Anthony J Cross, 1933 – 2019
Tony circa 1991 when Minister at Mansford Street Church & Mission, Bethnal Green & Minister with Pastoral Oversight, Brixton Unitarian Church.
MA (Cantab), MA (Oxon), PG Dip Theol (Oxon), MA (Oxon), Phd (Reading); Unitarian Minister; Church Historian; Schoolmaster; Editor of The Inquirer; Unitarian Information Officer; Principal, [Harris] Manchester College, Oxford ([H]MCO); Church Activist (one of the founders of the Unitarian Christian Association [UCA]); and Gay Rights Campaigner (Director, Campaign for Homosexual Equality [CHE]) who married his same sex partner half his age in his mid eighties.
Tony was born in Plymouth in 1932 to George and Nancy Cross and was a proud Devonian and Westcountryman all his life, which accent he would deploy instead of his mild Oxford accent when telling stories, usually humorous, from his past. George was a ‘high-class’ ladies’ hairdresser and Nancy a housewife of an artistic temperament. Tony was devoted to his parents and after their deaths gave generously to the refurbishment programme of the Ashmolean Museum in their memory where their names are beautifully recorded for posterity on the donors’ wall.
Tony attended Plymouth Grammar School and was evacuated to Cornwall during the Second World War, about which he wrote engagingly towards the end of his life. He shone academically and went up to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge where he read English; in which steps his able brother Barry followed. He did his National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps (RAEC) as a Sergeant where he received his teacher training.
Born an Anglican, Tony’s love of history, beauty and ritual attracted him to High Church Anglicanism or Anglo-Catholicism and Roman Catholicism throughout his life. However, his small ‘s’ socialism (cultivated at least in part in the RAEC), liberal outlook, intellectualism, and interest in radicalism, almost inevitably also attracted him to the Unitarians. Amongst us he found a very warm reception and was soon at home. Indeed, it was not very long before he was training for the Unitarian Ministry at [Harris] Manchester College, Oxford ([H]MCO) (College) under the scholarly Rev Principal, Dr Lance Garrard. He left Oxford with a PG Diploma in Theology via Worcester College (MCO as it then was, was not formally associated with the University) and an automatic Oxford MA by reason of his Cambridge MA and studies at Oxford.
His first ministry was in Plymouth, which if relatively short was not unsuccessful. His second was at Catford / Lewisham. This was an innovative ministry, not least for involving a small congregation downsizing from traditional church premises to a semi-detatched suburban house, where the downstairs was used as a chapel and the upstairs as a manse, and where they remain to this day. Whilst there he taught religious and or general studies at Trinity School, Croydon, a private day school for boys, eventually resigning his ministry to go full-time at Trinity as Head of Department. At Trinity he was a popular schoolmaster who introduced the boys to a number of non-traditional school activities including dance and cooking and, most intriguingly of all, to a series on people of alternative outlooks and lifestyles, including a feminist, an anarchist, and a gay man.
It was during these early years In London that Tony became Editor of The Inquirer, Britain’s oldest Unitarian and Nonconformist newspaper. He combined that role successfully with that of Information Officer at Essex Hall (Unitarian Headquarters) in London and was thus close to the centre of national and Unitarian affairs during the ‘swinging sixties’, also finding time to pop over to Paris tp lend support to the student protests there, readily recalling these scenes and those at the London School of Economics (LSE) around the corner from Essex Hall many years later.
At this time that he also became involved in gay rights. While being reserved about being gay professionally, he was engaged in work in the gay community. He was made a Director of the Campaign for Homosexuality (CHE) (which position he occupied until or shortly before his death), worked with gay Christians, and ran a very advanced group or the times which brought heterosexual and gay men together to foster friendship between the two groups which to this day are still often alienated from each other.
Tony returned to full-time Ministry via a short stint of Assistant Ministry in Northern Ireland with the Non- Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland (NSPCI) (Irish Unitarians). Thereafter he went to Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead. There he re-built a friendly and flourishing traditional Unitarian congregation of outward looking and inclusive Liberal Christians with an interest in world religions and spirituality per se, much to the dismay of the increasing number of Humanists in the Unitarian Ministry whom Tony believed might finally destroy Unitarianism by turning it into a secular debating and campaigning society, as had happened at Finsbury Chapel many years earlier when it became South Place Ethical Society. This congregation included a number of distinguished persons, including the conductor Sir Adrian Boult.
