Michael Hews, much-beloved and long-serving Scripture Union staff member, sadly passed away in August, aged 96. Friend and past SU-colleague Emlyn Williams gives his reflections on Michael and the impact he made on the work of Scripture Union, both here in England and Wales and around the world.
‘I write as an enthusiast.’ Those are the opening words of Michael Hews’ book about Scripture Union, A Tale of Two Visions published in advance of the 2001 International Conference in Nottingham. This was no dry history but the exciting story of Scripture Union worldwide.
Michael died recently at the age of 96, 71 years after he joined the staff of SU and 31 years after he retired. But his enthusiasm was unabated to the end. In 2017 when he was 92, he flew to Malaysia for the Scripture Union International Global Assembly. He was the only person still alive who had been at the first ever international conference 57 years earlier. In the intervening years, SU had been transformed. In 1960 he organised and took the minutes for a conference of 23 leaders from 12 countries. In 2017, he was an honoured guest alongside more than 500 delegates from over 150 countries. And this time he didn’t take the minutes!
"His legal approach was just what we wanted to lick the organisation into shape – and we had a magazine into the bargain."
Like so many people who have been significant in SU’s ministry, his first involvement was as a volunteer, a team member on a camp. In the late 1940s whilst working as a solicitor in north London, he started – despite post-war paper rationing – a magazine for older secondary school pupils, Pilgrim. Late in 1949, it became the official publication of the Inter-School Christian Fellowship – ISCF – which had itself only begun in 1947. The following year he joined the staff as the Organising Secretary. His colleague Branse Burbridge said, ‘His legal approach was just what we wanted to lick the organisation into shape – and we had a magazine into the bargain.’
Six years later he became assistant to Dr John Laird, the General Secretary of CSSM as SU was then known. It was in this role that he entered the international arena, preparing for the historic Old Jordans conference in 1960. This was when SU moved from being, as Michael wrote, ‘an empire ruled from London… to a family of independent national movements.’
When Michael retired from the staff in 1990, it was far from being the end of his SU story!
For the next 15 years, Michael edited a variety of books and magazines for SU England and Wales and devised a number of promotional audio-visuals, notably for the 1967 Centenary of CSSM. Subsequently, he became responsible for SU’s PR and support raising, including Outreach magazine, the forerunner of today’s Connecting You.
When Michael retired from the staff in 1990, it was far from being the end of his SU story! He and his wife June (they met when they were both on the SU staff and were married for 69 years) moved to Cheltenham. Almost immediately they set out on a short world tour, visiting some of the many people they had met through the movement.
Years of experience had given Michael an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scripture Union, in this country and around the world.
Michael later became, as he said, ‘the very part-time SU archivist’ and for many years visited the office regularly to work on organising the archives. Until 2010 he chaired the SU Gloucestershire Support Group, often hosting international visitors.
Years of experience had given Michael an encyclopaedic knowledge of Scripture Union, in this country and around the world. This left him in the ideal position to write three books: Making Jesus Known: Scripture Union Stories from Around the World (1995), Never Alone: Stories of God at Work in Family Life (1997) and finally A Tale of Two Visions: the story of Scripture Union worldwide (2000).*
As Michael himself said, he was an enthusiast for SU. But he was much more than that. For many of us he was a wise counsellor – always interested and supportive yet willing to be a critical friend. I am one of many around the world who will miss his lively and concise Christmas letter, but so much more importantly his friendship, wisdom and example. Meanwhile, we continue to pray for June who is still living in Cheltenham, and the rest of his family.
Now available as a free ebook from https://content.scriptureunion.org.uk/resource/tale-two-visions-jubilee-edition