June 8: [Roland Allen, Mission Strategist, 1947]

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About this commemoration

Roland Allen was an English missionary, supported by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) who served briefly in North China and for many years in East Africa. Allen believed that the mission work of the western churches was paternalistic and deeply rooted in colonialist values that were incompatible with the gospel.

Allen was born in 1868; his father was an Anglican priest. He attended St. John’s College at Oxford and was ordained to the priesthood in 1893. His first assignment with SPG was to North China where he served for seven years before returning to England because of poor health. He served briefly as a parish priest before turning to research and writing on mission work and missionary methods. This work led him to East Africa, particularly to Kenya, where he lived for much of the rest of his life.

Allen’s most famous work, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Our’s, was published in 1912. Allen argued that St. Paul’s vision was to build a community, and raise up leaders so that the sacraments could be administered. The community could be left alone to do their work of converting others to Jesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Allen continued to refine his methods in later writings emphasizing the need for indigenous leadership as opposed to bishops and other leaders coming from foreign territories. In many situations, Allen favored clergy who were “tentmakers”—engaged in secular employment while serving their congregations—after the example of St. Paul.

Allen possessed a gregarious temperament combined with absolute confidence in his ideas. He raised people’s ire no matter where he went, but he was also praised for the clarity of his convictions, his passion for the gospel, and his desire to see every local faith community thrive under its own leadership.

Even though Allen’s ideas were often viewed with derision or, at least, suspicion, in his own day, he was the catalyst for the reform of mission strategy throughout the world and most of his ideas seem self-evident today.


I  Almighty God, by whose Spirit the Scriptures were opened to thy servant Roland Allen, so that he might lead many to know, live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Give us grace to follow his example, that the variety of those to whom we reach out in love may receive thy saving Word and witness in their own languages and cultures to thy glorious Name; through Jesus Christ, thy Word made flesh, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II  Almighty God, by your Spirit you opened the Scriptures to your servant Roland Allen, so that he might lead many to know, live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Give us grace to follow his example, that the variety of those to whom we reach out in love may receive your saving Word and witness in their own languages and cultures to your glorious Name; through Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Psalm  119:145–152


Numbers 11:26–29

2 Corinthians 9:8–15

Luke 8:4–15

Preface of Baptism

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

15 thoughts on “June 8: [Roland Allen, Mission Strategist, 1947]

  1. Died in Nairobi , Kenya June 9, 1947, buried there. Interesting bio by H J B Allen (relative) was published by Forward Movement [1995]–” Roland Allen: Pioneer, Priest and Prophet “. There is also a collection of excerpts
    from his wqritings, ” The Compulsion of the Spirit” edited by David Paton and Chas H Long (Forward
    Movement (1983)). An iconoclast , he has had some impact in the Total Common Ministtry appraoch to forma-
    tion for ministry in recent decades.

  2. Allen is a worthy addition to the calendar, however June 8th is traditionally St. William of York’s feast day, and i would like to see him commemorated as well.

  3. “may receive your saving Word and witness in their own languages and cultures to your glorious Name” – there needs to be some punctuation in there somewhere. Maybe a comma after Word? Otherwise, “Word” and “witness” may seem to be grammatically parallel and one gets all tied in knots. As I did when reading this collect this morning.

    • I have to agree with Grace Burson on this, it needs something.

      A) “…Word and BEAR witness in their own languages and cultures to your glorious Name”;
      B) “…Word, and witness, in their own languages and cultures, to your glorious Name” (add 3 commas);
      C) “… Word, and witness to your glorious Name in their own languages and cultures” (reverse phrases);
      D) “…Word, and bear witness to your glorious Name in their own languages and cultures” (add “bear” and reverse phrases).

  4. “Allen’s most famous work, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Our’s….”

    I imagine the “Our’s” is a typo–needs to be changed to “Ours.”

  5. How wonderful to see Roland Allen recognized in this way. Richard above is correct in saying that he has been a guiding light for the practice of Total Common Ministry (ministry of all the baptized.) Personally, I like the ambiguity of the last part of the Collect without a comma. Call me a “both-and” Anglican.

  6. The Rt REVD J E Leslie Newbigin designates Allen as a “prophet ”
    in the focus and thrust of his work and
    critique of the Church. I suggest that this might be added to the designation in the first line of the article.
    Please note that Newbigin was a missionary for many years (India) and became one of the first bishop’s
    for the Church of South India.

