Nicky Gumbel - Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) & Pioneer of the Alpha Course

Ep 43: Nicky Gumbel (Vicar, HTB & Alpha Course)

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Welcome to Episode 43!

Our guest for STIMY Episode 43 is Nicky Gumbel. 

Nicky Gumbel is an English Anglican priest, vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, London and pioneer of the Alpha Course – a course that has reached over 25 million people who are looking to discover the meaning to life!

This episode is so special to me not least because I used to attend HTB myself!

In this STIMY episode, we explore Nicky’s incredible faith journey – how he went from being an argumentative atheist to someone completely on fire for God! – and what HTB and the Alpha course was like back in the 1970s, including the pivotal moments that led to what it is today. As well as his thoughts on online church and online Alpha!

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    Who is Nicky Gumbel?

    Nicky was born in Hyde Park Corner, London in 1955, to a family of lawyers and bankers. But he grew up never truly knowing his paternal heritage because of his father’s experience with the Nazi Germans.

    • 3:48: Growing up in London in the 1950s
    • 5:13: Having an eventful conversation with his mum at the age of 14

    Coming to Faith while Studying at the University of Cambridge

    While at Eton, Nicky labelled himself a logical determinist and even wrote an essay disputing the existence of God!

    • 11:44: Why Nicky labelled himself a “logical determinist” while at Eton
    • 12:50: Why Nicky entered Cambridge University to do economics (before switching to law!)
    • 13:56: The Nicky lunches

    But while at the University of Cambridge, his bestfriends Nicky & Silas Lee became Christians and determined to “save” them, he began reading the Bible. And within 2 days, he became a Christian as well!

    • 15:02: Coming to faith in February 1974
    • 19:46: How Nicky ended up in Kitchen with Phil Lawson Johnston
    • 22:13: How Sandy Miller came into Nicky’s life
    • 24:01: The change in HTB culture from robed choirs to contemporary worship
    • 26:25: Why Nicky went from working as a barrister in a tax chamber to criminal then a mix set
    • 27:34: Meeting John Wimber in 1981
    • 28:10: “Come, Holy Spirit”
    In February 1974, I encountered Jesus and that totally changed. I had a pile of invitations like that, parties in London. And I literally, I just binned them. And then I just focused on finding out, reading the Bible, discovering more about Jesus. And I'm trying to tell my friends that this is the best news you could ever hear.
    Nicky Gumbel - Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) & Pioneer of the Alpha Course
    Nicky Gumbel
    Vicar, HTB & Alpha Course

    Studying Theology at the University of Oxford

    Nicky Gumbel - Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) & Pioneer of the Alpha Course
    • 29:23: Why Nicky studied theology at Oxford
    • 30:46: Learning that he had tied his self-esteem to his job
    • 32:12: Being rejected from 9 parishes!

    Working at HTB

    • 32:55: How Nicky went from Agnostics Anonymous to the Alpha course
    • 35:36: How the first Alpha training conference in May 1993 came about
    • 37:58: The 1994 Toronto blessing that spread to HTB
    • 39:35: Alpha Asia Pacific
    • 40:42: Doing online church & online Alpha
    • 42:34: Where Nicky gets his drive from

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories of people coming to faith, check out:

    • Ep 41: Richard Lui – MSNBC & NBC News Anchor & 1st Asian American to be a TV host on a national cable network while at CNN, on what it takes to be an entrepreneur & TV anchor & the sacrifices involved in caring for a dad that has Alzheimer’s while keeping his faith alive
    • Ep 38: John Kim – Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Amasia (thesis-driven VC on climate change & sustainability), vlogger, musician & serial entrepreneur
    • Ep 27: Freda Liu – BFM 89.9 Radio host on her #duakerja life & how the role that faith plays in her life
    • Ep 19: Patricia Kelikani – Multiple Emmy-Award Winning Filmmaker & Entrepreneur on how she went from wanting to be a real life Lois Lane to heeding God’s voice to do missions in Albania, which set her on the path she is on today!
    • Ep 6: Ashley Dean – First Artist of the Royal Ballet (Covent Garden, London) on the sacrifices it took to become a top professional ballerina & her thoughts on family & faith

    If you enjoyed this episode with Nicky Gumbel, you can: 

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    Send an Audio Message

    I’d love to include more listener comments & thoughts into future STIMY episodes! If you have any thoughts to share, a person you’d like me to invite, or a question you’d like answered, send an audio file / voice note to sothisismywhy@gmail.com

    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

    Nicky Gumbel - Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) & Pioneer of the Alpha Course

    STIMY Ep 43: Nicky Gumbel - Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) & Pioneer of the Alpha Course

    Nicky Gumbel: You know, I'd been a barrister. I'd written opinions, and I got paid for my opinions. Then I went to be a student to study theology at Oxford. I wrote essays and not only was no one paying me you know, they were criticizing my essays.

