While increasingly aware of the dangers developing in and from Germany during the middle and late 1930s, Buchman believed, with Solzhenitsyn fifty years later,1 that the basic cause of the approaching disaster was that 'we have forgotten God'. Some countries were building their entire system on the denial of God and on total moral relativism, and millions of people in the so-called Christian countries had adopted the same basis for their private lives. Their leaders had often become practical atheists in public affairs, whatever their private profession. Of the League of Nations Buchman remarked, 'It is failing because it is not God-arched'; and of certain Church leaders he said sadly, 'Where is the strategy of the Holy Spirit?'
Most of Buchman's time was spent in the democratic countries around Germany, in Britain and in the United States, which involved many crossings of the English Channel and the Atlantic. He was striving, without haste but with urgency, to convince both the people and their leaders that obedience to the will of God was the only adequate basis for the ordering of society. He believed - over-optimistically as it turned out - that the danger would spur enough democrats to change, and that the totalitarians might note this and alter their ways.
In September 1935 Buchman was invited to their country by Swiss who had worked with him in Scandinavia. Switzerland's folksy President, Rudolf Minger, welcomed him and his 250 companions. He asked himself, said Minger, whether there was any way out of 'the world's dilemma'. 'The answer', he went on, 'is a courageous "Yes". What is needed is the changing of lives through a new spiritual power so strong that it reconciles conflicting forces and produces brotherhood and solidarity. It is in attaining this goal that the Oxford Group sees its task.'2
The usual wide variety of meetings, large and small, took place. In Geneva they varied from gatherings of doctors, the unemployed, university professors and hoteliers, to the night when Calvin's cathedral and one of the city's largest halls both overflowed. The response was much the same in city after city.
'It is difficult to measure all the results of these great meetings and of the countless personal contacts,' writes Professor Theophil Spoerri, Professor of French and Italian Literature at Zurich University. 'There is no doubt that for many it was the turning point in their lives. It could be described as a change of climate. It was almost as if something new was penetrating between the chinks of the shutters. A business man, alone in his office, would feel a faint sense of unease if he was planning to cheat his fellow citizens. The public conscience became more sensitive. The Director of Finance in one canton reported that after the national day of thanksgiving and repentance, 6,000 tax payments were recorded, something which had never occurred before in the financial history of the Republic.'3
The aspect picked out for comment by the Swiss press was the effect of the campaign on the political situation. It was a period of tension between parties and racial population groups, with talk of secession. President Minger, together with other members of the Swiss Federal Council, twice received colleagues of Buchman. Der Bund headlined the report of one meeting 'the hour of frankness in Parliament',4 while La Suisse, half humorously, half in earnest, compared the Group's coming to the historic appearance of St Nicolas von Flüe at the Diet of Stans which averted civil war in Switzerland in the fifteenth century.5
Fifteen months later, in its review of 1937, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung wrote, 'There have been two ideas especially on people's minds. The first is ... strict constitutionality. The other we may perhaps call the wish to reach a common understanding. People have tried to reach out to others and to explore. "Oxfordism" has been introduced into politics. And there have been results. Things are happening. The tendency to division and fragmentation of 1933 and 1934 has given way to an opposite trend.'6
To meet the interest aroused among League of Nations delegates, its President, Prime Minister Eduard Benes of Czechoslovakia, invited Buchman and his colleagues to address a luncheon on 23 September 1935. 'Two Prime Ministers, thirty-two Ministers Plenipotentiary and many other representatives of the political wisdom of the world,' reported an observer in The Spectator, 'sat down with a band of volunteers who claim the wisdom that God supplies to those who listen for it.'7 According to Berlingske Aftenavis, this luncheon 'filled Ludendorff with rage', especially because it was given by the Czechoslovak Prime Minister.8
The League was facing a major crisis. America and the Soviet Union had never participated, and Germany had just walked out. Italy, which invaded Abyssinia thirteen days later, was preparing to follow. Britain and France were showing little intention of giving the League teeth. Many politicians were looking for hope elsewhere.
They listened to Hambro's account of the Oxford Group's impact in Norway with astonishment. Then he added, 'To most politicians there comes a day when they are bound to contrast the result of their work with the vision of their youth, contrast the things they longed to do with the things they thought they had to do. They will understand me when I say that no man who has been in touch with the Group will go back to his international work in the same spirit as before. It has been made impossible for him to be ruled by hate or prejudice.'9
At the luncheon, Hambro told Buchman that he was going to America to address the Scandinavian communities there. Buchman saw further possibilities. 'Some feel', he wrote to Hambro with his customary high expectations, 'that you have in your hands the possibility of shaping the spiritual destiny of America, and that you will be doing a service that will heighten all your previous important plans ... You know that Roosevelt has sent out a questionnaire to all the clergy in America, and I am afraid the answers have not been satisfactory. Time 10 carries in its last issue a picture of Minger, the President of Switzerland. Beneath it, speaking of the visit of the Oxford Group, is the line, "He commended his callers' conviction." You remember his statement that "You are showing the world the way out of the present crisis". Now that is what Roosevelt wants to know. America has not given him the answer. Can Carl Hambro, with the background of the last year, give him the answer?'11
Hambro accepted Buchman's suggestion. He spoke in many cities, ending with a powerful speech in the New York Metropolitan Opera House. Everywhere he made clear his strong opposition to Nazi Germany and his irritation at the lack of urgency in the democracies in the face of its threat; everywhere, too, he brought the news of what he had seen happening through the Oxford Group. 'Politics', he said, 'must be an effort to render possible tomorrow what is impossible today ... The Oxford Group is at work stretching the limits of the possible further out, fixing the eye on wider horizons, setting the clear-cut peace of the absolute demands of Christ up against the restlessness of the relative, removing the barriers between man and man, between nation and nation.’12* Hambro did not see the President, but consulted at length with the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and other politicians. His statements and interviews gave many a new perspective on the Oxford Group, and prepared the way for Buchman's next moves in his own country.
