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  Arthur Herbert Gray (1868–1956), by Elliott & Fry, 1951 Arthur Herbert Gray (1868–1956), by Elliott & Fry, 1951
Gray, Arthur Herbert (1868–1956), Presbyterian minister and promoter of marriage guidance, was born at 30 Stafford Street, Edinburgh, on 9 September 1868, the youngest son of Alexander Gray, master ironmonger, and his wife, Maria-Marmorice, née Miller. Educated at the Leys School, Cambridge, he undertook his theological training at Edinburgh University and New College, Edinburgh, and served as an assistant minister at Queen's Cross, Aberdeen.

Gray was ordained within the congregation of Grosvenor Square Presbyterian Church, Manchester, on 29 July 1897. While serving as minister there until 1909, he became well known for his engagement with trade union leaders and the working poor, writing (for the Presbyterian Church of England Synod) The Duty of the Church in Connection with the Housing Question (1905). He arrived in Manchester having married on 6 September 1897 Mary Christian Dods, the only daughter of , principal of New College, Edinburgh. They were happily married for nearly sixty years, and had two sons (Arthur and Marcus) and three daughters (Kathleen, Edith, and Margaret), although family folklore suggests that his idealized reflections on the ‘mystic joys of sex’ were not always shared by his wife (Whitehorn, 11).

Following twelve years' ministry in Manchester, Gray was called to College and Kelvingrove Church, Glasgow (as a colleague to Dr George Reith, father of Lord Reith of the BBC), but in 1913 gave up this affluent congregation, as ‘to be out of direct relations to the problems of the poorer parts of the city (is) for me to be out of my proper calling’ (URCHS, handwritten note). He then took up the ministry of a working-class congregation at White Memorial Church in Paisley Road, attaining prominence as a passionate speaker on low wages and the exploitation of labour.

During the First World War Gray served as an army chaplain with the 97th infantry brigade, moving through the ranks to captain. He was one of four padres appointed by the War Office to hold missions in the home camps, and this experience of war and the gulf between the churches and soldiers in the trenches prompted the first tranche of his popular writings, including The War Spirit in our National Life (1914), The Only Alternative to War (1915), and As Tommy Sees Us (1917). Another wartime publication, Christianity and the Problem of Purity, an Address (1916), opened with allusions to contemporaneous fears about the spread of ‘vice’ and VD during wartime, but was chiefly a precursor to Gray's lifelong advocacy of sex education and a renewed theology of sex within marriage:
the first essential for progress towards purity is that we should fully recognize that the whole part of life, which we vaguely call the sex part, may be and was meant to be beautiful and happy and holy. There is nothing in it of necessity which needs to be spoken of in whispers. (p. 4)
Awarded a doctor of divinity degree in 1920 by Glasgow University in recognition of his gifts as an evangelist (Presbyterian Messenger, April 1956), Gray took up a leadership position with the Student Christian Movement (SCM) between 1921 and 1924 and in those years travelled to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Canada, and the USA, the latter on three occasions. Described as a ‘tall, handsome and charismatic man’ (Mace, 11) with ‘boldly cut features, steady bearing … and a well-toned voice … practised (in) addressing meetings of working-men in crowded city halls’ (British Weekly, 19 October 1922), he gained an intimate appreciation throughout these years of the social and moral concerns of young Christians throughout Britain, Europe, and North America. At the request of the SCM he wrote his best-known book, Men, Women and God: a Discussion of Sex Questions from the Christian Point of View (1923). Within it, he advocated the need for ‘a fuller understanding of the problems of sex … for the enrichment of human life and the glory of God’ (p. 4) and included an appendix of ‘physiological facts’ written by his brother, Dr A. Charles Gray, a medical practitioner. In Gray's lifetime, the publication ran to sixteen editions, was translated into several foreign languages, and sold hundreds of thousands of copies (Lewis and others, 50).

Gray's passion for young people and the social concerns of the day brought him into ecumenical circles, typified by his participation in a ‘United Mission at Cambridge’ in 1919. In 1924 he served on the committee of the Conference on Christian Politics, Economics, and Citizenship under the chairmanship of William Temple. In the years that followed his outspoken commitment to pacificism, forged by the First World War, led him to join with Maude Royden and Dick Sheppard in public appeals for peace and disarmament, resulting in the formation of the Peace Pledge Union. Poor housing and the evils of overcrowding were other issues of longstanding commitment.

In 1924 Gray was appointed minister of Crouch Hill Presbyterian Church in London, and until his retirement from there he juggled his pastoral responsibilities with his activities as a public speaker, social reformer, and highly accessible author. On reaching sixty-five in 1932, he told the assembly that he was ‘anxious to give his whole strength to work that has opened out all over the Country, chiefly among the young’ (Minutes of Assembly, 1934, 246, URCHS). In the following years he worked at Kingsley Hall, Bow (as the founder chairman of the Presbyterian Housing Limited Scheme), developing a building initiative to improve the living conditions of those in the East End of London.