From Hampstead Tony went as Principal (incorporating the Chaplain-Tutorship) to [Harris] Manchester College, Oxford in the mid 1980’s. This was a relatively brief appointment of only three years, but his is one of the most important principalships in the long history of the College. Originally a Dissenting Academy (small university for Nonconformist ministry students and those preparing for the other learned professions excluded from Oxford and Cambridge), the College lost its non-ministry students first to London and then other universities (including Oxford and Cambridge) which were opened-up to Nonconformists, and became an exclusively Unitarian theological college. Thus for many years the College had only a handful of ministry students rattling around in its large and fine Victorian neo-gothic buildings and grounds created in Unitarianism’s Victorian heyday; save for a number of others from the University enjoying board and lodging. This was not an unpleasant situation, especially in maintaining such close personal links with the University, but was a dreadful waste of resources and was financially unsustainable. Prior to Tony’s arrival good work was done to try to address these problems by Tony’s predecessors. Lectureships were created in Theology, Philosophy, History, English and Music, occupied by staff recruited from within the University preparing students for London External Degrees. These students were generally those who had missed-out on an Oxford place and older students returning to education, who had access to all the Universities facilities and an Oxford tutorial based education, who were keen, lovely and flourished. The College had also developed a thriving US Year Abroad Programme; and of course there was the still the handful of Ministry students studying full-time for University degrees and diplomas where possible.
The College had a lovely vitality, as I discovered during my brief time there. I have the 1988 College photograph hanging in my vestry study with Tony and ell of us looking rather well. However, it was clear to all that the College was still unsustainable financially. In particular, the College had to compete with good publicly funded universities on tuition fees insofar as British students were concerned and as a private college even its less well off would-be students could not always obtain local authority grants. Tony also thought the College could make more of its facilities and tutors as a residential mature student hall of the University, for which was no proper provision at Oxbridge and little elsewhere. This vision was supported by Lord Alan Bullock, the eminent historian and former Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University whose brilliant father from a labouring background had been such a student before becoming a distinguished Unitarian Minister.
Tony recognised that such an institution, also preserving a first-rate ministerial training function, would require the roles of Principal and Chaplain-Tutor to be separated-out, which would also allow the College to appoint the best person for the Principalship, rather than being limited to the appointment of a Unitarian Minister. He thus graciously offered to stand down as Principal to let Dr Ralph Waller (Methodist Minister; Chaplain of the now defunct Westminster College, Oxford; an expert on the College’s most famous Principal, James Martineau; and already known to the College) ideally or someone like him to be appointed to that role; while he took over a dedicated Tutor-Chaplaincy with none of the College administration which made him unhappy. The College Council replied to his offer by declining to appoint him to the Chaplain-Tutorship. The reasons for this are unclear, but it was a mean-spirited response by any measure.
Happily Dr Waller became Tony’s successor, and the Tutor-Chaplaincy passed to Dr Frank Schulman, a scholarly and genial theist from the USA who was a great success and became a good friend of Tony’s. Within a short time the College became a Permanent Private Hall (PPH) of the University offering degrees to mature students over 21 and finally a full college of the University with an endowment from Lord Harris of Peckham, which saw the governance of the College pass from the College Council to its new Fellows.
Shortly thereafter Tony was made an Honorary Fellow of the College, and the College went from strength to strength under the thirty year Principalship of Dr Waller, which saw him made a Pro Vice Chancellor and receive a knighthood. The College is now home to some of Britain’s and the world’s leading academics and, shortly before he died, Tony received the pleasant news that the Principalship had passed to Professor Jane Shaw of Stanford University (a British Anglican cleric) and the Tutorship for Ministerial studies had passed to Rev Alex Bradley, formerly Principal of the Unitarian’s other training college until it closed recently (Unitarian College Manchester) (UCM), a long-term officer of the Unitarian Christian Association (UCA) Tony helped set-up (see below), and a student from the old College as passed on to Dr Waller by Tony.
