I have my own personal remembrances of John, of course, having served closely with him as his Study Assistant nearly thirty years ago. My favourite picture of him is this one I took when we were on a bird watching holiday together in Portugal. We had a few moments before our flight left Faro, so, not wanting to miss an opportunity of spotting one more specie, we struck out for the airport perimeter. The grey flannel trousers and blue jacket, the posture and the intensity, the hushed ”˜Look there!’ at a beautiful avian display, this is a memory of John that I shall never forget.
I have often been asked what is the most significant thing I learned from John when I was with him. As I have moved through various stages in my Christian development, I have found my answer to this question changing. Where once I tried to emulate his self-discipline and homiletic style, today I remember his loyalty, integrity and humility. There was a moment in 1984 when he took issue with the Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, over provocative statements the bishop had made about Jesus’ resurrection. It is a mark of his respect and charity that John did not rush into print with a rebuttal, but rather sought a personal audience with Bishop Jenkins to make sure that he understood the bishop’s position and to give the bishop a chance to respond to his own concerns. John’s sense of fairness and the fact that he did not savour argument, did, on occasion, put him at a disadvantage. In a public debate with Bishop Spong he came off badly when Bishop Spong departed from the rules and left John unprepared to answer. John rued the event, but not because he had been treated so poorly. He was concerned that the audience had not been furnished with a sufficient defence of the truth as he saw it.