(* The Jewish Advocate of 1 November 1935 commented editorially: 'The contribution of the Oxford Movement (sic) is a vision of what might be, a vision of social regeneration through the cultivation of the idealism of mind and spirit. More power to the Oxford Group, which is growing by leaps and bounds and whose objective is ... to translate the Ten Commandments into the realities of everyday life.')
Buchman's conviction that war in Europe was imminent had shown itself in his insistence, in December 1935, that a 'war clause' be written into the contract with the Oxford colleges for the next summer's house-party. In May 1936 he called an Assembly in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, entitled 'America Awake', to which five thousand people came. It proved nationwide news. The New York Times special correspondent wrote a column a day for almost two weeks,13 movie companies estimated that their newsreels reached 40 million people, and the CBS broadcast a delegate's speech from coast to coast.
Immediately after this, on 19 May, Buchman was summoned to Reading, Pennsylvania, for a personally painful occasion. He was arraigned there before the regional Synod of the Lutheran Church for not having attended a sufficient number of the periodic meetings of his local Ministerium. Having often been abroad at the time of the annual meetings, which he was by statute required to attend, he had always been meticulous in writing an apology for his absence and an account of his activities, not erring on the side of understatement. This may have aggravated, rather than mollified, his principal accuser, Dr Ernst P. Pfatteicher, the President of the Ministerium of Pennsylvania and Adjacent States. He had previously attacked Buchman in a lecture entitled 'The Man from Oxford' for, amongst other things, travelling the world instead of serving in a Pennsylvanian parish.14
Pfatteicher was opposed by Dr Paul Strodach, editor of the United Lutheran Publication House. The matter was referred back for re-study - and forgotten. Buchman did not himself speak and, as he had had to leave immediately after his indictment, did not know for some days that several ministers had spoken for him. 'Your silence was your best defence if any were needed,' wrote the Revd Edward Horn; 'the unhappy and disgraceful procedure was checked,' added C. P. Harry, from the Lutheran Church Board of Education.15 Buchman had been all the more hurt by this occasion because he was 'put up before the whole conference' alongside a minister accused of committing adultery, a very serious charge in such a gathering. It felt to him, he said, like 'a crucifixion'. Next day, however, he took his European visitors to address Senators and Congressmen on Capitol Hill and also to meet Cordell Hull.
That year Buchman addressed delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The editor of an Ohio newspaper wrote, 'Whether Democrats or Republicans win the election, Buchman came to Cleveland to say, the result will be about equally bad unless his candidate commands. Buchman's candidate for ruler of America is God ... He doesn't plan to have God rule according to instructions from below. He would have men rule under instructions from God as definitely given and understood as if they came by wire.'16
From Philadelphia, where the Democrats were gathered, he broadcast nationally, speaking of the vast effort it would take for the democracies to match the march of the dictators: 'Few people today seem to have any definite plans or any idea of what the cost will be for moral and spiritual recovery. They don't seem to have thought through the united disciplined action under God's control necessary to bring it about... This is the true patriotism, for the true patriot gives his life for his country's resurrection.'17
Buchman returned to Britain in late June 1936. It was the Britain to which Baldwin neither at first cared, nor later dared, to tell the truth about Hitler's Germany, a Britain missing the chance to rearm because it was more comfortable to refuse even to envisage a threat to itself.
Buchman was striving to awaken Britain to what he felt to be at base a moral and spiritual need. Oxford had, the previous year, shown itself too small any longer to accommodate the annual house-party. So in 1936 simultaneous house-parties were staged during July in Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter and Harrogate, as well as camps for young women on Hinksey Hill outside Oxford and for young men near Birmingham.
The response in Harrogate was typical enough. According to the Leeds Mercury, the first meeting at the Royal Hall was packed to overflowing with 2,000 people three-quarters of an hour before it was due to start and, when the overflow was directed to the Winter Gardens, its 1,000 seats filled up within ten minutes and another 500 people had to be sent on to the Hydro for a second overflow meeting.18 Dr Maxwell Telling, a distinguished psychiatrist, remarked of the speakers, 'This is the first time I have seen people with absolutely no fear.'
On 7 July speakers from the various house-parties combined to address a crowded meeting in the Albert Hall, and at the end of the month a three-day demonstration took place at the British Industries Fair building at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, then said to be the largest covered hall in Europe. To this gathering 21 special trains brought audiences totalling 25,000 from all parts of Britain.
On 9 August Buchman made a coast-to-coast broadcast to America from London, before making visits of a week to Germany and a month to America. To America, he took thirty with him, and it was on his arrival in New York that he gave the interview to the New York World-Telegram. While there he took a party to spend a weekend with Henry Ford, where for the first time he met Rear-Admiral Richard E. Byrd, recently returned from a winter alone in the Antarctic.