    And I realized how much my self esteem was tied up with what I did came from being a barrister, being paid for what I did. And someone said to me, the local vicar who I was training under, said to me, it's a really important thing, because what matters in life is not what you do, but who you are.

    And that's where your self esteem should come from is from who you are. And I think that was a really important lesson to learn that that's ultimately what matters and yeah, that's why I always try to stress that the New Testament tells us is that we're loved. And to know that you are a much loved human being, that you're a child of God. That's where our esteem should come from.

    That's where our confidence should come from. Not from what we do.

    And there's always a battle because it's always tempting to rely on, you know, what we do or success or whatever. Whereas actually none of those things matter. What matters is that you're a child of God. You're a much loved child of God.

    And that's where our competence should come from.

    Ling Yah: Hey everyone. Welcome to episode 43 of the So This Is My Why podcast. I'm your host and producer, Ling Yah, and firstly, happy Easter 2021.

    In conjunction with Easter, I'm so pleased to introduce today's guest, Nicky Gumbel, the vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, London, and pioneer of the Alpha course. Where over 25 million people around the world have gathered to explore the meaning of life!

    But Nicky wasn't always in ministry. In fact, he grew up being an argumentative atheist, going so far as to label himself a logical determinist and writing an essay disproving the existence of God, then studying existentialism while at Cambridge University, where he decided to pick up the Bible, which is when he encountered Jesus.

    From then on Nicky was on fire for God. And he shares what it's like. How he came to be at Holy Trinity Brompton, why he went to study theology, where he learned that up to that point, he had been tying his self esteem to his work and his journey with the Alpha course, pivoting it from being a course aimed at Christians to those who don't believe in God, but want to learn more.

    Want to learn more about Nicky's incredible faith journey?

    Let's go.

    Hi, Nicky. Thank you so much for joining me on this podcast. It's so exciting to have you with me today.

    Nicky Gumbel: It's a privilege to be with you. I'm absolutely delighted.

    Ling Yah: You were born in Hyde Park Corner in London in 1955.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, that's good knowledge, Hyde park corner.

    That's a very accurate locating.

    Ling Yah: And your mother, Muriel Margaret Gumbel, was a barrister and I believe you were born on the day she won her seat as a member of the London County council.

    Nicky Gumbel: Wow. You really have done your research.

    Ling Yah: So she was there. And I think because of her political inclination, she was later in the Kensington Chelsea council. So that's why you got to know Caroline Welby.

    So that's where that link started. And then you've got your father, who's Walter Gumbel. He came from a long line of barristers.

    So it sounds like they had high expectations for you from day one.

    Nicky Gumbel: Well, I didn't know that my father definitely expected me to be a barrister. I don't know whether they had high expectations of me, but he definitely expected me to be a barrister.

    My parents were amazing. They were a little bit eccentric. My father was 49 when he got married and my mother was 36.

    So in some ways they're a bit more like grandparents. I mean, by the time I was 49, I think I've probably almost had grandchildren by that stage.

    But my father came as a refugee. So he had nothing really when he arrived here. My grandparents were pretty much the last to escape on the kind of last, last, la st exits from fleeing, from the Nazis.

    So they came with nothing and they sacrificed everything for us. So they were very loving parents. They worked very hard. We never had anything other than the second hand clothes.

    I do a podcast with my daughter called faith and equality.

    On the podcast, we interviewed my sister, who's now a QC and she reminded us that one time someone gave her a piece of clothing from Marks and Spencers for her birthday. And my mother took it back because she knew she could get a refund from Marks and Spencers. So we never had, we got all our clothes in charity shops.

