Dick Lucas: Beginnings in Ministry & Growth as a Preacher (Part 2 of 5)

What follows is Part Two of the transcript of our interview with Dick Lucas. Listen to the audio below (starting at 13:30) or download the mp3.



TK: As you began in ministry, what was your view of ministry? What were you trying to do as you led?

DL: I must have been pompous because I don’t think I had any idea. I had a very dear rector. (That is the title of the senior pastor here.) He was over 70 and near retirement. He wasn’t a man you think to train you. He was an evangelist. He had been a great evangelist in his youth and his ministry was largely evangelistic. In the early 50s, churches were comparatively full in towns where I went.

I realized my job was to help people, and I realized they really didn’t know anything. I gathered them. I learned how to do a lot at that point, gathering all these young people. I had about three and a half years there. I soon realized that people need training. So we stopped all the nonsense and fooling around. Youth fellowships in the town where I went were always fooling around with girls and playing games and so on. So, I began a completely fresh one. We went straight to work on the Bible every Friday night. We had games on Saturday if they wanted it. We didn’t want to assume that they wanted no recreation. We had a big grammar school nearby and we had 60 or 70 young men and girls. What I learned from that is if you treat them seriously and give them proper food – well you know this from all the work your doing – a large number of those boys went into Christian ministry of various kinds. In fact, I’m getting so long in the tooth that the boys I was training then are retired now.

TK: Did you then make your way to Mt. St. Helen’s?

DL: No, then I went to a society to talk to young men about the call to ministry, which I did for two or three years. I don’t think that probably adds very much to my story. It was a worthwhile time. I think it did for me, selfishly, is that I traveled the country. That was very useful in getting to know people, getting to know the situation. I gained a great deal from that. It was a very useful time for me.

St. Helen's Bishopsgate Church

St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Church, where Dick Lucas served as Rector from 1961 to 1998.

Then in 1961 St. Helen’s came up. In those days nobody seemed to want to be in a city church. The churches were empty. The Bishop of London used them as a dumping place for those incorrigible tragedies he didn’t know what else to do with. So, we were a rum bunch. A senior businessman saw the opportunity and he said to me (he’s the kind of man to tell you what to do), “Dick you’ve got to become the rector there.” I smiled and put in my application. I can remember it now, putting it in the letterbox, thinking that’s the end of the matter. Actually, only four people applied. I was appointed. Partly, I think because I was young and partly because the bishop wanted his candidate and the trustees (who had to appoint) were determined not to have the man that the bishop wanted. So, a good bit of human nature came into my appointment. They were glad to have a younger man. I inherited nothing but a small crowd.

TK: So, it was a rather small beginning.

DL: That’s one way of putting it, There was really nothing there at all.

TK: Over the years God gave you a ministry of the Word.

DL: […] Gradually. We didn’t start with a big Sunday morning. We didn’t think that was way ahead because parking was so difficult. It really came with a Tuesday service, because a group of businessmen who were praying and reading the Bible wanted a gospel service. I would never have been able to succeed without these men. They read the Bible once a week… They just said to me, “Will you please start a lunch hour service?” So, we did. They were the people responsible for it’s success. They worked and prayed like crazy. When people came through the door, into that funny old building, in one corner there would be Bill Somebody from the rubber market, another somebody from the insurance market. All these old markets of the old city are open markets, or at least they were then. So a youngster coming to do insurance would know the big names. If you were in the rubber market or the sugar market, you would know them. They came in saw Mr. So-and-So in the corner, one of the stewards, and they thought, “If he comes there must be something here worthwhile.”

Those early days were extraordinary. This was not actually our doing at all. Those early days the men came in like a river. They just poured in at five minutes to one o’clock in a great stream. I don’t think any human explanation can be given for that except that there were many people praying and it was God’s time. William, my brilliant successor, has built on that many other things that we didn’t do in those days. So, the work is much bigger now than it was then.

TK: St. Helen’s is right in the middle of the business district. What did you see happening in those Tuesday meetings that was so significant for the ministry of the church?

DL: It was a male world in those days. Strange isn’t it how many things have changed. There are many able women in the city today. But in those days it was a male world in grey suits, umbrellas and, believe it or not, the old bowler hat—which is now completely extinct. Although, I did see one the other day and I nearly ran over to the man and said: “May I please have your hat because they’d like it at the museum.” So, it was an extraordinary sight.

You see a youngster coming up to the city, age 18 or 19, he’s unlikely to be in a church again except for his marriage and the baptism of his children. So, actually, it’s the last chance for many young men, from my point of view. They won’t go to their local church, but in those days they came out in their lunch hour. Today, they build new buildings. The organizers try to keep everybody in the building so no time is wasted. So a young man coming alone sees this astonishing queue of men coming into a church in the middle of the day and says, “What on earth is going on?” I suppose it was a very unusual sight. Many must have came in just out of curiosity.

An Indian Christian named V.J. worked his way up and was a marine engineer who had done very well. He saw all these people coming in, so he came in (he’s was a Hindu), and found himself in the middle of a row and he couldn’t get out. So he had to stay. The Lord wonderfully spoke to him. He has been a blessing to thousands of people.