Ford admired the vigorous way Buchman went to work: 'Leave that fellow Buchman in a forest and he'll start changing the trees,' he said. He sometimes entertained Buchman and his friends at the Dearborn Inn near his home; but he did not give money to Buchman's work. This was typical of his life-long belief that if a thing was worthwhile it should make its own way. 'Every tub must stand on its own bottom,' he would say - and, in fact, the Fords only gave two money gifts to Buchman or his work in twenty years, one of $1,000 from Mr Ford and the other of $2,000 from Mrs Ford. However, he turned to Buchman on personal questions. He consulted him about his will (from which neither Buchman nor his work benefited); and when he was having an operation asked him to look after Mrs Ford while it took place.
On 29 September Buchman sailed for Britain to take part in a weekend house-party being given by Lord Salisbury, the son of the Victorian Prime Minister and himself a former Cabinet Minister and Leader of the House of Lords, at Hatfield House. Salisbury had first been brought into contact with the Oxford Group through an acquaintance named Andrew Charles who had written several times suggesting to him that he should acquaint himself with it. He had finally attended the Oxford house-party in 1935 and another in January 1936 at Bournemouth. In March 1936 he had put forward the essence of Buchman's message in an economic debate in the House of Lords. 'The cause of the world's state', he said on that occasion, 'is not economic; the cause is moral. It is the want of religion which we ought to possess. If I may use a phrase which is common in a great movement which is taking place in this country and elsewhere, what you want is God-guided personalities, which make God-guided nationalities, to make a new world. All other ideas of economic adjustment are too small really to touch the centre of the evil.'19
When asked by august friends why he was interested in the Oxford Group, he replied, 'I saw the spirit moving on the waters, and I dare not stand aside.'20 To his niece, Lady Hardinge of Penshurst, he had said, 'These people have great spiritual knowledge and strength. Go to them and they will help you.'21 Now he had invited a number of his friends to meet with Buchman and a dozen of his colleagues at Hatfield House. They talked in the library and walked under the centuries-old trees together. Lord Lytton, glad to meet Buchman again after their conversations in India ten years earlier, told him of his son Anthony's death in a flying accident and gave him a copy of his book about him inscribed 'In memory of our talk at Hatfield'. Buchman himself regarded his conversations with Lytton as the high point of the weekend.
Salisbury's own seven-page summary of the weekend began with a list of those present.* Then he went on: 'I think it may be said broadly that the Group leaders made a profound impression upon those who had come to meet them, and the general conclusion appeared to be that a great force had become revealed which assuredly had to be reckoned with. I do not think there was anything in the Notes made after the Bournemouth House Party* which seemed to be in need of correction, but the following points should be noted as specially emerging from the Conference. There was abundant testimony by the Group speakers as to the results in their own lives which had been effected by the Group teaching - the peace, happiness and vigour which had followed. Similarly, in describing their experience of others who had been brought under the influence of the Group, they showed how friction in domestic life, unrest between employer and employed, and violent antagonism in politics had been softened or swept away. Lastly, the impression left upon the audience at the Conference was that great numbers of people in Country after Country are waiting, almost panting, for a lead in things spiritual as the only hope to enable Society to stand up against the moral and social degeneration of the time.'
(* 'The members of the Oxford Group consisted of: Lady Gowers, The Revd Cuthbert Bardsley, Dr Frank Buchman, Sir Philip Dundas, Mr Loudon Hamilton, Mr Kenaston Twitchell, The Revd Jack Winslow, M. Faure from France, Mr J. Roots, Mr Wilson and two others who came for the day on the 11th. They were met in conference by Caroline, Lady Bridgeman, Lady Gwendolen Cecil, Mrs Alfred Lyttelton, Mr R. H. Bernays MP, Sir John Cadman, Captain V. A. Cazalet MP, Lord Cecil, Sir John Davidson MP, Sir Francis Fremantle MP, Lord Goschen, Lord Grey, Lord Halifax, Lord Lytton, Lord Eustace Percy MP, Mr Francis Rodd, Lord Sankey, Lord Wolmer MP, besides Lord and Lady Salisbury.')
(* A thorough and appreciative summary of the Oxford Group principles he had written after his attendance there, of which I have a copy.)
'Group teaching' was discussed, including difficulties and criticisms regarding guidance, sharing, the meaning of change and the relation to institutional religion. 'But these criticisms', Salisbury concluded, 'do not seem to touch the essence of the Movement - a call to men and women including most professed Christians, for a vital, even a revolutionary change in their lives, namely, the acceptance in thought, word and deed of the immediate guidance of God as revealed in Christ and the recognition of a duty by sharing religious experience to help others to the same acceptance.'22 In a covering note to the Archbishop of Canterbury he concludes, 'I have certainly not overstated it in the case of many that they were profoundly impressed - perhaps all of them.'23
After the weekend Buchman wrote to his host, 'You must have the sense of "Well done, good and faithful servant." Certainly the hours at Hatfield were God-controlled. I do not know when I have ever felt so absolutely encased by the presence of the unseen, ever-present Christ.
'The influence of that weekend, I am convinced, will go far beyond our ken. With so much happening in thirty-six hours, you can readily understand what the impact must have been on Norway where we met together for ten days. In our contact with these men we ought always to keep in the forefront of our minds that we are only at the beginning.
