Franciscan documents

Franciscan bits & pieces picked up by Ted Witham tssf

Jack Winslow, the Writer of our Third Order Principles


You and I know John Copley Winslow well. It is his voice we hear in our ears every day when we recite the Principles. His voice which eventually we hear in our hearts, pointing us to Jesus and to community,

‘The heart of our prayer is the Eucharist.’

‘This joy is a gift, coming from our union with God in Christ.’

All these words are a gift, too, coming to us day by day from Jack Winslow. They enrich our lives and inspire us to live more deeply as followers of Jesus.

John Copley Winslow was born in 1882 into a family with impeccable evangelical credentials. His father was an evangelical clergyman. His great-grandmother was Mary Winslow whose Life and Letters was a favourite in Victorian evangelical households.

So, Jack Winslow started in life with a strong sense of the importance of sharing the Gospel. This priority fed into the Rules that he wrote for Christa Seva Sangh, Christa Prema Seva Sangh, and the First and Third Orders SSF. Being a Christian is firstly about ‘making our Lord known and loved everywhere.’

The young Jack Winslow attended Eton and then went up to Oxford, to Balliol College to study classics. The Anglo-Catholic scholar Charles Gore was a strong influence on him, as was the future Bishop of Bombay.

He visited India before his year at Wells Theological College, then returned to India as a Society for the Propagation of the Gospel missionary for 20 years. He loved the place. He took seriously the missionary’s ideal that the Gospel should be presented in a culturally appropriate way.

For example, he thought that the Holy Communion service in the Book of Common Prayer was far too boring for Indian culture, so he worked with a team of scholars and liturgists to produce a more Indian-friendly Eucharist based on the old Syriac liturgy. This Indian Liturgy was published and used extensively until the nineteen seventies.

If Jack Winslow were alive today in Australia, he might encourage Aboriginal Christians to prepare their own culturally appropriate liturgy without interference or direction from Europeans.

Worship, music and song – these were Anglo-Catholic influences adding to his already strong evangelical style. He started writing hymns some of which are still found in hymnals. ‘Lord of creation, to you be all praise’ is number 262 in Together in Song.

Archbishop Temple said that Winslow was a ‘great interpreter of Indian mind to England.’ Andrew Webb said he was an ‘erratic genius’. Professor Eric Sharpe said he was ‘Catholic-minded’ and a ‘great Anglo-Indian mystic’. But Jack Winslow always saw himself as an evangelist with a strong interest in ashrams, communities adapted for Christians.

Massacre at Amritsar 1919

The Massacre at Amritsar in India on 13th April 1919 was a sharp turning point for the 37-year-old missionary. People returning from worship at the Golden Temple that day, swirling through the Jallianwalla Bagh gardens, did not know that the British commander, Colonel Dyer, had called a curfew. Rather than disperse the crowds, the British Rifle Companies corralled the people in the garden, an area about 200 metres by 200 metres, and fired live rounds into the crowd until the troops were out of ammunition. 1,650 rounds were fired. The death total is disputed but between 100 and 300 Indians were killed.

An irony was that Dyer ordered the Sikh riflemen to be the main instruments of the massacre, pitting race against race, British against Indian, Sikh against Sikh – a highly explosive move.

Winslow, hearing of these events 1,000 miles to the south in Poona, was horrified. He had been thinking about forming a Christian ashram which would express Christianity in the Indian context. After Amritsar he quickly began his ashram, with one of its key principles that members of different races could be equal members: British and Indians, and Indians and Indians to the extent possible with the caste system.

If Winslow were alive today, I wonder if he would found a Christian community in Israel or Palestine, where Israelis and Palestinians were radically equal with each other and Europeans had minor roles?   

This first ashram was Christa Seva Sangh founded in 1920. The name is Christa – Christ or Christlike, Seva – a Hindi word for ‘selfless service’, and Sangh – the Buddhist concept of community or network: so, Christa Seva Sangh means ‘an ashram for Christlike selfless service’.

Fr Algy Robertson came from England and developed the ashram with Fr Jack. The community grew so much that they built their own buildings at Poona in 1929. However, the movement split into two.

Fr Algy, whose health was never good, returned to England and began the Brotherhood of the Love of Christ – essentially the English Christa Seva Sangh. Fr Jack worked a more monastic rule for Christa Prema Seva Sangh. ‘Prema’ is Sanskrit for ‘love’, the equivalent of agape. Christa Prema Seva Sangh then means, ‘an ashram for loving Christlike selfless service.’  

There were more conflicts within the Sangh, so Winslow returned to England in 1934 where he kept in touch with Fr Algy and the Brotherhood of the Love of Christ.

They met Dorothy Swayne, who was to become the ‘Lay Foundress’ of the Third Order in England. Together these three, Dorothy Swayne, Father Algy and Jack Winslow, worked on the Rules for the different Franciscan Orders – we read some of that work in the Principles and in the Book of Roots.

Jack Winslow died in 1974 aged 92. Dorothy Swayne continued as a leader in the Third Order until her death and Fr Algy soldiered on in the First Order.  Potential novices of the First Order were surprised to be sent up to Fr Algy’s room where apparently, he spent his days in bed, a hot-water bottle under his habit on his stomach and received people lying down.

Back to Jack Winslow. What always impresses me is Winslow’s way with words. He was a great stylist and expressed his thoughts about being a Christian with beauty and care.

We love Jack Winslow’s words, because they point us to our beliefs as Franciscan Christians; Jesus is central to our faith. We follow the Master, as we make him loved and known everywhere. Community is vital. Our strength as Christians comes from acting together in selfless love for others.   

So, we thank God for the clarity and style of the Franciscan framework Jack Winslow gifts to us every day.

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