TK: To those who don’t know, what would happen on a Tuesday?

DL: It was only half an hour. I think I had at least the sense to be short. The thing lasted exactly half an hour, just 12:55 to 1:25. So, I would get into the pulpit at 1 pm, a hymn would be announced, after the hymn I would say a prayer, I would then read and immediately preach and finish exactly on 25 past. So, I learned to preach for 21 minutes. And that was appreciated. People knew how long they were kept. I just think it was the numbers at the time. People hadn’t heard this. They hadn’t heard the good news.

We started refreshments. I had learned that if you have refreshments first, people slip away when they’ve had the refreshment and don’t stay for the talk. (A lot of Christian evangelism happened that way in those days.) So, we had the talk first and then we had excellent refreshments afterward. You know, God moves in strange ways, one of the exclusive Brethren churches had broken up and some of their people had come to us including a wonderful lady who, to make ends meet, had gone into catering. She did our Tuesday lunch every Tuesday for 30 years I think. It was a tremendous thing for her as for us. Those sort of people found a ministry.

TK: In the talk itself, what was your goal or objective?

DL: I would take a theme for the month. People move in the city and we forget how mobile people are. It was no good going through Jeremiah for forty Sundays or forty Tuesdays. You do need a bit of common sense. So, I would do four or five Tuesdays on one passage. I think we have too much in our sermons today. I haven’t heard myself. I’ve never listened to those old talks. But I don’t think there’s too much material in them.

The aim was to make a certain point and to make it well. I might take one chapter, John 1 or Romans 5. That would be quite tough going to take Romans 4 & 5 in four Tuesdays. I tried to keep it concise. It was really hearing the whole counsel of God. Hearing what John 3:16 really means in terms of the New Testament. That was new to a lot of these men.

TK: Many that were coming to the luncheon, they weren’t believers.

DL: Well, there were a lot of Christians that came of course, but if you got four hundred plus every Tuesday there were plenty of non-Christians there. The Christians brought their friends. So, Christians were there, lots of non-Christians were there and in between. All sorts. William is a very good speaker on Tuesdays today, but he enlarged the concept. He has a Thursday on which he has questions back, which rather like the hall of Tyrannus, of Paul.

TK: This is one thing that shaped the church in a significant way?

DL: Yes, this is how we started. A strange way to start isn’t it? But I didn’t have parochial obligations; that was a great blessing. I was single. I don’t know how I would have coped with a parish, enormous amount of visiting to do and so on. That wouldn’t have been my strength. I’d done a certain amount of that as an assistant.

We then started a student service, I suppose it was about five or six years after I came, because there was a great service at All Souls. John Stott was at the height of his powers in the 50’s. 900 people at All Souls. We started in the late 60’s. There’s a long way between the west end and the east end. Although of course, it’s very business orientated, the big teaching hospitals all around the east end of London are enormous campuses today. Somebody with wisdom might have moved them out of central London, or some of them. But they couldn’t have moved really, and today they’re enormous. We built up our Sunday night on medical students, nurses, and others. It’s astonishing how students find somewhere to live even in built-up areas. We had a good crowd coming on a Sunday night very quickly.

TK: The main thing you were doing was simply opening the Word of God.

DL: Yes, absolutely. Because there were not parochial activities, none of the things you would run at an ordinary church, we didn’t have to bother with them. We didn’t even have a proper Sunday School until Robert Howes (happy memory!) came, somewhere in the 70’s or early 80’s. He had three boys and he was disgusted at the smallness of our Sunday School. So, Robert and other people, one particular lady who was an assistant tutor at the hospital and her husband [worked on Sunday School]. We now have probably one of the best Sunday Schools within any reach of St. Helen’s. It’s a valuable thing to people on the fringes who bring their children in. It became a very notable thing for people and so they made the effort to find places to park, which is still difficult. So that was a great thing. People bring in different gifts don’t they. I could never have done that. I never went to the Sunday School except for the nativity play, which I used to enjoy very much.

TK: The word of God was instrumental.

DL: That was the only attraction. I think people found it astonishing their friends wanted to go for that, until they found out that it is wonderfully rich and attractive.

We did the same with the students, yes. They’ve got plenty of activities. You don’t need to entertain the students. The world entertains them and they entertain themselves far better than we can entertain them. We had gifted young men and girls who knew how to get alongside them in a way I didn’t. Richard Cunningham, do you know, doing sort of wonderful work today. Well, I remember Richard, I think he was doing physical training at Gordon Smith College. People who are training, for what they call exercise art, they aren’t notably scholars. Richard of course, has a very fine mind. Richard, I always remember him coming on Sunday night and beginning to bring the young men from the college who were not there on scholarship grounds and probably found listening boring. It was priceless; Richard would bring a notebook and start take notes on my sermon. So the next week you would see the boy who came with him bring his own notebook and then the next boy would bring a notebook. These things catch don’t they? They suddenly realized this is important stuff and not only listened to it but took notes to think about. They used to make me smile when I looked down from the pulpit to see these guys that had no idea that you came to church to think. It’s a happy memory.

In Part Three, Dick shares about the history and development of Proclamation Trust.

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