In a recent Festschrift honoring Geoffrey Wainwright on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday he received personal congratulatory greetings from the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew of Constantinople; the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger; and the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. That a Methodist minister would be so recognized gives a hint of the wide esteem in which he is held on all sides of the ecumenical world not to mention his “crucial contributions to the World Methodist Council that have brought [it] integrity and strength” as acknowledged by its General Secretary, Joe Hale. As teacher, scholar, churchman and ecumenist, Wainwright has made his mark for more than three decades in the effort to achieve visible Christian unity.
Born in 1939 in the West Riding of Yorkshire, England, Geoffrey Wainwright was reared in British Methodism. Although his theological interests would soon become apparent he began his studies in Modern Languages at Cambridge University, a talent that has served him well in establishing his international reputation with publications in several languages. After completing his BA at Cambridge in 1960 (followed by an MA there in 1964), he was accepted for candidacy in the British Methodist Church in 1961, studied at Wesley College, Headingly (1962-64) and served on the probationary circuit until ordained to the presbyterate in 1967. His pastoral appointment during this period was in the Liverpool suburbs (1964-66) and was a joint Methodist/Anglican one which fit well with his emerging ecumenical associations in Rome, Geneva and the World Council of Churches. He received the BD degree from Cambridge in 1972 (a DD in 1987) and the DThéol from the University of Geneva in 1969 with studies at the Waldensian Faculty of Theology in Rome (1966-7).
Professor Wainwright’s service in the Academy began as Professor of Systematic Theology at the Faculté de Théologie protestante at Yaoundé, Cameroun (1967-1973) followed by six years at Queen’s College, Birmingham (1973-1979). He then arrived in the United States when he was called to the Roosevelt Chair of Systematic Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York (1979-1983). His present position beginning in 1983 as holder of the Robert Earl Cushman Chair of Christian Theology at the Divinity School of Duke University returned him to his Methodist roots (albeit the United Methodist Church in the U.S.) and introduced him to the American south.
Although collegial recognition of Geoffrey Wainwright’s contribution to theological scholarship is well in evidence, it is service to the cause of Christian unity for which he is best known. In regard to the former he exercised leadership during his presidencies of the international Societas Liturgica (1983-85) and the American Theological Society (1996-97). He has also served on the editorial boards of Studia Liturgica (as editor, 1974-87), One in Christ (1975-present), Pro Ecclesia (advisory council, 1991-present), Ex Auditu (1988-present) and Studies in Historical Theology, Labyrinth Press, Oxford University Press (1984-present). Ecumenical service landed him on the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches from 1977 to 1991 during which he chaired the final edition of the Lima text of 1982, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. This document has been instrumental in forging further ecumenical convergence among the churches. He also chairs the World Methodist Council’s Committee on Ecumenism and Dialogue and is presently co-chair of the international Methodist-Roman Catholic Dialogue as well as a member of the Council’s commissions with the Anglican communion and the Orthodox Churches.
Geoffrey Wainwright’s legacy will long remain through his many books and articles (some 270 titles!) and among the students he has mentored and influenced. The heart of Wainwright’s theological work and perspective remains his 1980 book Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine and Life. Preceded by his landmark study Eucharist and Eschatology and followed by collections of essays and books edited on ecumenism, liturgy and Methodist identity in the Church catholic, Wainwright had plied his original insights into the constructive theological value of the ancient axiom, “Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi” (the law of prayer is the law of belief). Hence more recent works such as Geoffrey Wainwright on Wesley and Calvin: Sources for Theology, Liturgy and Spirituality (1987) and For Our Salvation: Two Approaches to the Work of Christ (1997) reveals Wainwright’s ability to fruitfully engage different theological traditions and models to manifest the rich texture of Christian faith borne along in the worship of the church.
It is with all this in mind that we present this lecture mindful that for Geoffrey Wainwright no end is more desired in Christian service than that proffered by his ancestor in the faith, John Wesley, who at the close of his sermon on “The New Creation” states (and quoted by Wainwright in For Our Salvation): “To crown all, there will be a deep, an intimate, an uninterrupted union with God; a constant communion with the Father and his Son, through the Spirit; a continual enjoyment of the Three-One God, and of all the creatures in him.