Such broad-based social activism was informed by Gray's deeply felt need for a new, modern, evangelism that would bypass staid theologies, biblical fundamentalism, and church hierarchies to embrace a relevant, Christocentric, incarnational theology centred around love (expressed, for example, in ‘Jolly Pagans and Gloomy Christians’, The Christian World Pulpit, 24 Nov 1927, 243–4). Publications like The Christian Adventure (1920), Private Prayer: Suggestions and Helps (1926), and Love, the one Solution (1938) illustrate the development of this overarching conviction that human love is a reflection of the divine love that made us in the divine image and that loving God and man ‘usefully and joyously’ provided the key to all modern economic, political, and social problems. This extended from reform of global systems (such as capitalism and warfare) through to amelioration of individual suffering as a result of illness, isolation, or mental distress (‘The Art of Friendship’, The Christian World Pulpit, 16 February 1928, 73–5). Seeking to practise the discipline of broad, open, and sustaining friendships throughout his life, he maintained an extensive and often intimate correspondence—with close friends and collaborators such as Royden; through his famous ‘Christmas’ epistles (The Times, March 1956; Mace, 11); and with countless men and women who read his books and wrote to him for advice and encouragement.

It was from this spiritual basis and a broad commitment to practical civic activism that Gray's pioneering contributions to sex education and moral hygiene, and his enduring legacy in marriage guidance, should be understood. Publications like God's Plan in Sex (1926), Sex Teaching (1930, for the National Sunday School Union), and The Mysteries, Beauties and Perplexities of Sex (1930) sought to communicate that ‘what we really want in connection with sex is to get our theology right’ (God's Plan, 8). He collaborated with sexologists and social activists across a broad political, philosophical, and theological spectrum through chairmanship of the British Social Hygiene Council and critical conversations with those in the eugenics movement (Eugenics Review, 1933).

By 1938 Gray and others, including Marjorie Hume, Edward F. Griffith, and David Mace, had begun to realize that ‘helping married couples was a greatly needed task of major proportions’ (Mace, 14) and the marriage guidance committee was formed in 1938. War postponed immediate practical implementation and in the meantime Gray came out of retirement and provided ministerial cover for St John's Wood Presbyterian Church from 1942 to 1945. During this time he also wrote Successful Marriage (1941), dedicated to ‘her who has made my own marriage a success’ and prompted by the conclusions which he had drawn from his personal contacts with ‘considerable numbers of men and women, married and unmarried, who were finding their way, sometimes with joy, and sometimes with much difficulty, in the world of personal relationships’ (Successful Marriage, preface).

On the initiative of the young and energetic David Mace, the Marriage Guidance Council (MGC) was reconvened in 1942 and at the age of seventy-four, Gray assumed the role of chairman. In this role he was the ‘public face’ of the council, publicizing the service and seeking to recruit influential patrons including, unsuccessfully, the archbishop of Canterbury (LPL, W. Temple MS 34, fols 141–158). This close involvement in relationship counselling prompted another publication, From Friendship to Marriage (1948), which moved from the philosophical to the practical, stressing friendship as a sound basis for marriage and providing ‘practical tips’ on health, finance, and ‘irritating habits’. Following ten years' service as honorary chairman of the MGC, Gray stepped down in 1949. The creation of the MGC was acknowledged in the Denning report (1947) on matrimonial law as one of the most important civilian developments of the post-war period. Looking back on his role in initiating it, Gray reflected: ‘We just had an inescapable conviction that this thing ought to be done and that, as nobody else was trying, we must needs try. I believe that was a divine compulsion … God called us to do this thing’ (Marriage Guidance, 1–2).

Gray died at the Royal Northern Hospital, London, on 9 March 1956. His funeral service took place at St John's Wood Church. His youngest daughter, Margaret Gray (1913–2010), became headmistress of the Godolphin and Latymer School, London.

Alana Harris


A. H. Gray, Westminster College, Cambridge, United Reformed Church Historical Society (URCHS) archives · The Times (12 March 1956); (14 March 1956) · Presbyterian Messenger (April 1956) · British Weekly (19 Oct 1922) · Marriage Guidance, 3/6 (Dec 1949), 1–2 · D. R. Mace, ‘The man, the book, the message’, in A. H. Gray, Men, women and God: a discussion of sex questions from the Christian point of view, rev. edn (1987), 9–30 · J. Lewis, D. Clark, and D. J. J. Morgan, ‘Whom God hath joined together’: the work of marriage guidance (1992) · K. Whitehorn, Selective memory (2007) · ‘Eugenics and religion: a summary of a debate arranged by the Eugenics Society, 25 April 1933’, Eugenics Review, 25/2 (July 1933), 101–3 · b. cert.


Westminster College, Cambridge, United Reformed Church Historical Society (URCHS) |  LMA, GB/NNAF/C40397 NMGC · LPL, W. Temple, 34, fols. 141–158 · TNA: PRO, HO 45/25202–3 · Women's Library, London, corresp. with Maude Royden


Elliot & Fry, whole-plate glass negatives, 1951, NPG, London [see illus.] · photographs, Westminster College, Cambridge, URCHS archives