'I think we must say this too: we can never be grateful enough to the good God who led you to plan as you did for men whose insight and creative ability can make a God-controlled England. Laus Deo!'24
To which Salisbury replied, 'I have just received your letter. May I tell you how very grateful I am to you for all you arranged and carried out here during the weekend? I have now read with deep reverence the words you have used as to the impression left upon your mind by what passed, and of course I feel that we must wait for the future of the Movement with hope and faith. I will say no more for the present.'25
Lord Robert Cecil said during the Hatfield weekend that 'every problem in Europe today could be traced back to the failure of Christian- ity to influence the Governments of the nations'.26 According to Kenneth Rose in The Later Cecils, he 'congratulated the Group on having "invested the old, simple Christ gospel with a new vividness particularly effective with people who have lost or never knew it". But at the final session he was disturbed by Buchman's apparent readiness to condone the conduct of the Hitler regime: "I rather warmly protested," Bob told his wife, "and he explained that he was far from approving such things as the persecution of the Jews."'27
It is likely that Buchman did express himself strongly about Germany in a gathering where some seemed to assume that Germany was totally to blame and Britain had made no errors. 'Buchman always found it very hard to bear the arrogance of certain of us British who felt the British Empire was better than anything else anywhere,' Loudon Hamilton once noted. 'He was very sensitive to national superiority in us. If we criticised other countries, he wouldn't allow it. He was fighting for cure and part of the cure was that we had to begin with ourselves.'
Salisbury's summary of the discussion on Germany reads: 'Nothing like the dazzling Scandinavian results were claimed in Germany, but a good deal of success was described in certain localities and amongst certain individuals - even individuals high in the public life of the Country. It was thought, I think, generally very difficult to reconcile the recent practice of the Government in Germany with the teaching of the New Testament, and the principles of the Group, and obviously any tendency to condone evil even for so signal an object as getting in touch with the German Government would be wholly unworthy. I need not say that any such "doing evil that good may come" was warmly denied.'28
Salisbury was one of the severest critics of the Government's appeasement policy. In February he had opened a debate on national defence in the House of Lords and in July he was, with Winston Churchill, to lead a deputation of Privy Councillors which implored Prime Minister Baldwin to face the fact of German re-armament. Kenneth Rose finds it extraordinary that he should have issued the invitations to his Hatfield weekend in between these two events and that he actually had Buchman and his colleagues to meet his friends there six weeks after the New York World-Telegram interview.29 It would indeed have been strange for Salisbury to have done so - and still stranger for him to have supported the Group consistently throughout the war - if he believed that Buchman was in the slightest degree pro-Nazi. But Buchman had told him what he was trying to do in Germany, including his touches with Himmler, at the Oxford house-party a year earlier, and Salisbury's conduct argues that he understood the motives behind Buchman's initiatives.
Rose is also puzzled why Salisbury, who 'displayed only clarity of thought and robustness of will in all other private and public activities', was 'so pliant in the hands of the Oxford Group'.30 The fact is that far from being pliant, Salisbury, in his work with the Oxford Group, was always his own man. Some of his initiatives were suggested to him by one or other of his Oxford Group friends whom, like its Secretary, Roland Wilson, he had urged 'never to hesitate to come to me when you feel prompted by the Spirit'.31 But the letters and memos in my possession* - many in his own hand - show that he pondered deeply any such suggestion and made up his own mind whether or not to act. On other occasions - his interventions in the House of Lords in 1936 and 1941, for example - he acted, and the first thing his Oxford Group friends knew about it was from reports in the press or announcements in the House's Order Paper.
(* I have been unable to examine the relevant papers in the Cecil Archives at Hatfield as there is a fifty-year embargo placed upon them by the family. This embargo the Librarian and Archivist to the Marquess of Salisbury informs me has only been waived twice, for Kenneth Rose and for one other.)
From time to time Salisbury had his questions or caveats on particular methods of the Oxford Group, and expressed them freely and courteously. A letter to Twitchell, for instance, suggests that, for the sake of Salisbury's friends, 'an associated body deeply convinced of the main principles of the Group but not committed to its methods' might perhaps be formed. He enclosed a list of caveats: that 'the Group teaching is a true road to God' but not the only road; that though one 'ought to ask for and to receive God's guidance', it 'is not necessarily to be had on demand'; that it is not true that when people become convinced Christians 'according to Group methods or any other methods ... the fierce warfare of the Christian soul is over'; and that it is 'a Christian obligation to share those spiritual experiences which are a help to others' but not to treat all such experiences as public property. He added a further warning: 'The fact is that an undue and insecurely founded optimism involves considerable danger. There must be a reaction sooner or later, perilous to the individual who experiences it, and it may be disastrous to the fellowship and teaching which may be held to be responsible for it.'32
Such warnings did not in any way interrupt Salisbury's co-operation with his Group friends. Two days after this letter he saw Lord Halifax, and asked him to sign a letter supporting the Oxford Group33 which he was assembling and which appeared in The Times eight days later.34 Halifax felt unable to do so; but two years later, when Foreign Secretary, sent a public message of support to Buchman and his friends in America.35*
(* In the spring of 1939, Rose writes (pp. 100,101), Salisbury began to arrange another house-party at Hatfield 'to consider practical steps for the promoting of Moral Re- Armament in this country'. 'The Archbishop of Canterbury readily agreed to take part... Other eminent men...sent their regrets...The guest list dwindled into mediocrity. As if at a word of command, Buchman's henchmen turned spitefully on Salisbury.' Rose then quotes from two letters, one from a future bishop, the other from the son of a bishop. 'Salisbury replied to these impertinences with Christian meekness,' he concludes. One deplores both the tone and the content of these letters, while admiring the grace of the recipient. They do, however, dispose of Rose's inference that Oxford Group leaders would go to almost any lengths to obtain an influential patron.)