    And we used to go and buy damaged fruit from the markets. But they saved every penny to educate us and to give us the best possible start in life. So I am hugely, hugely grateful to them.

    Ling Yah: And I believe in 1969, when you were age 14, you and your sister were walking with your mom along the promenade in Brighton, and you had this eventful conversation. Could you share a bit about that?

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah. My mother said to us, your father is German and Jewish and you are never to speak to him about it. So that would have been in 1969 and he died in 1981 and I never spoke to him about it. He never spoke and I didn't really speak to my mother either.

    She died in 1986. I felt sort of, she out of respect for him didn't want to talk about it. So I only really talked a little bit to his sister. My father's sister was 10 years younger. And I did find out a little bit about him from her.

    And then the Judaica Museum in Berlin wrote and they were researching my family and I got a file from them.

    And then the Israeli ambassador did some research into which concentration camps members of my family had died. And now I can Google them.

    And there's a stuff in Wikipedia that was only in German, but now it's been translated into English. Most of it. And I can find out more about them.

    About Abraham Gumble.

    My great, great great-grandfather. Moses Gumbel. Isaac Gumbel and even books. I've got books now written that I've got here.

    So this is for example, this is my father's cousin, Emil Gumbel, who was a pacifist and professor. And Einstein rescued him after he escaped from Germany into France.

    He was on Hitler's hit-list. Him and Einstein and Kafka and various others.

    There were 32 of them, I think, on well, Hitler's initial hit list of people who wanted to kill and Emil Gumbel escaped, and Einstein got him out from France then to the US, where he came up with something called the Gumbel Distribution. And if you study math at university, you will study the Gumbel Distribution.

    So yeah, it's fascinating now to find out it's a whole new world to me. And it's only really, I mean, I read that book in the last year, so I'm now discovering stuff about this extraordinary family who in Germany, in the 1930s resisting Hitler before he came to power.

    Ling Yah: Did it never cross your mind when your mom said, don't ask your dad to maybe push the folder a bit.

    Nicky Gumbel: You couldn't get anywhere near it. So at any conversation that was getting anywhere near it, you know, like, and to do with his education, he would immediately turn the subject to the weather. He would say it's such a sunny day today, or isn't it cold today?

    That was always his defense to talk about the weather. And you knew if he was talking about the weather, he was saying, I'm not going there. So we never got anywhere near any conversation about his past life.

    And you know, I didn't understand it at the time. I just accepted it, but I didn't understand it. But now I do understand it because the trauma that they have been through was so huge. He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

    The way sort of try to understand it is 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, including many of his family. And presumably I don't know this because I never got the opportunity to ask him, loads of friends of his must've died.

    And it's like, I suppose it would be the equivalent of if in the UK, all the Christians were killed, basically but not just killed. Killed in the most inhumane way, you know, starved to death and then put into gas chambers. All the Christians, including many members of my family. And then my children would say to me oh, how was it?

    You know, you just- how'd you begin to talk about it?

    And for many of the survivors of that, they started to talk about it in like 2010. So like, it was like 75 years later. Some of them started to say, now I feel like it's talk. And I think my father died too early. It was only 36 years after the end of the war that he died, it was too fresh in his memory.

    he hadn't recovered from it. it was too traumatic, too painful.

    So the older I've got the more I respect my father and his wisdom and things he used to say that now I say to my children and grandchildren but it was sad because the more I learned about it. And the more interesting it would have been.

    I mean, I was able to get hold of this war record. He joined the army as a private in 1942 and he was a Lieutenant Colonel by the end of the war. And I think he was interrogating Nazi officers. And It would have been so interesting to find out what he learned.

    I think that was just, he had such a fascinating life. And you know, I think he did know Einstein, you know, I'd love to learn about Albert Einstein. What was he like? You know people he knew, but he couldn't talk about them because the moment he talked, it would have revealed something about his past life.

    He basically, when he got married, he just said that is it.

    You know, I, my life starts again, everything before is the past. And the past is a place I'm not going to visit.

    Ling Yah: Well, he clearly cared so much about you and your sister and wanted to make sure you had the best of everything because you ended up going to Eton.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, well, he, I mean, he wanted the best for us and he saved up.