  7. This is a most worthwhile addition to our calendar, and as a narrative it is well conceived and presented. Thank you for this!
    A tiny thing: in the middle of paragraph 3, (“The community could be left alone to do their work of converting others…”) since the subject is singular, “the community” would do ITS work — rather than THEIR work.
    > Just prior to that, (“Saint Paul’s vision was to build a community, and raise up leaders so that the sacraments could be administered”) – it seems like a severely restricted interpretation of leadership (in or beyond St Paul’s vision), and also a somewhat anachronistic interpretation of the sacramental ecclesiology of St Paul’s day. I’m not sure if (but suspect) the narrative oversimplifies or misstates Roland Allen on this, or if Roland Allen retrojected later church structures onto St Paul’s ministry (which I would find more surprising). (See e.g., 1 Cor 12:28, noting that vv. 29-30 do not even mention sacraments as such.) A correction of that sentence may be needed.
    The last clause in the final paragraph, “most of his ideas seem self-evident today,” may not convey what it intends. I would guess it is meant to say, although his views were at odds with prevailing assumptions, Allen’s ideas have now become normative in the church’s thinking. But another possible imputation about ideas described as self-evident is that they are obvious, i.e., they are not insightful, but are instead ordinary, generic, or banal. Do we want to keep that as the “grand finale” of the narrative?
    COLLECT: With all the rich salvific and outreaching content of this collect (and the commemoration as a whole) it surprises me that the invocation is “Almighty.”
    “by your Spirit you opened the Scriptures to your servant Roland Allen, so that he might lead many to know, live and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ:” We’re building detours. Nothing in the narrative talks about a special opening of the Scriptures that directed Allen in the direction he took. Scripture probably did so, in various ways, but it is not so stated. I went to the listed readings, thinking maybe the gospel would be the Emmaus Road story where Jesus opens the scriptures for the travellers – but it wasn’t. We will probably leave the sentence unchanged, but it puts me in mind of how we often leave church more like connoisseurs than disciples (“exquisite hymns,” “great sermon,” “fine new vestments,” “most impressive organ voluntary,” “superb coffee hour,” etc.) Rarely do we hear anything approaching, “God renewed me in a deep experience of prayer and worship today.” Likewise, in the new design of this blog we’ve left off the part that asks for our spiritual response (“How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?”) Mostly, myself included, we respond like English teachers or editors (as I’m doing now!). Why beat around the bush saying (1) Almighty God, (2) by your Spirit, (3) you opened the Scriptures, (4) so he might lead people to know, live and proclaim Jesus? An invocation is necessary (and it CAN have something to do with the ministry and person commemorated!) and, in this case missionary work (4) is relevant. The rest dances around the heart of the matter, and sometimes I wonder why we choose to skirt around what is centrally important so often.

  8. There are factaul errors in the biography of the Rev. Roland Allen as now written. He was sent home home not once but twice from north China. He arrived in north Chinea under the independent Church of Emgland to North Caina, not the SPG because of a hear problem which I have been unable to learn my details. The Rev. Allen was trapped in the siege of the Foreign Legation Quarter of Peking/Bejing during the summer of 1900 (part of the Boxer Rebellion). The seige was eventually lifted after 55 days in August 1900 by the Eight Nation Alliance. The Rev. Allen was sent home to England on furlough. The diary that that Rev. Allen kept during the siege was publsihed in England while he was there in 1901. It was during this time in England that the Rev. Allen married his wife, Mary
    Beatirce Tarleton. In 1902, the Rev. Allen returned to China, this time to Yung Ch’ing. Though I am not certain
    about where this is, there is a town with this name on the island of Taiwan. He was there until 1903 when he
    again returned to England because of his health.

    After The Rev. Allen returned to England he became the rector of Chalfont St. Peter. He resigned in 1907
    because he refused to baptize, marry and bury non-believers.

    I would like to know more about the end of Allen’s life when he lived in Nairobi, Kenya. He resigned from St. Mark’s in Nairobi because of his frustration with the expectations of church memgers. He got tired of “filling in the gaps.” He apparently thought that his continued service perpetuated a status quo. The Bishop used him to help out instead of appointing voluntary clergy to assist as he, the Rev. Allen, wished.

    Post script, this website has changed the past couple of days and now my ancient computer is having trouble with accessing the site and posting replies. I do not know why.

  9. Allen is a major contributer to modern ideas of church development and mission. The late Dr. H. Boone Porter wroe and lectured about him every chance hi got. I will gladly celebrare is fevtival.

  10. This commemoration could share the date of Allen’s death(Jne 9) with
    that of Columba.

    Add a final paragraph: “Allen died on June 9, 1947, in Nairobi, Kenya.”

    Line 1, second paragraph: add “Bristol, England, on December 29, 1868”
    after “in”.

  11. […] The Episcopal Church commemorated Roland Allen on June 8. (I’m a day late with this post. Oops.) Allen was an Anglican missionary to China and later Kenya in the first part of the twentieth century. For a variety of reasons—notably what his commemoration generously calls “a gregarious temperament combined with absolute confidence in his ideas”; i.e. he was a real S.O.B.—Allen never rose particularly far in the church hierarchy. […]

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