Salisbury accepted Buchman and more particularly his younger British colleagues as friends engaged in a Christian battle in which he wished to have a part. When, in 1942, Buchman suffered a stroke, he asked Roland Wilson to say 'to Dr Buchman that my thoughts are daily with him during these anxious moments through which he is passing and with concern and prayer for the great movement for which he is responsible'.36 He also attended Wilson's wedding in 1946, although 85 years old, and telephoned him the day before he died in the next year.
Lord Grey came closer than Rose to expressing the hopes which both Salisbury and Buchman held for the Hatfield weekend when he wrote about it to the Archbishop of Canterbury. 'I was at Jem's house party last weekend and like everybody else, I think, very much impressed by what I heard,' he wrote. 'You know much more what he is thinking than I do, but I imagine that he is principally attracted by what might happen if we could get a great release of spiritual forces in Europe within the next two or three years, such a release as could not be expected to be achieved through the ordinary channels.'37
Buchman's hope was precisely for such a release of spiritual energy in Europe, not only because it just might avert catastrophe but, more importantly, for its own sake. This is clear from Salisbury's comment that Buchman at Hatfield called for 'a vital, even a revolutionary change' in the lives of those present, whether already 'professed Christians' or not. Buchman felt that such a release of spiritual energy would require the same kind of national response in Britain as he had seen in Norway and Denmark, and he was looking for public figures prepared to take the same whole-hearted leadership as Hambro and others had taken in Norway and Bishop Fuglsang-Damgaard and Dean Brodersen in Denmark.
But, for whatever reason, Buchman did not feel that most of those at Hatfield had accepted this point. Hence the wistful reference in his letter to Salisbury to the ten days' house-party of the Norwegian campaign in contrast to the thirty-six hours at Hatfield, and his insistence that 'we ought always to have it in the forefront of our minds that we are only at the beginning'. To Twitchell in London, he wrote in mid-November, 'I don't think I would count too exclusively on the senior crowd as the salvation of Britain, because they have too many irons in the fire. They have become old and hardened in their processes and ways of doing things and while one must be grateful for their approval of the work, with a few exceptions, I doubt whether we will have much action.'38
He was writing from Budapest, where he had found twenty Groups functioning. There, as in Vienna, he had met the country's Chancellor and members of the Cabinet. 'We have failed,' he noted at the time, 'in the articulation so that the scope is adequate to challenge every statesman ... the sin of not putting a message that is understandable by everyone.' And again, 'Events are hurtling on and the balance is between war and no war within the next three years. Can we be the deciding factor? All the time there comes in these quiet hours the thought, "You will be used to change the world." I sometimes feel it too much to believe that the Oxford Group can be used to change the world, but unless we work with that object we might just as well fold our hands and rest.'
Buchman returned to London a few days before the abdication of Edward VIII. At the height of that crisis, at four o'clock in the morning, he received a telephone call from the home of the Comptroller of the King's Household. It was from a close friend of the King, one of those who had been on the boat to South America in 1931, begging him to do something to help. 'All I could say,' he told a friend next morning, 'was, "There's nothing I can do now."' Justly or unjustly, he felt that those close to the King, particularly his spiritual advisers, had failed to help him to find a stable foundation for his life. 'The reason is because they are not arch-revolutionaries,' he wrote to a Swiss friend on the day after the Abdication. 'They support an archaic system, and no one can read the story of Russia, where the Church was bereft of the Christ it sought to bring, without seeing its significance.' Of the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, he wrote, 'Humanly he has done a good job. But it is certainly God's plan, in a situation like this, that a Prime Minister should have been able to change the King and bring him under the guidance of God.'39
A week later he had the chance to talk with Baldwin. It had been arranged by the Prime Minister's right-hand man, Sir John Davidson, who had been present at the Hatfield weekend. Baldwin had often heard news of the Group from his cousin, Mrs J. W. Mackail, and Mrs Baldwin had attended Group luncheons. When Buchman had held a meeting in the Albert Hall in July 1936 the Prime Minister had booked a box, but cancelled it on being asked by a Sunday newspaper whether he had 'joined' the Group.
At Chequers Baldwin told Buchman that his work was done and that he was planning to resign after the coronation of George VI. Buchman replied that the recent crisis had shown that he had an authoritative voice to unite the Empire on a great issue. Now there was something even greater at stake, to become 'the authoritative voice for the spiritual rebirth of the Empire'. Baldwin replied, 'Yes, I know I ought to. But I'm afraid I can't.'
Many of these people first met Buchman in the Chelsea home of the Dowager Countess of Antrim, a former Lady-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria and Queen Alexandra, who gave a weekly lunch for him when he was in town. It was during the late 1930s that she and her sister, Lady Minto, made the two-month journey with Buchman through the Balkans and the Middle East which Michael Barrett had found so demanding. 'Wherever we stopped,' she wrote in her diary, 'Dr Buchman was received not only by small, virile local teams, but by Rulers, Statesmen and business men. Everywhere they demanded interviews and asked for advice, seeming to realise that only by a God-controlled world can the difficulties which confront us be overcome.'