Tony’s vision for the College was more than fully realised in his lifetime. I say Tony’s vision was more than fully realised in two senses. The positive one as above, and the not so positive as now follows. Not only was the Principalship / Chaplain-Tutorship separated out, but the Chaplain-Tutorship was separated out into the Chaplaincy and the Tutorship for Ministerial Studies. The latter necessarily requires to be filled by a Unitarian, but the former does not and is now filled by an Anglican (in a University not exactly lacking in Anglican chaplaincies!), leaving the College, the Unitarian Chapel Society (Sunday morning congregation) and the University without a Unitarian Chaplain for the first time since the College moved to Oxford; the College suggesting the Unitarian Ministry cannot be relied upon to supply a Chaplain. This is simply not true and an unsatisfactory situation which has inexplicably prevailed for some time now and urgently needs to be fixed, along with ministry students’ lack of access to full-time Oxford courses, other Oxford qualifications, and College accommodation. It was a great sadness for Tony that while the College had made such progress, it’s once most central function without which there would be no College today – its ministerial training function - had not; in fact, it had declined to this sorry state with ministry students required in College usually only one day a week.
Upon resigning from Oxford, Tony was invited to become Principal of UCM. But problems with agreeing accommodation led Tony to withdraw from that and he accepted the part-time ministry with manse at Mansford Street Church and Mission, Bethnal Green, spending half the week in London and the rest in Oxford where he lived in a comfortable home in New Hinksey regularly entertaining friends and other guests until he died. While still at Hampstead and throughout his time at Oxford, Tony was behind the restoration of Mansford Street Church & Mission, Bethnal Green via the Chalice Foundation (supported by Lord Wilson and other worthies) providing an ‘upper chapel’ and vital inner-city community space. In this enterprise he was assisted by an architect and others from Hampstead, and by Rev Murray Bracey (Administrator) (who went from there to also revive St Margaret’s House, Bethnal Green, an Anglican foundation) and Alan Coldwell (Treasurer). It was during this time that he and others took up my suggestion to create a ‘Unitarian Christian Association’ to protect and promote the Unitarian Christian tradition within the denomination.
The UCA’s greatest achievement remains its denominationally ‘unofficial’ Hymns of Faith & Freedom (HFF) on which Tony worked with Revs Arthur Long (Principal of UCM), Lena Baxter (NSPCI) and Vernon Marshall. Tony impressively undertook the business management, literary editorship (including gender inclusivity), thematic and biographical indexes and the scholarly and playful introduction. This ‘Red Book’ was expressly designed to compliment the denomination’s ‘Green Book’ (ie Hymns for Living) (HFL), by supplying the traditional great hymns and more modern Christian hymns HFL had left out in favour of more humanistic hymns, some of which were of highly questionable merit. It also retained Trinitarian language wherever possible, on the basis that Unitarians were or ought to be less dogmatic and more imaginative in their use of language, was of traditional hymnbook size and without music (which meant it had more hymns and was less heavy and more user-friendly), and was beautifully produced.
HFF was a great success. It met a real need in the denomination at that time and sold well. This caused quite a stir within the denomination amongst ‘progressives’ who saw this as a threat to their humanistic aspirations for the denomination via HFL. To an extent it was; and designedly so in so far as Tony was concerned. It also remains popular today. NSPCI Minister and much more besides, Dr David Steers, writing to me recently said it was used by all three of his congregations, ‘speaking [more than any other of our hymnbooks] to the condition’ of these. Tony’s husband, Mun Sin, also tells me somewhat proudly that HFF continues to sell even today. This is quite an achievement for a hymnbook first published in 1991 and said by its critics at the time to be a backward step.
Whilst at Bethnal Green, the London District and Unitarian HQ were struggling with the infiltration at Brixton of an ex con and his cronies (the one-time self-styled ‘Bishop of Medway’, Roger) who had split the congregation and looked likely to take over. Tony offered his services to Brixton as Minister with Pastoral Oversight (MPO) and within a year effectively saw off this determined and real threat. It was shortly thereafter that Tony suffered a heart-attack and I was asked by Brixton to take-over its ministry from Tony pro-tem as a Layperson-in-Charge (LPIC). Although I had switched to read law at the LSE after completing the Probationary Year of Ministerial Training at the College under Tony, I continued to lay preach (mostly at Brixton), kept in contact with Tony, had lived with my partner Andrew Leonard at Mansford Street along with Steven Williams (now a member at Watford), and was thought to be resilient enough to see-off any more nonsense from Mr Gleaves, as it proved thankfully.
