Gregorian Friar, Priest, Prophet, Activist, Missiologist, Educationalist and Friend
Brother Michael Elliott BSG died peacefully in Auckland Hospital in the early hours of Wednesday 8th February 2012 after a short period in hospital, three weeks before his 74th birthday. He had recently celebrated the 50thanniversary of his ordination to the diaconate and the 49th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
Michael lived an extremely full life, ministering and working around the world. He leaves behind him a global network of friends and students and the lasting legacy of his contribution to the development of reflective practice and situation analysis pedagogy in applied theological education.
He instilled in all who met him his deep commitment for social justice, political and theological integration, the power of the Gospel to transform the situations of the poor and marginalised and the renewal of the Anglican Catholic tradition.
In his many ministry postings he lived out the prophetic tradition in his radical writing, teaching built on the foundation of his conviction that those with whom he ministered did not need to be filled up as if they were empty vessels, but needed a tool kit to critically examine their experience.
Michael was born and raised in New Zealand. After schooling he was formed for ordination at the College of Saint John the Evangelist and was awarded his BA from the University of Auckland and his LTh from the college. He served in the parishes of New Lynn and Thames in the Diocese of Auckland as an Assistant Priest.
In 1965 he travelled to Massachusetts where he studied for and received the degree of Master of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School and served in the parish of St John Beverly Farms. His time in America began a close friendship with the Gardiner family which continued throughout his life, who he referred to as his ‘American family’.
Michael travelled to London and served as the Warden for the Pembroke House College Mission in Walworth (1966-69) where he worked closely with Bishop John Robinson during the days of the radical Woolwich theological movement, before being invited by Archbishop George Appleton to direct a team at the St Luke’s Centre in Haifa, Israel.
In 1973 he returned to the United Kingdom to work for the British Council of Churches in the Community and Race Relations Unit and then returned to serve in his homeland of New Zealand as the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical Secretariat on Development, a ten year appointment that provided the opportunity for him to work across the country raising issues of social justice and development.
In 1987 he was appointed the Sir John Cass Chaplain to London Guildhall University, living in the famous Barbican Towers, and in due course became the Director of Inner City Aid, a charity established by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
Michael’s move to Oxford to take up an appointment as the Tutor for Applied and Community Theology at Westminster College commenced a close working relationship in a range of educational partnerships with Dr Bernard C. Farr and later David John Battrick BSG which continued until his death and included curriculum development in institutions in the United Kingdom, India, the Americas, Europe and East Africa firstly through Westminster College, then through the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and more recently through the Oxford Educational Trust.
During this time he developed a programme which enabled many New Zealand clergy to study for an MTh in Applied Theology through the University of Oxford.
Alongside these appointments Michael served as an honorary priest in the Parish of St Mary Magdalen, Oxford, a Trustee of the Peanuts Trust, and as the Director of the Institute for Social Research and Education, and then later as one of the founding directors of the Freire Institute, which grew out of many years of collaboration with his close friend Father Ron Mitchinson.
In 2002 Michael was appointed as the Director of Ministry and a Residentiary Canon in the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in Wales which he recounted as his happiest period in ministry.
When others of his age would have been enjoying retirement Michael continued to teach as a Part-time lecturer in the Centre for Contemporary and Pastoral Theology at the University of Lampeter in Wales until 2009, where he also supervised Masters and Doctoral dissertations.
During this period he also became the lead-programme writer for the newly founded Newcastle School of Theology for Ministry in New South Wales, Australia and lectured regularly within the School on situation analysis for mission and ministry.
He made his profession of vows within the Brotherhood of St Gregory in July 2008, becoming a very active member of this community of mission friars in the Anglican Communion.
Amongst his many books and articles, his most widely acclaimed is ‘Freedom, Justice and Christian Counter-culture’ published in 1990 by SCM Press in London in which he set out his manifesto for Christian anarchism.
Michael returned to New Zealand in 2009 to be closer to his sister and to continue his work with the Newcastle School of Theology for Ministry.
He commenced treatment for cancer in 2010 but continued to teach, write and travel until a few months before his death, including a final trip to attend the Annual Convocation of the Brotherhood of St Gregory in New York and a visit to friends and former colleagues in the United Kingdom in the Northern Summer of 2011.
He is survived by his sister Rosemary, her husband John, and their children and grandchildren who cared lovingly for him throughout his illness.
Soli Deo Gloria: To God Alone the Glory.
from Brother David John Battrick BSG, writing from Australia