I've often wondered where he stood theologically, and whether we would share anything in common. I've wondered if he prayed while in Africa for the church in the UK to be renewed and to recommit itself to God's great mission. I've wondered who or what inspired him to cut short his studies and set off on his missionary journey.
All of this has often left me feeling somewhat alone in the family. I don't dwell on it, but there are times when I would love to be able to reflect on theological issues with my close family in a way that just isn't available to me. No one has gone this way before, or so I thought. And then I found out something new.
My Grandmother was my Grandfather's second wife. His first wife was called Mary, and they had a son and a daughter as I recall. Owen and Dorothy. Mary, it turns out was the sister (I hope I'm remembering this correctly) to Uncle Ernest. Uncle Ernest turns out to the J Ernest Rattenbury a Wesleyan theologian. It gets more interesting too. Ernest and Mary's grandfather was John Rattenbury, another Methodist leader from the late 19th century.
A quick email to a methodist friend of mine produced the following response:
Always good to hear from you dear friend. Well how amazing. As your e-mail came in I was reading an article about the Methodist Conference of 1861 which was held in Brunswick Chapel Newcastle, the place where I subsequently grew up. The President of Conference that year was, yes you have guessed, Rev John Rattenbury, described as a hypnotic revivalist preacher! His son was H Owen Rattenbury the father of Revs J Ernest Rattenbury and Harold Burgoyne Rattenbury.
So I no longer feel quite so alone as I once did. Maybe John was a maverick too, a preacher passionate about God's mission, determined to follow Christ and preach Christ.