Thereafter Tony took early retirement from the Ministry. Brixton passed to me on an ongoing basis, and Mansford Street passed to Tony’s friends Rev Alex Bradley and then Rev Alan Kennedy. By now Tony was in his late fifties still living and entertaining at his Oxford home on Sunningwell Road (still involving: large ‘G & Ts’; Elizabeth David inspired dishes; fine wines; Calvados and schnapps!); he had a pretty holiday cottage in Padstow, Cornwall, he had owned for some years; he arranged for his elderly mother to move nearby him in Oxford, whom he nursed into her nineties with some support from Barry when he was over from France; he led Unitarian services occasionally at Brixton and elsewhere (especially Taunton and Exeter); he kept adding to his friends, especially from the handsome young men of the College (which did not endear him to the College in later years!) and their partners, all of whom he cared for most attentively, not least in his regular postcards written in his fine and spidery handwriting; he came to throw a lavish birthday party each year for his friends alternating in location between Oxford and the Oxford & Cambridge Club, London; he continued his life-long academic studies in Church History, and whereas he had been particularly interested in Blanco-White (the Jesuit turned finally Unitarian and sometime Fellow of Oriel College) during his ministry, in retirement Suffield (the Dominican turned Unitarian Minister) became his great interest and the subject of his Reading Phd awarded in his eightieth year; he wrote learned articles for several journals, mostly The Unitarian Historical Society, Faith & Freedom, The Martineau Society and after his final entry into the Roman Catholic Church, for New Blackfriars, the house journal of Blackfriars College, Oxford (Dominican), whose chapel Tony attended for many years until relatively recently.
Three years ago Tony met his husband to be, the Malaysian Mun Sin, online. Mun had separated from his previous husband, and it soon became clear to Tony that if Mun was going to be available as a partner he would like to be the same. Thankfully Mun felt likewise, notwithstanding Tony being more than twice his age. Mun moved-in with Tony, it was a great success, most of Tony’s close friends were introduced to Mun, and before long Tony was married to Mun with the former Chaplain-Tutor at the College, Rev Peter Hewis, involved in the subsequent blessing. Not being able to quite so fully participate in the life of Blackfriars (which is a Catholic College) thereafter, which came as a surprise to Tony, curiously!), he ended his days attending his local parish church, the Anglo-Catholic St John the Divine, New Hinksey with Mun where they were both very happy and where Mun was received into the Church from Buddhism.
Tony would have liked a memorial service at the College in addition to his funeral. News is awaited on that. In any event, Tony was beautifully laid to rest by Mun and Tony’s executors and friends, including those associated with the College and the Unitarian denomination. His funeral mass was celebrated by Fr James Wilkinson on 8th July at St John the Divine, with his former pupil from Trinity, Julian Bell, giving the address, and his former student from the College, Fr Charles Card-Reynolds also speaking and being otherwise involved in the service. The ritual was impressively executed; the service had plenty of ‘smells and bells’; and a choir from within the University sang wonderfully; but for me the most charming thing of all was the sound of young schoolchildren entering via the open back door on that sunny day. The College Principal was represented in her absence overseas by Rev Alex Bradley, Tutor for Ministerial Studies; the Unitarian denomination by the London District Minister, Rev Martin Whitell; Tony’s former colleagues by Rev Peter Hewis; and the Unitarian churches to which Tony once ministered by Andrew and I.
Tony will be missed by all his friends, especially by those whom Tony taught or mentored like myself. Thanks to his appreciation of my ‘good looks’ as a young man I gained a place at College; he coached me through my Probationary Year successfully; when I decided I no longer wished to pursue a career in full-time professional ministry and wished to become a Barrister, he reluctantly agreed to write a reference which for all its disappointment led to my place at the LSE from whence I progressed to Bar School and the Bar; I was able to support myself through those years thanks to my being lay leader at Brixton, to which I was introduced by Tony; and in later life he was delighted to see me pick-up the theology diploma from Oxford he had in mind for me all those years ago and a further qualification. Tony also laid claim to being responsible for Andrew and I partnering-up. He certainly played a part, as we recognised at our recent 30th anniversary celebration.
Tony’s final years were, despite failing health, his happiest and he died peacefully in his routine morning nap. Mun believes that such an ending, in Tony’s case at least, ensures his safe journey onward. That must be right. His friend Rev Alan Kennedy, former Unitarian minister and now Congregational minister, writes: ‘May he rest in peace and rise in glory.’ Amen.
Principal & Barrister
Lincoln’s Inn Fields Chambers
Honorary Minister (92 -)
Effra Road Chapel, Brixton