Thambos Books

 16th August 2012


Unafraid To Be



Unless you have a connection with Durham, you may not know the name Ruth Etchells, who died there recently at the age of 81. Or it may be one of those names which ring a vague bell.


In fact very many individual Christians and the wider church owe a very great debt to this lady, humble disciple and friend of Jesus, greatly admired poet and preacher, innovative English lecturer and theologian, adviser to an Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference, and first woman to be head of an Anglican Theological College. Generations of her students have been affected for good and for God. Universally loved, very highly respected, she was a witness to his truth and a force for change, bringing St John’s Durham from relative doldrums into the first class of achievement. She was also unafraid to challenge the status quo in church politics, whether to do with women’s ordination or lay people‘s own distinctive ministry, separate to and different from that of the ordained. Readers of her various books are also much the better for the treat, beginning from her trail-blazing “Unafraid To Be” first published in the early ‘70s, a look at contemporary literary giants such as Pinter, Osborne and Beckett, and how they deal with issues of life and meaning. But more than that, she taught that we can have confidence in the Gospel message as we weigh literature against it. Ruth was a humble person who gave others confidence.


On a personal note, she was also my friend and mentor as a poet. I owe her, under God, far more than I could ever say. We would meet at her retirement house overlooking the River Wear opposite Durham Castle and Cathedral. Always, before we got down to her kind but firm dissection of my early efforts in poetry writing, she would ask about me and the family. I was struggling at the time with the after effects of breakdown, my family coming to terms with a non-Vicarage way of life. In terms of mentoring she was what we all need, someone who will affirm and enable what is good and promising, and not hesitate to point out the flawed and feeble.


We need not fear true criticism of our work. We should be unafraid to be people with something worthwhile to say. We serve, after all, the Word himself, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.


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