IAN M FRASER
Asked once to explain the meaning of the word ‘salvation’, Ian Fraser replied, ‘breaking through into open space where there is room to breathe.’ This great theologian of the whole people of God, who has died aged 100, dedicated his whole life and work to helping others to break through into open space, acting as prophet, catalyst and accompanier to those whom the world, and too often the church, confined and marginalized. As he himself described it, Like Jeremiah, a claim was made on him, well-expressed in words he wrote following the tragedy in a Dunblane primary school, a town which he knew well.
‘Here, a small company in a small room, we take hold of the Universe and turn it in a fresh direction. This we do not because we are strong but because the one through whom all things were made, for whom all things were made, whose cross and resurrection redeemed all things, has entered into us and transforms our weakness into strength. That realisation leapt up from the heart of the Eucharist and grabbed me.’ As he wrote, so he lived.
In the course of his long life, Ian was a pastor-labourer in heavy industry, a parish minister, Warden of Scottish Churches House, Dunblane, an Executive Secretary of the World Council of Churches, and Dean and Head of the Department of Mission at Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham. He was the author of numerous books, and his Reinventing Theology as the People’s Work (Wild Goose Publications), is used as a standard theological sourcebook throughout the world. People loved his books well beyond the usual theological readership because, in vivid, accessible language and arresting story-telling, he gave them theological agency-the conviction that they could do theology themselves, rather than have theology done to them. His reach was ecumenical and global.
Ian was one of the original members of the Iona Community, sharing the vision and the practice of rebuilding the common life. Throughout his life Ian travelled the world, alone, with colleagues, and most often with his beloved wife, Margaret, visiting basic Christian communities. He walked alongside slum dwellers in India and Haiti; Nicaraguan and Cuban revolutionaries; priests, nuns and catechists facing arrest and death in Central and South America; and small farming and fishing communities in the Philippines. His unswerving commitment to the priesthood of all believers was rooted in a deep compassion- ‘to have compassion is to bridge distance’, he believed. ‘The root of fruitful change is compassion, the ability to have such a capacity to share the sufferings of persons, crowds, cities, nations that the world can be transformed into the world God wants to see, and the whole creation find fulfilment.’
Ian’s practical engagement, unfailing and utterly up-to-date interest in contemporary politics and public affairs, and his kindness and mischievous sense of humour made him a dearly loved member of the Iona Community for over 75 years. Almost the last act of his life was to return his pledge to the Community that he was ‘With-Us.’ For members of the Community, when we find
that the bread and the cup
had escaped, and were still out there in the crowd,
being shared, carefully, among people of all kinds:
of pain and promise
being passed from hand to hand
in a broken world
we will remember how much we owe to this man who risked all and gave life.
Our prayers are with Ian’s family today and in the days to come.
Kathy Galloway, on behalf of the Iona Community Leadership Team