In the last entry in this diary, she noted, 'I was asked if I liked Dr Buchman. It seemed an unnecessary question, for in him I saw above all the realisation of a force which advances the Love of God, and this showed me how human personality is lost sight of in spiritual power.'*
(* In July 1935 Lady Antrim's daughter, Lady Sybil Smith (later Lady Bicester), offered to take Buchman to a Buckingham Palace garden party and introduce him to Queen Mary, whom she kept informed about his work. Buchman declined in a letter of 20 July:‘Ithought immediately of your husband, who might be bored by having me about or might feel he was committing himself more largely than he wanted to.')
Another of those who worked closely with Buchman in these years was Dr B. H. Streeter. He had flown three times to Denmark to assist in that campaign and reported his conclusions in a letter to The Times.40 Since throwing in his lot with the Oxford Group in1934 he had begun to be more interested in people and Buchman frequently sent individuals in need of help to him. He wrote to Buchman on one occasion about a talk with an editor who had come to question him in Oxford: 'I gave him my spiritual autobiography. I stressed the Gamaliel point - that Gamaliel did some good by protecting the apostles, but that if he had gone further and identified himself with them, it might have led the best element in the Pharisees to Christianity, and then the Jewish War and destruction of Jerusalem would not have occurred ... Gamaliel must take the credit not only for the good he did, but for the good he failed to do, the calamity he failed to prevent.'41
It was with shock that in September 1937 Buchman heard of the death of Streeter and his wife, Irene, in a plane crash on a mountain-top near Basle. The trip had been a second honeymoon with his wife, who for years had felt herself estranged by his cleverness and his advanced theology, for which she had small sympathy. He never found faith easy; but his years with Buchman put a foundation of experience under the fine structure of his thinking. 'I am sure I have learnt much about methods of presentation,' he had written to Buchman. 'If I had not met the Group, I might have died a distinguished theologian.'42
Buchman, who heard the news while visiting Ramsay Macdonald at Lossiemouth, flew immediately to Switzerland for the funeral. There he was given a statement which Streeter had been preparing for use on his return. 'I was drawn to the Oxford Group not primarily by failure to meet personal and family problems, but by my despair of the world situation,' Streeter had written. 'The more I saw of the trend of things, the less grounds I found for hope ... I saw how largely the moral energies of Christianity were demobilized, partly through the differences of opinion on points of doctrine or church organisation, but still more by the failure to realise in actual life the religious and moral ideals which Christians are unanimous in professing. The Oxford Group is recalling the churches to their proper task of saving the souls of nations as well as individuals.'
After describing what he had seen in Denmark, Streeter continued: 'History shows that in case of wars, revolutions, strikes and other major conflicts, a relatively small weight of public opinion on the one side or the other, or the presence or absence of moral insight and courage in a few individuals in positions of influence, has often turned the balance between a reasonable settlement and a fight to the finish. Modern civilization can only be saved by a moral revival. But for this it would suffice if every tenth or hundredth person were changed. For each such person raises the level of those whom he touches in the home, in business and in public affairs.
'What I saw happening in Denmark can happen in Britain. It will happen if those who lead Britain learn to find in God their inspiration and direction. And Britain, thus led, would save the world. But the opportunity must be seized during the period of uneasy respite from the major calamity which at the moment appears to lie ahead.'43
Buchman missed Streeter greatly. They had first become friends through a mutual interest in the Indian mystic Sadhu Sundar Singh, and Buchman had written in 1922 that Streeter had consulted him on one of his books. He was counting on Streeter to put the insights which he felt God was giving them into words which the intellectual world would read and understand. Of their friendship Julian Thornton-Duesbery, when Master of St Peter's College, Oxford, later wrote: 'Buchman's mind was not academic, but was of quite extraordinary speed and range, and had the quality of piercing immediately to the heart of the matter. It was this which drew great academic minds to him - this, together with his ability, which they envied, to communicate his ideas in simple, direct terms to ordinary people.'44
In the early part of 1937 Buchman made several visits to the Netherlands. His Dutch friends were pressing him to bring a team to their country. His own thought, when he conferred with them finally in April, was, 'Tolerate no activity which doesn't have national significance.' 'You have done splendid individual work,' he told them. 'You have had good house-parties. Now you need a new related activity, and it needs to be related to international problems.'
The Dutch responded, slowly at first, but with increasing enthusiasm, and decided that they should hold a national demonstration. The only problem was that Buchman insisted that the demonstration should take place in Utrecht. The Dutch maintained that it was the wrong town: for one thing, there was no large hall there. 'There is something in or near Utrecht which will hold thousands,' Buchman persisted. An indomitable woman, Mrs Charlotte van Beuningen, scoured the city, and eventually came upon the vast vegetable market. There was an absolute rule against hiring it out; but after interviewing each of the board of thirteen in charge of it, she got permission. Four thousand chairs were imported, and thousands of packing cases laid out in rows behind them.
Over Whitsun, audiences totalling 100,000 attended meetings there. 'At ten o'clock at night, with 10,000 present, people were still swooping on any vacant chair they could find,' Buchman wrote to Bill Pickle. 'Hundreds of people were changed, and we arranged interviews just as we did in the old days at Penn State.'45
'The greatest surprise in these two Whitsun days was certainly the appearance of Dr J. Patijn, our Ambassador in Brussels,' reported the Socialist paper Het Volk.46 'Only those who know him as Burgomaster of The Hague, a sound but unapproachable man and averse to any public show, will be able to appreciate fully what it must have cost this curt Zeelander to speak about his inmost self before many thousands in this Vegetable Market. It was no long speech ... "It is not for everyone," he said, "to speak in public about his faith, and it is not easy for me to do so. Every man, however, must have the courage of his convictions, and it would be ungrateful of me not to acknowledge that through what I have experienced in the Oxford Group I have learnt to see my fellow men, the world and my whole life in a new perspective."'
