“I had started working for my father who was in business and it was his dearest wish that I take over the business, but I knew it wasn’t for me. I went to an organisation called the Vocational Guidance Centre in London. They give you a series of tests to determine where your propensities lie and they said, ‘We have never had such a low rating for suitability for someone to work in business and commerce.’” Richard sits back laughing and takes a sip of his pint. “’But you have an extremely high rating on working for and with other people. So anything to do with teaching or charity work – that’s your field.’”
Richard spent 43 years as a collector for Christian Aid. In a voluntary capacity Richard would organise the collection street by street, recruiting others to the cause as he went. I ask him where he found the time and the energy. “I couldn’t not do it. It would be literally horrible; a question of horror. I think very few of us do enough.”
Richard studied Social Anthropology at Cambridge before becoming a lecturer. “The function of religious thinking is not to end up with a nice, rounded, agreed set of things so that we can all say, ‘Oh, of course, that’s the reality!’ Because self-evidently to me, that isn’t reality. Religious reality is a very personal thing. I’ve never thought to myself, ‘This is what God what wants me to do.’ I’ve just known it’s the right thing to do in a broadly moral sense.”
But what of Richard’s life can be attributed to God? Has God spoken to him and guided him to a calling?
“Absolutely. 100%. All I can say is, looking back, I have to be thankful. I find it difficult to articulate a model of how I believe that could conceivably make any sense for anybody else. These things have happened to me and my only response is to be grateful.”
First Printed in the April 2013 edition of Manna Magazine. Interview by James Butterworth.