I picked this book up on a whim, largely because it had a ‘SALE’ sticker, in Church House Bookshop. I am so glad I did, as it has turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Readers of this blog will likely have heard of John Stott – named by TIME Magazine as one of the worlds 100 most notable people in 2005, a prolific author, speaker and preacher, it is fair to say that Stott’s legacy is enormous, particularly through ongoing work of the Langham Partnership. Yet most today will probably not have heard of Frances Whitehead, who served Stott’s ministry for 55 years. As the back cover of the book notes, “She was his right hand: gatekeeper, administrator, typist, encourager and enabler. In his Will, Stott named her as his ‘friend and Executor“.
As Cameron writes, “Few could have had an accurate mental image of the way John and Frances operated. The scope, reach, and effectiveness of his growing global ministry was based solely on this team of two, with a Study Assistant and occasional admin assistance for Frances. It was an operation which would bemuse, indeed be-fox, any management consultants.” (p. 109). Threaded through the book – and, by extension, Stott and Whitehead’s relationship – is a deep spirituality and trust in the Lord for provision, purpose and timing. In this way, this is a book that is actually deeply encouraging for/to younger readers, including folk like myself in their 30s and thinking about career and vocation. The Lord provides – though not necessarily in ways we might expect!
One particular theme that also sings from this book is the nature of the friendship that the two had. With no hint of sexual impropriety, this book sketches a wonderful outline of how working relationships between men and women (notably in this case both single) can (and perhaps should) be. Cameron recounts the affection Stott had, taking care of her and celebrating her (his ‘toast’ at her 65th birthday is particularly lovely, p. 137-141). Yet this is a book about Whitehead, who has a fascinating story, both in terms of her path to her life’s calling, and the way she walked it out. In this, this is a rare book in that it’s author successfully ‘gets out of the way’, and lets the topic speak.
I would warmly recommend this book for several reasons/to several audiences:
- For those interested in Stott, either specifically or in terms of his leadership – this book would be a valuable set of insights and rounds out the Stott story.
- For those interested in the women who have shaped church history – Frances is no ‘bit-part’ or silent partner, rather she is a vital servant of God.
- For those wondering about their own ministry, particularly how to use skills that may not seem ‘spiritual’ for God’s service.
- For those thinking deeply about friendship and relationships between men and women – this book offers a wonderful historical example of something good in an age dominated by the bad.