Not all newspapers were as positive. The Nieuwe Rotterdamsche Courant said the vast meeting was 'un-Dutch'. 'The question is not whether it is non-Dutch or American,' Buchman wrote to the head of the News Agency of the Dutch Indies, Herman Salomonson. 'The question is, "Is it Christian?" It seems so absurd. You see 65,000 men at a football match. Surely the outstretched arms of Christ are for everyone?' He added that he 'wished to heaven it were American, but unfortunately it is not'.47
The other voice of complaint was from the Dutch Nazi leader Mussert. He had planned a major rally at Utrecht for these same days. It was a complete failure, with very few people attending. It was four years later, after the German occupation, that he banned Buchman's work in the Netherlands.
1937 seemed propitious for Buchman in Britain.* In April Beverley Baxter, writing as 'Atticus' in the Sunday Times, went to see him with 'understandable curiosity'. 'His voice is pleasant without trickeries, his ears large and honest, and his nose long and intelligent. ..' he reported. 'It is easy to ridicule the Oxford Group, and many wits have done so ... The evidence is undeniable that the movement is spreading through the world. Nor would it be gracious or truthful to deny that when I left Dr Buchman I carried away the memory of a man whose spirit is fine and whose bearing is modest and sincere.'48
(* On March 4 the Daily Mirror held a competition in which readers nominated their 'perfect Cabinet'. One entry proposed Buchman as Prime Minister, with Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw among his Cabinet - a proposal which the paper published, complete with photographs of the nominees.)
London generally seemed to be opening its doors. Lady Antrim continued her weekly luncheons at which Buchman met members of the Cabinet. He was entertained by the Commander-in-Chief, Portsmouth; attended the Duke of Norfolk's garden party; addressed overflowing crowds in West Ham and Canning Town Halls in East London; and spoke to a large gathering of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons.
But he was not escaping less flattering attention. The Oxford Group were asked by Miss Christina Foyle to present their message at the Foyle's Literary Lunch of 8 July 1937. Seventeen speakers were designated, and accepted by Miss Foyle, to do so. The interest was so great that, having sold 2,500 tickets and filled the salon as well as the ball-room at Grosvenor House, the organisers had to refuse further requests.
Buchman was tipped off the night before by Ivan Menzies, the Gilbert and Sullivan star, that a trap was being planned at the lunch. The occasion had been arranged by some younger Oxford men, and Buchman had been doubtful about it, but felt that for their sakes he should let it go ahead. He was not to speak himself. When he arrived at Grosvenor House, he found that an eighteenth guest of honour had been added to the speakers, in the person of the actress Margaret Rawlings. She was seated on the other side of the chairman, next to Loudon Hamilton.
Just before the speaking was due to begin, a hotel employee called Hamilton away to answer the telephone. The operator told him that it was a false alarm and, on his return, he found that his place beside Miss Rawlings had been taken in his absence by Tom Driberg, then the 'William Hickey' columnist at the Daily Express. Miss Rawlings spoke last, reading from a prepared text and confining herself to one subject. Exposure of one's soul through public confession was, she said, as shocking as undressing in Piccadilly. Next day the press ignored the other seventeen speakers, who had included a bishop and a leader of East London's unemployed, and shouted Miss Rawlings' message in front-page headlines. The BBC reported her speech only. Driberg gave the whole of his column to the event, admitting in it that he was there to 'give Miss Rawlings moral support 49 - or, as his friend, Hannen Swaffer, wrote, 'He egged her on.'50 One paper embellished the story with a picture of Miss Rawlings as she appeared in her current show in the briefest of 1937 bathing costumes under the headline 'Indecency?'51
The old story of indecent 'public confession', as originally put out by Driberg nine years earlier, was re-stamped on the public mind. Miss Rawlings, perhaps fearing an action for slander, wrote the Daily Sketch that she was 'astonished' at the publicity and asked the paper to correct the impression that she had referred to or criticised any of the other speakers,52 and Miss Foyle issued a statement that 'Miss Rawlings' remarks bore no possible relation to what was said at the luncheon, which was a reasonable and objective presentation of the case for moral and spiritual renewal at a time of crisis'.53 A copy was sent to 'William Hickey' by Miss Foyle asking for equal space for an authoritative account of the other speakers, a request which was not granted.
Bunny Austin, the tennis player, was at the lunch, although not then associated with the Oxford Group. 'I went across to greet Dr Buchman as he made his way from the room,' he wrote. 'I greatly admired him at that moment. He gave no outward evidence, as he cheerfully returned my greeting, that he was a man who had just been hit violently below the belt.'54 Buchman certainly realised how much damage had been done. But his immediate concern was for the other speakers: 'Those good men standing up for their belief in this country and subjected to that. Yet the OP (Order of Persecution) may be better to have than the OM (Order of Merit).' He also knew that it would scare away many of the people upon whom he was relying to rouse the country. He spoke more personally of his barber, whom he had invited to bring his daughter to meet him and who cancelled the date. 'That is what hurts me most,' he said. 'It will be some time before they come around again.'*
(* A.P. Herbert certainly regarded Miss Rawlings' intervention as a matter of importance. He telegraphed her: 'If anyone writes a history of the "Oxford Group" it will have a pro- and post-Rawlings period.' (Reginald Pound: A. P. Herbert: A Biography (Michael Joseph, 1976), p. 155.)
