a profoundly 'spiritual' man and also someone who was very much down-to-earth. He was always hungry to hear what God had to say to him in words, visions or dreams, and was prepared to act on them.

Yet while Barry might have had his head in the heavens, he kept his feet firmly on the ground. In him the prophetic was matched by the practical. He immersed himself in God's Word and was careful to measure any experience against what God had said in it. Something of this balance comes over in his account of his traumatic accident where he prayed for healing and deliverance but at the same time trusted in the skill of the surgeons.

Barry's balance of an enthusiastic and visionary spirituality, coupled with a profound common sense and a wonderful sense of humour, made him extraordinarily valuable in many ventures. You could rely on Barry to be both a stimulus and a support. He was not just a pray-er, he was also a do-er.

Finally, Barry was both a leader and a servant. He preached in countless churches, chapels and cathedrals in a vast number of locations, and he hosted conferences, led retreats and taught at all sorts of Christian events. He was widely known, admired and respected. And yet Barry was always willing to get alongside you, to help out, to pray with you and to give you his time and his wisdom.

He was very happy to host conferences and to be the lead speaker, but he was never bothered if he ended up taking second place. That didn't bother Barry; he was happy to serve and support.

I am no expert but I gather that one of the secrets of Barry's beloved surfing is balance. I give thanks for the life of Barry Kissell and also for the example he set. In the waves of life, he kept his balance. May we do the same.

Canon J.John is the Director of Philo Trust. Visit his website at or follow him on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.