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Aubrey, Melbourn Evanslocked

(1885–1957)

Aubrey, Melbourn Evans (1885–1957), Baptist minister and ecumenist, was born in the Rhondda on 21 April 1885, the eldest child of Edwin Aubrey and his wife, Elizabeth Jane Evans. His father was then pastor of Zion Baptist Church, Pentre, and subsequently ministered in Aber-carn, Glasgow, and Merthyr Tudful. Aubrey's boyhood was therefore set amid changing scenes. He early heard the call to the Christian ministry and, after proving himself an able student at Cardiff Baptist college, went on in 1908 to Mansfield College, Oxford, where A. M. Fairbairn was nearing the end of his principalship. In 1911 Aubrey was ordained to the ministry at Victoria Road Church, Leicester, as assistant to P. T. Thomson, a man of great ability and charm, who became his lifelong friend. Aubrey married in 1912 Edith Maria, daughter of Joseph G. Moore, a furniture dealer, of Watford, and they had one son and one daughter.

After only eighteen months in Leicester, Aubrey was persuaded to undertake the pastorate of the historic Baptist church in St Andrew's Street, Cambridge, to which Robert Robinson and Robert Hall at one time ministered. Aubrey's gifts as a preacher and speaker matured quickly, and in spite of the difficulties brought by the war of 1914–18 he drew large congregations, which included many students and others connected with the university. T. R. Glover of St John's College became a deacon of the church, and Aubrey was one of the first consulted about the addresses which became The Jesus of History (1917).

In 1925, after twelve happy years in Cambridge, Aubrey was chosen to succeed J. H. Shakespeare as secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland. He faced no easy task, for Shakespeare's health had given way some time before and the mind of the denomination was confused and uncertain as a result of sharp differences of opinion on church union. The first annual assembly for which Aubrey was responsible coincided with the general strike. His immediate task was the raising of a ministerial superannuation fund of £300,000. Thereafter he had to guide the Baptist denomination during the economic, constitutional, and international crises which preceded the Second World War, a period when almost all the British churches suffered severe losses from their membership. But he was a man of courage, wisdom, and resource, deeply devoted to his task, and his powers of leadership were soon recognized beyond the borders of his own denomination. In 1936 he was appointed moderator of the Federal Council of the Evangelical Free Churches and in 1937 he was made a CH.

Aubrey was closely involved in the ecumenical movement and in 1937 was a prominent figure at the Oxford conference on church, community, and state and the Edinburgh faith and order conference. As a member of the Committee of Fourteen, he helped to draft the constitution of the World Council of Churches. During the war years of 1939–45 his steadiness and faith proved an inspiration to his colleagues at the Baptist Church House and to the churches in all parts of the country. He took a close interest in the work of Baptist and Congregational chaplains, and during a visit to the Mediterranean and the Near East he interviewed many servicemen whose thoughts were turning to the ministry. He had been appointed chairman of the Churches' Committee for Christian Reconstruction in Europe and was one of the first British churchmen to visit Germany at the close of hostilities. In 1947 he was appointed a member of the royal commission on the press, and in the same year, during a visit to Canada and the United States, was made an honorary LLD of McMaster University and an honorary DCL of Acadia University. From 1948 to 1950 he was a vice-president of the British Council of Churches, in the formation of which he had taken a deep interest. From 1948 to 1954 he served on the central committee of the World Council of Churches. For twenty-seven years he was a member of the executive of the Baptist World Alliance.

These manifold activities did not deflect Aubrey from his constant concern for the spiritual welfare of the Baptist churches and the needs of ministers in Britain. In his personality strength, spiritual passion, and tenderness were blended. He was gifted both as a preacher and as an administrator and, without ever concealing his own convictions, successfully held together the diverse elements in the Baptist denomination during a period of no little difficulty. His services gained for him widespread confidence and gratitude, and on the eve of his retirement he was unanimously called to the presidency of the Baptist Union for 1950–51. There followed further visits to the United States, where a number of members of his family had settled, including his brother, Dr Edwin Ewart Aubrey, one time president of Crozer Seminary. Aubrey died at St Thomas's Hospital, Hambledon, Surrey, on 18 October 1957, survived by his wife.

Sources

  • E. A. Payne, The Baptist Union: a short history (1959)
  • The Times (19 Oct 1957)
  • personal knowledge (1971)
  • A. Hastings, A history of English Christianity, 1920–1990, 3rd edn (1991)

Archives

  • Regent's Park College, Oxford, Angus Library, papers

Likenesses

  • F. O. Salisbury, portrait, Baptist Church House, London

Wealth at Death

£23,744 18s. 9d.: probate, 21 Jan 1958, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]