There is a story about Trevor which many of you will have heard before but it bears repeating. About 70 years ago a small boy was walking with his mother through Sophiatown when they met a white priest. The white priest raised his hat to the boy’s mother though she was only a washerwoman. The boy was amazed. It changed his life and he became a priest and a bishop as a result. The boy, of course, was Desmond Tutu and the priest was Trevor. It was such a small act of courtesy - raising his hat - and yet it changed a person’s life. It also showed an essential truth about Trevor. He made no distinctions. Everyone was important to him. Every person deserved respect no matter what their colour, or what work they did. Where did Trevor learn this courtesy? Can it have been here at Lancing where he spent his crucial teenage years?
Trevor loved Lancing. It was his home. His parents were mostly away in India. His home was school. This is where he found his friends. This is where he was formed as the person who would one day make such an impression on the world; this is also where he found God.
During Trevor’s last years, when he lived at Mirfield, he missed his friends terribly, so I used to take him to London for a weekend every few months. There his friends would come to see him. They were all delightful people. No doubt some are here today. What struck me was how varied they were. For all Trevor’s strong opinions on political and social matters his friends were from everywhere. There were Conservative MPs, Labour MPs, peers of the realm and very ordinary people from Stepney; there were priests, Christians of several denominations, some agnostics and atheists and even a couple of communists. Some were rich, some were not and there were many different coloured skins. Trevor loved them all and welcomed them all with the same delight and enthusiasm. Again this was because of Trevor’s belief in God. He knew that every one of these people was a beloved child of God. He saw God in each one of them.
That is a second important thing about Trevor. What he did in South Africa, in Tanzania and in Stepney he did because he was a priest. He was not a politician. He didn’t seek power or influence. He cared deeply and passionately about people. One of the children in this school asked me “Why did Trevor do what he did in Africa?” The answer is simply that he saw every person in this world as a child of God. It didn’t matter who they were, God loved them equally. It was therefore blasphemy against God to treat black people badly. Not just wrong, but blasphemy!
Trevor was a priest first and foremost. Never forget that. If we admire who he was and what he did we must give a lot of the credit to God. Trevor was an Anglican priest trying his hardest to serve God. He was also a prophet. A prophet is not someone who foretells the future. A prophet sees truly into the present, sees where God is working and how God is being ignored and speaks about it. That’s what Trevor did. When we read now about the horrors of apartheid in South Africa it is hard to understand why people did it. How could Christian people treat other people so badly? Why did the world put up with it? In those days that is just how things were. It took the horrors of the Nazi holocaust to make people realise it is wrong to persecute Jews. As one who grew up in Rhodesia I can tell you that you grew up simply accepting that discrimination was natural and right. It was obvious that whites should rule and blacks should be ruled. That was how the blacks themselves preferred it. Some of us thought that South Africa went a bit far. In South Africa there were many who didn’t much like the apartheid rules but no one did anything about it. The rule of law meant accepting the Government in power. You may not like apartheid but you couldn’t do anything about it.
It took a person of real perception and insight to see how wrong this all was and a person of great courage and determination to challenge it. A few people managed it: Michael Scott, Alan Paton and Trevor. It’s hard now to see just how extraordinary they were. They had a vision given to them by God and they did not let go.
In the really dark days of the 50s and 60s when it seemed apartheid would last forever, people would often ask Trevor "Are you optimistic about the future of South Africa?". Trevor would say “No. I am not optimistic. Optimism is a shallow human feeling. I have hope”. Hope is hope in God. Hope is hope in Jesus Christ who comes back from the dead. Hope is confidence that the dark will not last forever but that the light which came into the dark with Jesus will come back pushing back the dark. That is what happened in South Africa. We need to hold onto that hope when we look around the other tragic situations in the world – Zimbabwe, the Congo, Sudan, Syria. It is easy to feel they will never get better but if we have hope in Christ we will pray for them. Each morning when I looked after Trevor I used to go early into his room to do his insulin and give him a cup of tea. Then I left him to pray. He said Mattins and then prayed over a long list of people and places he cared about. Probably many of you were on that list! All through his life, no matter how busy he was, he never forgot to pray. Without prayer his work would have come to nothing.
That does not mean Trevor had an easy relationship with God. Trevor held God responsible for all the things which went wrong in the world. He argued with God, shouted at him, begged him to explain why bad situations did not get better. Like Job, like St Paul, like Jesus himself he knew God wanted him to talk about the things which really mattered. Trevor never pretended things were better than they were and he told God about it. That was part of his love.
Trevor loved young people. He got on very well with them. In his last years at Mirfield I used to bring students from our College to see him and have a drink with him. No matter how tired he was, Trevor always flung himself into these little gatherings and charmed and delighted our students. Trevor died just after Easter in 1998. On Holy Saturday he asked if someone could hear his confession. I brought in another priest to do that. Afterwards I went in and found Trevor looking very serene. He said “That was wonderful. Tell those clever young men at the College, the most important thing they can ever do is to make their confessions”. So I’m telling you clever young people of Lancing College; God is a God of love and forgiveness. If we can be honest with God and tell him our sins, our failings, our weaknesses and our fears we will find love, forgiveness and a joy we never knew was there.
would be failing Trevor if I ended this sermon telling you to admire what he did
and to thank God for what he became. Trevor would want us to do what he did, to
go out into the world looking for those who suffer, looking for the things which
are bad which other people don’t see and do something about them.
The ANC called Trevor ‘Makhalipile – the dauntless one’. That’s what he was: courageous, determined in his service of God.
Nicolas Stebbing CR
Nicolas Stebbing CR