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Interview With The Very Reverend
Dr Alan Brash - Part 2

Dorothy - 30/7/99

"A life of unbelievable privilege" - an interview with the Very Rev. Dr Alan Brash. Part 2 - beyond New Zealand.

If you haven't already done so, you may wish to read Part One of this series.

Youth conferences addressed by overseas speakers
Highlights in the years between 1957 and 1964 were the four National Youth Conferences where 1000 to 1500 young people from different denominations gathered to share views and worship. The conferences were so large that they could afford to bring from overseas speakers like George McLeod from Scotland, Philip Potter from Geneva and M. M. Thomas from India.

New Zealand and Australia accepted as part of Asia
Alan describes the years back in the National Council of Churches (NCC) as exciting times. The Asian churches were forming their own regional council and to the great surprise of the churches in New Zealand and Australia the Asians said that these countries were part of Asia, and in 1957 invited them to join their initial conference at Prapat in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Formation of the East Asia Christian Conference (EACC)
Bishop Rich, the Anglican Bishop of Wellington, and Alan went to that conference which resulted in the formation of the East Asia Christian Conference.

Alan returned from the conference on the staff of the new body to work half time for the New Zealand NCC and half time for the EACC - "a totally surprising development".

From 1957 to 1964 he continued to work for both organisations. Travel was slow and difficult. He was away from home a great deal and Eljean took most of the responsibility for the care of home and family. She believed in the work Alan was doing and was prepared to make sacrifices to allow him to do it.

Opening New Zealanders' minds to Asia
In his New Zealand work Alan spent a lot of time going up and down the country talking about how much New Zealanders had to learn from Asia. For this work he was awarded an Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).

In New Zealand we had talked about the "younger churches" of Asia - but India has a church founded nearly 2000 years ago and Indonesia has more church-attending Christians than the number in New Zealand and Australia combined and doubled.

Work with disaster relief
In his new role Alan was in charge of the churches' programme for relief in disasters - a devastating job. He didn't know what poverty really was until he went to Asia. He visited the sites of tidal waves, floods, earthquakes and famines, and communicated with the World Council of Churches and the Asian churches to let them know what was the best form of support for the local churches in the disaster areas. It involved endless travel and often heartbreaking work.

Move to Singapore
From 1964 Alan and Eljean lived in Singapore, and Alan worked full time for the EACC as Secretary for Mission and Service. To maintain full contact with the WCC he made frequent trips to its headquarters in Geneva.

Working in countries all over Asia
Language was a problem. As Alan visited a new country every week or fortnight, trying to learn relevant languages was impossible, and he had to rely on interpreters which, especially when he was preaching, was a great difficulty.

Increasing struggle for independence by the Asian churches
Asian churches wanted to be free of the work of western missionaries and to cope without the domination of western relief agencies. They were in nations that were becoming independent and the churches were trying to share in the process of nation building.

Impact on issues of faith
Working in Asia made Alan increasingly aware of the vast variety of Christian movements - differing not only in language and cultural background, but also in their understanding of the Gospels, the way the Bible is read and the style of worship. He realised that if ever the churches were to get closer together they would have to learn to ignore those differences. Jesus himself commended the faith of people with incredibly different beliefs, ranging from devout Hebrews to the Roman soldier who believed that Jesus could heal his servant without seeing him.

Amsterdam Assembly of the World Council of Churches
The marvel of the ecumenical movement is that in 1948 at the Amsterdam Assembly 146 different churches came together and said that they were going to stay together, pray together and work together. It had never happened before. Bishop Temple called it "the great new fact of our time". Now there are over three hundred churches in the WCC.

Appointment in Britain
Alan's next move was to accept an invitation to become Director of Christian Aid in 1968. This was the combined churches' relief body in Britain - a large organisation with fifty staff in the head office in London and fifty representatives in other cities. The annual giving was two million pounds, which increased to three million over the next three years.

Alan's concern was that as a Presbyterian clergyman he might not be permitted to preach in pulpits of the Church of England, but this was not a problem. During his three years in the position he was welcomed to preach to congregations all over Britain, from tiny village churches to Westminster Abbey, York Minster and Coventry Cathedral.

His work took him far beyond Britain. He travelled to over seventy countries in every continent, in his years of international ecumenical service.

Director of the Division of Inter Church Aid and Service to Refugees at the WCC
Alan was reluctant to leave his position in Britain after only three years as he felt he had an increasing understanding of the demands of the job, but the WCC was insistent that he move to work for them in Geneva. For six months he again overlapped two jobs.

Alan Brash at a committee meeting of the World Council of Churches
Alan Brash at a committee meeting of the World Council of Churches with General T.B. Simatupang of Indonesia (WCC President) to the left.
Photo source Alan Brash
The Division of Inter Church Aid was the largest in the WCC. There were over thirty members of staff. They dealt with programmes all over the world and transferred something like seventy million US dollars every year. They were also one of the major agencies with millions of refugees.

It was a meeting place of the donor agencies of the big churches and of the people who worked where the money was spent. Some of the donor nations were very generous, but wanted to control exactly how the money was spent. The Asian and African churches who needed the support were unhappy with this attitude. Often Alan had to provide a placating voice ensuring that the people who needed the money had the final say in how it was spent. Having sat so long with the Asian churches and had recent contact with churches in African countries Alan was able to understand how they were feeling.

Fulfilment in aid work, but pressure to change
Alan valued being able to work in the aid area because his major concern was, and still is, the gap between the wealthy and the poor. However, once again he was put under pressure to move, this time to a job where he was much more concerned with church relations.

Read NZine next week for Part 3 of this interview, describing Alan Brash's continued involvement in the work of the Church internationally and in New Zealand.

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