A personal valediction

I’m of that age when my friends and heroes alike begin to be seriously thinned out by death. The most recent hero was Ray Shulman, writer and multi-instrumentalist in the band Gentle Giant, once described as “the greatest bass player you’ve never heard of.” He died a week or two ago. Then last month I came across an obituary about my closest childhood friend, who started school the same day as me, then followed me in a move to another school, as well as being in the same Wolf Cub pack. Eventually we were only separated by the eleven-plus exam, and he went on to become a sub-editor on a national newspaper, whilst I ended up as a doctor.

But yesterday I stumbled across a brief notice of a more significant adult friend named Peter Loose, who died last year and whom I feel bound to honour, though he himself was entirely self-effacing. We first met when I moved to Chelmsford in 1978 and joined the church he belonged to, though it was only a few years later that we really got to know each other.

For a start, his young son Phil became the self-appointed sound engineer of a band I formed, and he subsequently played keyboard in a much better band, in which we played the Greenbelt Festival fringe and gained the lead singer a recording contract. Then, Peter and his wife Faith became part of the house group I led, which was where I became aware of his quiet ability to get things done.

This was the time when David Jenkins notoriously became Bishop of Durham whilst denying the bodily resurrection of Jesus. One evening the group got into heated conversation about this, and after a good five minutes of to-and-fro somebody said, “How can he square that with what the Bible says?” That was the point at which Peter, who had been silent throughout, quietly replied, “Well, in the letter I got from him yesterday, he wrote…” Whilst the rest of us had fumed and blustered, Peter Loose had actually taken the trouble to write to Jenkins, sufficiently respectfully to get a reply.

Peter introduced me to the work of the seventeenth century theologian John Owen, though he himself was more orientated to the Charismatic movement, and this reading resulted in my exploring the whole rich treasury of Puritan spirituality. Peter, too, as one of the church’s lay-preaching group, invited me to preach in small local churches a couple of times, thus preparing me when I moved churches to preach regularly for twenty years or so (and to this day, in fact). Most of all, he became a co-belligerent in a small group of us trying to stir up a large and complacent church to effective discipleship, an effort that ultimately failed, but which generated many successful Christian initiatives both locally and across the nation. Both of us moved churches at that point, he to the local Elim Pentecostals, and me to an independent Evangelical church with roots in Brethrenism.

Around the same time Peter, whose business was a small local electronic engineering firm, sold out for a considerable sum, and “retired” in his early forties to devote himself to assisting all manner of Christian causes. He became a driving force behind the IVF grouping of college Christian Unions, as well as the schools equivalent, ISCF. He also became a board member of the British arm of the publisher IVP. He continued in the leadership of an interdenominational Bible class for teens, and no doubt was involved in many other enterprises of which I remain unaware.

Some years later I received, out of the blue, an invitation to a posh dinner in London, which was intended to introduce national Evangelical church and para-church leaders to the Intelligent Design Movement, in the form of Phillip E. Johnson, who might be regarded as its founding father. I got to meet Johnson, and was impressed. Only subsequently did I discover that the invitation had come from Peter, who had organised the whole thing. It was probably that exposure to fresh ideas about biological origins that led me, on my own retirement, to get involved in the whole origins discussion, leading to ten years of study and two published books.

In 2012 I got another anonymous invitation (on which, however, I recognised this time Peter’s fingerprints) to an ID conference in my alma mater, Cambridge. There I got to have a post-conference meal with the sponsors, the Philosophy group of the Tyndale Fellowship, and the main speaker Stephen Meyer, as well as Peter and Faith. As we all walked to the restaurant, we passed St John’s College, and I pointed out the room where, forty years earlier, I had borrowed the typewriter of theologian Richard Bauckham (then a PhD student) to type out a songbook I was compiling. Typically Peter replied, “Richard was up here again earlier this year for an event we ran.”

In 2017 Crossway published a thousand page tome critiquing Theistic Evolution, authored by a veritable Who’s Who of people from science, philosophy and theology. Having by then spent seven years interacting on the theistic evolution site BioLogos I just had to obtain it, and noticed, as soon as I opened it, the dedication:

To Peter Loose,

who persuaded us of the need for this book

and encouraged us throughout the process.

I e-mailed Peter to congratulate him, and he responded that he’d tried unsuccessfully to get them to remove the dedication! But he mentioned that he had organised another conference at Tyndale House in Cambridge, and invited me to tag along. I readily agreed, since Tyndale House is just across the road from my student accommodation, and in fact I did some of my theology studies there in the 1990s at the invitation of the previous warden, Bruce Winter.

That was, in fact, the last communication I ever had with Peter, since after I had driven across the country and rung the doorbell at Tyndale, I discovered that the conference had been cancelled – in retrospect, I think possibly because of sudden illness, since Peter did not answer my subsequent e-mails. This cancellation, however, was a blessing in disguise for me, as by way of apology the Principal, Peter Williams, spend a whole hour discussing origins and my own work, a conversation which later resulted in a copy of my own book making it on to the shelves of their world-class library, and in 2019 my accompanying Joshua Swamidass to pitch the concept of the Genealogical Adam and Eve to Williams and other leading Evangelical lights at Tyndale.

So all in all, I have a lot to thank Peter for, and never got to do so during his lifetime – which is, I suppose, part of the common lot of mortals. Well, I can’t hope to find any multi-media examples of Peter’s work, since he valued his invisibility, but I can loop-back to the beginning of this post and include a clip of Ray Shulman in Gentle Giant – he’s the one playing first violin, (simultaneously singing!) and then bass. There is, however, a connection with Peter even in this, since it was through his son Phil that I got to meet Kerry Minnear (the cellist and keyboard player) who was playing in the same worship band.

Life is indeed intelligently designed!

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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