Colin Urquhart: A Man of God
I was born in Twickenham in 1940 and grew up in a non-Christian family. My father was an architect. He was seconded to work for the Ministry of Defence, building camps for troops all over the country.
Bombs fell near to our home regularly during the war. One night our front door was blown in by a bomb blast. I can also recall the shortage of food at that time but that was just a way of life.
As a schoolboy I lived for sport, mainly cricket. I played for the school team and to a good grade of club cricket too. I had hoped to play representative cricket and was offered a trial with Middlesex, but it was at that time the Lord stepped in. I never went to the trial.
Religion hadn’t been a big part of my upbringing, but I liked to sing, so when I was ten I went to the local Anglican Church in Twickenham and joined the choir. The choir master trained your voice, and that proved to be very useful in later life when I would regularly preach to many people.
Because of what I was singing and hearing in church, I asked myself ‘Why did God create me?’ My parents were non-believers so couldn’t answer, and whenever their friends visited I would ask them too, which was just as embarrassing for them!
I asked my parents to buy me a book of prayers for a birthday, which they thought was a strange request but did so anyway. I knelt by my bed each night and prayed and it was singularly unexciting. Nothing happened. This went on for a while until one night, God showed me his glory.
I had this vision of God reigning in heavenly glory. I was captivated by this and it was so wonderful that I would kneel night after night waiting for a repeat. Every so often it happened. It’s impossible to describe. It was a vision of something beyond this life. It was as if the figure of God was becoming real to me.
I didn’t talk to anybody about it, not to my parents or to anyone at my church. It was my relationship with God. But it obviously had a visible impact on me as the vicar of the church told me about a fellowship for young men who were going to be ordained.
The minimum age was 16, but the vicar said ‘It’s so obvious that you should be ordained that I’ve asked the bishop to accept you even though you are only 13’.
However, the family plan was for me to go into architecture, so after I finished school I worked for an architectural firm. This went on for a year but the Lord made it clear that I should be ordained. I had to sit my A’ levels before I could go to King’s College. I was ordained in 1963 when I was 23.
I knew my father would be disappointed that I would not be taking on the family profession, but my parents supported me and accepted what I was saying. They knew what I really believed and were very understanding. My younger brother became an architect anyway!
I became curate at a church in Cheshunt and it was here that I learned how to communicate the faith in a simple way so children would understand it and be interested in it.
After three years, I was put in charge of a district church in Letchworth in Hertfordshire. This was the time of the Mods and the Rockers. We had a good Youth Leader and between the two of us we began to reach a lot of younger people. My office was often a car in the pub car park and before long we had a Sunday evening church packed with younger people.
The late teenage group were the missing generation for churches. The church authorities were impressed by how we had reached out to the youth. But to me it was unsatisfying as even though I had a church full of young people, I didn’t feel I had truly led them to God.
The bishops invited me to a church in Luton. There had been two previous vicars there and both had suffered breakdowns because of the social problems in the area. It was a big responsibility and normally wouldn’t be offered to somebody so inexperienced.
At this time, I really got a revelation as to what it meant to be a true son of God. Instead of ministering like an Anglican clergyman, I learned to minister as a son of God, pray and preach like a son of God and even brought healing into people’s lives. I knew something significant had happened.
I told the congregation that there would be no more money raising. I looked at the Acts of the Apostles, which tells us what the church was like in the very beginning, and I compared that with what the church had become. There was no comparison. There was nothing like the kind of life, light and power that existed in the New Testament church.
I invited individuals from the congregation into the vicarage and I would take them through the Scriptures to show them how they can build a personal relationship with Jesus. The lives of people were transformed. The church became alive and we were transported into a totally different spiritual environment I didn’t even know existed.
I had this voice in me saying ‘heal the sick, heal the sick’ but it’s not something they teach you at University! We saw that people began to be healed of medically incurable things as they prayed. We met a young housewife who had terminal bowel cancer, and had a short time to live. One day she said ‘will you pray for me to be healed?’ I arranged to pray with her a few days later, and she was healed. In this small church in Luton, people began praying for one another and astonishing things were happening, often without my involvement.
There was a lot of misunderstanding about what we were doing, especially from other churches. We were seen as a threat to other churches.
After a couple of years, a Christian magazine called Renewal sent a journalist down to see if it was all genuine. He wrote an article and that was it! From then on it was like living in a goldfish bowl. We had people coming to us every Sunday evening from across the nation. We had everyone from Roman Catholic nuns to Brethren people to
Salvation Army members.
The Bishop Robert Runsie, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, said to me ‘Colin, I don’t begin to understand what is happening here, but I can see that it is of God’.