Fredrik Ramm wrote a letter to the Morning Post about the work of the Oxford Group in Scandinavia, in which he commented, 'I have taken part in hundreds of meetings attended by thousands of people and I have never heard anything confessed in public which could not have been said in Piccadilly Circus.'55
Prebendary Wilson Carlile, the founder of the Church Army and by then over ninety, sent Buchman a stream of supporting messages in this period: 'I thank God for your prophetic persistence ... Go ahead. It helps us and the Kingdom of Heaven greatly . . . You are widening my vision. The top dog is more catchy than our bottom dog. Thousands of lazy lives, if they feel our Blessed Lord wants them and can use them, would buck up and be a blessing to the world.'56
Many conservative-minded people, like some of those at Hatfield, did turn away from Buchman following the publicity after the Foyle lunch. Lord Salisbury was not among them. On 7 August 1937, he combined with the Minister of Labour, Ernest Brown, Lord Davidson and the recent President of the British Academy, Professor J. W. Mackail, in a letter to The Times which read in part: 'The Oxford Group stands out as a challenge to churches of today to be up and doing. The dominating motive which animates these efforts, whether in the Group or elsewhere, is a pledge of loyalty to apply under God's guidance the spirit and principles of Christ to individual conduct and to every department of social, national and supernational life.
'We write this letter to urge the crying need of mankind that this fundamental principle should be emphasised and insistently applied broadcast throughout this and other countries. What nations imperatively require is the development of a sense of personal responsibility to bring men and women of all administrations and governments to the spirit of loyalty to God. This alone can unite a chaotic world.'57
1 Templeton Award Speech, London, 10 May 1983.
2 Journal de Genève, 27 September 1935.
3 Spoerri: La Dynamique du silence (Editions de Caux, 1975), p. 117.
4 Der Bund, 20 September 1935.
5 La Suisse, 20 September 1935.
6 Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 31 December 1937.
7 Ebenezer Cunningham, The Spectator, 18 October 1935.
8 Berlingske Aftenavis, 25 April 1936.
9 The Oxford Group in Geneva, (1935), text of speeches made at luncheon given by Dr Eduard Benes. Also Journal de Genève, 27 September 1935.
10 Time, 23 September 1935.
11 Buchman to Carl Hambro, 2 October 1935.
12 Text of a speech made in many centres and variously reported in Ottawa citizen, 15 November 1935; The Lutheran, 14 November 1935; New York Herald Tribune, 21 November 1935, etc.
13 New York Times, 30 May to 8 June 1936.
14 Privately reprinted by Dr Pfatteicher in pamphlet form, Christmas 1934.
15 Revd Edward Horn to Buchman, 19 May 1936.
16 Dayton Daily News, 13 June 1936.
17 19 June 1936, Buchman, p. 30.
18 Leeds Mercury, 23 July 1936.
19 Hansard, 20 March 1936.
20 Lady Hardinge in talks with the author and others.
21 Lady Hardinge in talks with the author and in a letter to The Times, 30 June 1975.
22 Note by Lord Salisbury on Hatfield weekend.
23 Lord Salisbury to Archbishop Lang, 14 October 1936.
24 Buchman to Lord Salisbury, 14 October 1936.
25 Lord Salisbury to Buchman, 15 October 1936.
26 H. Kenaston Twitchell to Buchman, 28 October 1936.
27 Kenneth Rose: The Later Cecils (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975), p. 97.
28 Salisbury notes on Hatfield.
29 Rose, p. 96.
30 ibid., p. 102.
31 Verbal to Wilson and in letter from Wilson to author, 29 September 1981.
32 Lord Salisbury to H. Kenaston Twitchell, 27 July 1937.
33 H. Kenaston Twitchell to Lord Salisbury, 29 July 1937.
34 The Times, 7 August 1937.
35 July 1939.
36 Lord Salisbury to Roland Wilson, 2 December 1942.
37 Lord Grey to Archbishop Lang, 14 October 1936.
38 Buchman to H. Kenaston Twitchell, 16 November 1936.
39 Buchman to Theophil Spoerri, 11 and 15 December 1936.
40 The Times, 10 March 1935.
41 B. H. Streeter to Buchman, 6 April 1936.
43 Oxford Times, 17 September 1937.
44 Thornton-Duesbery: The Open Secret of MRA (Blandford, 1964), pp. 74-5.
45 Buchman to William Gilliland, 25 July 1937.
46 Het Volk, 18 May 1937.
47 Buchman to Herman Salomonson, 24 May 1937.
48 Sunday Times, 18 April 1937.
49 Daily Express, 9 July 1937.
50 World’s Press News, 18 September 1953.
51 Daily Mirror, 9 July 1937.
52 Daily Sketch, 14 July 1937.
53 On 13 July 1937.
54 H. W. Austin and Phyllis Konstam: A Mixed Double (Chatto and Windus, 1969), p. 89.
55 Morning Post, 17 August 1937.
56 Prebendary Wilson Carlile to Buchman, 28 June, 1 and 12 July 1937; 1 January 1938.
57 The Times, 7 August 1937.