    He wanted me to be a barrister. He didn't want my sister to be a barrister. Although, you know, he had married a barrister. My mother was a barrister. He didn't want my sister to be a barrister, which is extraordinary, but she was determined to be about a barrister and she is a highly successful QC now, but she had a real struggle because it was a very sexist world that she grew up with and a huge discrimination against women.

    And it was very hard for her to succeed, but she was so determined that she did and succeeded far beyond my father's success, certainly as a barrister and far beyond I think anything, any of us could have imagined. She's right at the top of the legal profession now. Massively successful and absolutely wonderful and just an amazing, amazing person.

    Ling Yah: I heard that podcast episode you mentioned between you, your sister and Becks. And I was amazed that she has done 10 marathons recently.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yes.

    Ling Yah: Incredible

    Nicky Gumbel: Between October and Christmas, she ran 10 marathons. She wanted to run 10 marathons in 10 days. But her husband said, I don't think that's a good idea. So she did it in three months instead.

    Ling Yah: So you had your childhood in London, then you ended up going to Eton. You were there when you ended up labeling yourself as a logical determinist. How did that happen?

    Nicky Gumbel: I think I just, you know, my father was an agnostic. I didn't have a church growing upbringing. I just thought none of us have any control over the situation into which we're born.

    None of us have control over the brain, that the mind that we're born with. Our first action comes out of those and everything else comes out of what's happened to us. So everything is determined that you have no control.

    Therefore you have no free will. There can't be any such thing as right and wrong. Therefore, there can't be a moral universe. Therefore there can't be a God. And that was basically my argument. And I became convinced of that and quite sort of thought that no one had an answer to that.

    So I just thought, Christians were just not facing the logic of the universe as it is.

    Ling Yah: So I imagine you encompassed all that into this essay you wrote disproving the existence of God.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yes, exactly. I put all that down.

    Ling Yah: Since your dad was so determined that you would be a barrister.

    And I think the day you were born, your dad spoke to his friend and said, reserve a place for my son. So how did you get away with entering Cambridge for an economics degree and not law?

    Nicky Gumbel: I think I was just very blessed to get into Cambridge. I don't think I deserved to get in at all, but I got in and the reason I did economics was because the first year of economics at Cambridge was the same as the A-level syllabus.

    So I knew I would have to do no work at all for the first year, which I did. I literally did zero work for an entire year. And I partied. I just basically partied in London.

    And it was just such a waste of the time at Cambridge because I was partying in London while I was supposed to be an undergraduate in Cambridge.

    And then in February 1974 you know, I encountered Jesus and that totally changed. I had a pile of invitations like that, parties in London. And I literally, I just binned them. And then I just focused on finding out, reading the Bible, discovering more about Jesus.

    And I'm trying to tell my friends that this is the best news you could ever hear.

    Ling Yah: So before February, I think you found your band of brotherhoods, if you will, the five Nickys and you had your Nicky lunches. How did the five of you find each other? It seems like such an incredible coincidence.

    Nicky Gumbel: Well four of us had been at school together.

    So we knew each other and we're friends. These overlap. So four of us were at Trinity. One was at Queens and we just became friends and we were, I didn't know, we just thought it was funny that we were all called Nicky. And we had a couple of honorary Nickys. Anthony Gordon and Ken Costa were sort of became later Honorary Nickys and they were sort of part of it.

    And we found some, young women who were also called Nikki and they came as well. And we had a lot of fun. We were just sort of very sort of irresponsible, had an irresponsible, I don't know if irresponsible, but we didn't have any responsibilities. We were carefree. And we were having fun.

    Ling Yah: I think one of the Honorary Nickys was Justin Welby.

    Nicky Gumbel: Justin Welby was pretty much, yes. Justin was the next generation. He was one year younger. And he came to Trinity as well, the following year. Yes. And it has been a wonderful friend ever since. Yes.

    Ling Yah: And so you mentioned February 1974.

    Can you share what happened?

    Nicky Gumbel: It was through Nikki and Sila Lee, were my closest friends really. And Nikki, we ended up by coincidence having rooms next door to each other or God incidence, maybe looking back at it next door to each other. And we were great friends. We did lots of stuff together. But I didn't know that he was investigating Christianity.