What we were doing was radical, but when you are radical it doesn’t feel radical. It was what I knew to be right. I didn’t wear robes. I wore the dog collar, but with a sweater. The idea of leading an Anglican service without robes was unthinkable at the time.
I had a lot of rejection, sadly from the church rather than from the world. If you’ve got things going for you with God, it’s a threat to other Christians who were not seeing the same things happen.
Hodder and Stoughton, a Christian publisher, asked me to write a book. I was so busy, as pastors were visiting from all over the world to see what was happening at St Hugh’s. But I wrote ‘When the Spirit Comes’ and it became an immediate bestseller. It was top of the Christian bestsellers list for ten months and stayed in the top ten for five years.
In 1976, I resigned as the vicar of the church. In the latter part, 50 of us at the church had been living as a community. We called it the Community of Love and Prayers. It was nothing like a hippy commune. It was sharing the love of God and supporting those in need. We had opened up the vicarage to help people and there were 21 people living in our four-bedroom home.
The BBC team made a documentary about the church. I suppose they thought we were some sort of strange cult. It brought a new awareness that led to people coming to us for help. They were initially going to put together a programme on bishops, but lost interest in that after hearing about our church!
The producer met me before filming and said ‘I am a militant atheist, but if you have anything to say I will give you the space to say it.’ I allowed the BBC crew to attend any meeting and go into any home. I said ‘We have nothing to hide, you can go wherever you like, whenever you like’. The programme was brilliant!
I wasn’t an extrovert though. It was as though God was pitchforking me into situations that I felt were beyond me. I began to receive invitations to speak all over the world and I was thrust into an international environment, sharing a platform with the best known religious speakers in the world.
People wanted me to go to their church, as they wanted what we had in Luton. I had a young family but I was spending most of my time away from home. I went all over the country, but also to South Africa to impact on the Anglican Church there, then to New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and even Singapore.
That was my life. I would travel around the world to speak, and write a book a year. The publishers would have
thousands of orders before the books were even finished. I have written nearly fifty books, selling several million copies in total.
I couldn’t respond to all of the invitations to speak, so we formed a community with people from different churches and denominations. I wanted to show that we could live together in unity and respect our differences, and all minister together for the Kingdom of God.
We moved to The Hyde in Handcross, which was owned by a Christian family. It’s like a stately home, and was worth a fortune, but they said ‘The place is yours to use’. Slowly, we built the community up there. It was initially called the Bethany Fellowship of Renewal. We eventually changed the name to Kingdom Faith as it was a little more user friendly.
When we set out in 1979, there were 11 of us, and it grew to about 60 people. My ministry was becoming known across the country and the world, and so The Hyde became well known as a result. We were sending out 6,000 teaching cassettes every month to groups who were using our religious teaching material.
People probably called us all kinds of things and thought ‘What’s that weird group at The Hyde?’ But by the mid-1980’s, other new churches were being formed and people were leaving the traditional churches. I suppose I was one of the pioneers.
We left The Hyde and came to Roffey Place in 1983. We believed that God would supply us with the money. I was speaking at a big conference in Asia, and there I spoke to God in my hotel room and he said ‘Colin, I will give you a million dollars’.
Whilst ministering in Singapore, a Christian businessman who owned a hotel there promised us the money. I hadn’t asked him directly because that wasn’t our way. He said: ‘To be honest, I’m fed up with Christians asking me for money!’
We formed the Bible College and started off with a small number. Two of my children, Clive and Claire, were founder pupils. The college has grown ever since. Over 2,000 pupils have gone through the college. They stay for one or two years and some then do a placement year gaining practical experience. I still lecture seven or eight times a week.
We started the church side of Kingdom Faith a few years after coming to Roffey Place, but it grew so quickly that we needed a bigger building. So we moved the church side over to the Foundry Lane site.
I passed the leadership of Kingdom Faith Church over to my son, Clive, and others, when I turned 70. It’s great to see Clive carrying on. The gospel hasn’t changed but the way we communicate it from one generation to another does change. The way things are done now needs a different style. Sometimes I think ‘That’s not how I would do it’ but it’s a different generation.
We held a service to celebrate 50 years since I was ordained. I spoke at the event and it was a problem for me as I wanted to make sure God got the credit as, really, we don’t do anything. When you are on a platform everybody thinks you’re the mighty man of God, but that’s not the reality. Without Him, I would be totally useless.
I can never say ‘Look what God is doing through my ministry, isn’t this wonderful?’ It’s not like that. I live every day of my life on the edge, in that I need to hear from God daily, and I need to know what he wants me to do. I just have to be obedient and walk with him.
I hope to continue to be faithful to whatever God asks me to do. I have to pace myself now I’m 73. I can still do speaking and travelling, but not anything else like I used to.
I’m still on a journey, looking ahead to whatever God next has in store for me.