Father James Stuart (1915-2003): The "Visiting Barber" of the poor and dying in India

Father Stuart went regularly to a Mother Teresa home for the poor and dying...
( [email protected] ) Dec 04, 2003 09:19 AM EST

India., Dec. 3 - Father James Stuart, who has died aged 88, forsook a notable academic career at Oxford in 1949 when he joined the Cambridge Mission Brotherhood in Delhi and devoted the rest of his life to the service of the church in India.

He had been a scholar of Winchester College and at New College, Oxford, had taken Firsts in Greats and Theology. He then became a Fellow and Chaplain of Keble College, Oxford, and, like Charles Ryder's cousin Jasper in Brideshead Revisited, took part in a vacation mission to Kent hop-pickers. Unlike him, however, while there Stuart accepted the challenge of a member of the Brotherhood of the Ascended Christ, as it is now called, to join their community.

But his gifts were not wasted. Although required to live, almost anonymously, in accordance with monastic life, with its emphasis on worship and prayer, he was free to pursue other tasks. These included the editorship of the main Anglican publishing house serving the churches of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon, membership of liturgical commissions responsible for the compilation of two new worship books, and the promotion of Hindu-Christian understanding by translating the writings of a Christian swami.

Besides all this, Stuart served Anglican congregations in Delhi, ministered in some of the city's worst slums and for 10 years was chaplain of St Stephen's Hospital. Long remembered as "the man on his motorbike", he managed, some thought miraculously, to survive Delhi's traffic, and went regularly to a Mother Teresa home for the poor and dying where he was "Visiting Barber".

James Douglas Maxwell Stuart, the son of a doctor and of Scottish ancestry, was born in Brighton on September 1 1915. From a local prep school he went to Winchester, where he excelled both academically and on the playing field. He also ran his own archaeological dig on St Catherine's Hill nearby.

Stuart moved straight from New College to a Fellowship at Keble in 1939 and in the same year was ordained. When the war ended in 1945 he proved to be a stimulating teacher and sensitive pastor to the ex-service undergraduates. Appointment as Editorial Secretary of the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge made him responsible for the publication and distribution, in all the languages of the subcontinent, of Bible studies, hymn and prayer books and children's books.

His involvement in liturgical work came first with the need for a Book of Common Prayer for the church in the region. Later, following the formation in 1970 of the Church of North India, embracing six Christian denominations, he helped prepare a Book of Worship for the united body. In both cases Stuart's theological expertise combined with publishing experience proved to be invaluable.

It was in 1972 that he met Dom Henri le Saux, a French Benedictine monk who followed the life of an Indian holy man and, with the adopted name Swami Abhishiktananda (Anointed with Joy), sought to enrich the spiritual life of the Indian Church from the resources of ancient Hindu spirituality.

Stuart translated into English and distributed most of his writings, and in the Teape Lectures at Cambridge in 1976 spoke of the significance of his work. Stuart's own contribution was recognised in 1996 when Serempore Christian University awarded him an honorary DD.

A tall, handsome man, of quiet disposition, he was always most at home with ordinary Indian people, by whom he was greatly loved. He died on October 15 at Teignmouth, Devon, where his sister lives.