    He knew how hostile I was and he kept it quiet from me. But he had been investigating really for about six months faith, but he hadn't said anything to me. He and Silas plucked up courage to tell me that they had become Christians and I really was horrified, but I thought I ought to find out about it, but I didn't really know much about it.

    And that's when I picked up an old Bible I'd had at school Ferrari. And it was reading the new Testament, really reading about. Jesus, that it was like, as I read about Jesus, it was as if he kind of emerged from the pages and I encountered him. And that was a life-changing moment. I knew Jesus was real.

    I struggled with how can it be true because logically it can't be true. And I sort of, I had to think, well, I'm just going to take this step of faith, even though I sort of. I haven't got any answer to my philosophical belief system that tells me there can't be a God, but I, I sort of thought, well, I just said, yes, Jesus.

    Basically. That was it. Wasn't a formal prayer. It was just like, yes. Okay.

    And at that moment I experienced I suppose, like all the things that deep down I'd been hungry for were filled. Jesus said I'm the bread of life. And it was like, there was a spiritual hunger that I'd never realized was there even that was satisfied.

    And I think a lot of the things I'd been doing before was trying to fill that spiritual hunger with things that never worked. All that partying. And it didn't really satisfy. All sorts of very superficial relationships that I had before. It was a very superficial life with hindsight.

    And it didn't fill the gap. I mean, it was fun in a way. but it was quite empty. And I think the moment I encountered Jesus, it was like, Jesus is the way. He's the truth. He's the life. This is what life is about.

    Ling Yah: I think I want to dig a little bit deeper because for someone who's never heard of this before, they would think, well, you've spent your whole life arguing against the existence of God.

    Then you spend two days reading this Bible that you've had, that's been gathering dust on the shelf, and you suddenly have this 180 degree shift. So was it an emotional change? I think you were studying existentialism as well.

    Nicky Gumbel: You've done your research. You really have. Amazing.

    Um, I was reading a bit of John Paul Sartre at the time. Yeah, I suppose it was extraordinary. I mean, it was, I suppose.

    I mean, I haven't thought of it like this, but if you think Paul was off to persecute Christians on the road to Damascus. It didn't even take two days.

    It was like immediate. And I think for me, it was a bit like that. It was as if Jesus sort of, he didn't physically appear to me like he appeared to Paul, but it was sort of in my heart, he did. And the moment I said, yes, I didn't know it was true, but a few seconds afterwards I did.

    it was kind of like I knew it was true. An analogy I sometimes use is I did this case once at Knightsbridge crown court. I prosecuted a man who was accused of stealing jewelry from Harvey Nichols, and the only evidence against him was his fingerprints.

    Now fingerprints, no two human beings have the same fingerprints, even twins didn't have the same thing, your prints. So normally if you find someone's fingerprints, they plead guilty.

    But he didn't plead guilty because he said, yes, I was in Harvery Nichols with my girlfriend. We went to the jewelry store and I was looking at jewelry and that's why my fingerprints were there.

    And I didn't know whether the jury could have believed that. They had to take a step of faith, they weren't there, based on the evidence of his fingerprints.

    And they actually did convict him. They found him guilty. After he was found guilty, the police officer got into the dock to give his previous convictions.

    Cause you're not allowed to tell them. Well, you weren't then allowed to tell people about previous convictions. He had a page and a half of previous convictions for stealing jewelry from department stores and he was awaiting trial for two further cases of stealing jewelry from department stores.

    And you could see the jury's face. They took a step of faith based on the evidence, but when they had that, they knew they were right. And for me, it was like before it was like a step of faith based on the evidence. But the moment I made that decision, it was like, I knew it was the confirmation, the spirit, I guess, gave a confirmation that Jesus is real.

    It is true.

    Ling Yah: So once he took that step of faith, and you sound like you were so on fire for God. I imagine the first thing you must have done was try and find other people who were also on fire for God. So how did you build that community and how did you end up in Kitchen with Phil Lawson Johnston?

    Nicky Gumbel: Huh? So yes, I suppose. I mean, the first thing I wanted to do was to tell all my friends, like it's true, but by the way, guys, You know, I'm the, I'm the atheist. It's true. And you know, quite a few people at that time did become Christians, not necessarily through me, but through what was happening.

    But a lot of them didn't.

    Funnily enough, now they have, and some of them are very dismissive or, you know, they thought this is a phase. God squad all that. They're much more respectful now. Like 47 years later. Um, Well they know it's not a phase. It's not just a passing phase, if it is a phase, it's a very long phase.

    But yes, there was a mixed reaction.

    How did I end up in the Kitchen? So I started going when I left university. I started looking for sort of churches to go to.

    And during that time, it was in 1976, this place had opened In Petersham Place, which is not far from where my parents live, not far from where we are now, actually here at HTB. And it was started by seven people, including Phil Lawson Johnson.

    And it was in the house of a guy called Mickey Calthorpe. Mickey Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, and it was seven people, I think all of whom- Mickey sadly died, but the others are still alive and are still around.

    And basically what Mickey did is he had a garage in his house in Petersham Place. And it was a muse house and he turned the garage into a restaurant. And it was a place where people could go and just eat.

    I knew you didn't have to pay. There was a basket, you could give a contribution and there was a book and you signed your name in that book.

    And I went one evening to eat there and I looked in the book and the first name in the book was Philippa Hislock. Which was Pippa's maiden name. And she was the first guest there. She hadn't been a Christian, but it was designed for people who weren't Christians to go in and eat there and meet the people and become friends.

    And they would have a service on Sundays in the garage. I just like 30 people gathering to worship. And so yeah, that was the Kitchen.

    Ling Yah: And what was it like? Cause it sounded like it was very spirit filled to the point where Sandy Miller popped in.

    Nicky Gumbel: Sandy had just come as the curate to HTB. And HTB was not a church I thought of joining, although it was literally. I guess 300 yards from my parents' house. But I wouldn't have thought of going to it because it was not one which had a reputation for life, spiritual life. But Sandy had arrived there and I went to a service to meet him, cause I heard he'd been a barrister and I was planning to be a barrister at that stage.

    So I met him after the service and he asked me to well, basically, he asked me everything basically, because I think I was the first young person to come to the church and there was no one else in the church at Brompton Road who was under 50.

    And I think he's you know, when you saw a young person arrive, he asked me to lunch tea supper. And he started a small group with six people, including Caroline Ethan she was then, now Caroline Welby. And that's when I first met Caroline.

    And that little group group after about three months, Nicky and Silas Lee, who'd been at another church, came and joined us.

    And then various others came, who'd been at Cambridge, came and joined. And that group grew and grew and then it divided. Nicky and Silas took a group from it and started their own group. And then eventually quite a bit later, Pippa and I took a group from there and started our own little group.

    But that group grew and grew. It was a mid-week group. But then Sandy persuaded Phil, who had been at the Kitchen, to come and start leading worship at HTB. And there'd never been that kind of informal guitar led worship before. And that's started to make a difference.

    And then he started an evening service with Phil leading worship. So what was happening at the kitchen then kind of switched away from the kitchen to Brompton road. And that was the start of a movement which just grew and grew. And it's still growing. I think.

    Ling Yah: I imagine it must have been quite a shock when Phil joined.

    I mean, Phil, I saw in an interview he did once, he described it as one of the very first contemporary Christian worship moments. And you contrast that with what HTB had at the time, which was robed choir services in the morning. So the reaction must have been quite extreme at a time to have.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, there was no other church of England church doing what Sandy was doing. So it was unique, I think. I may be wrong, but I think there was nothing else in 1976, quite like it.

    It's still going on, but the change is still happening, but it was the start of something.

    Informality.

    What Sandy realized was that the culture was informal. He would always say when he was young, he would come down to Sunday lunch, wearing a suit and tie. And he said, you know, his children don't do that anymore. The culture has changed. Look at me. I'm not wearing a suit. I'm not wearing a tie.

    Ling Yah: I don't think I've ever seen you in a suit.

    Nicky Gumbel: Well, because it's an informal culture. And what Sandy was saying is if the church has got to be relevant to an informal culture, we have to be relevant to that culture. And therefore we have to adapt the way that we do church. The informality.

    And that was why he got rid of the robed choir. He didn't get rid, I mean, the robed choir were paid and all they did was stop paying them. That was the only thing he did. They could have still sung.

    A couple of them kept on coming. But he just stopped paying people to lead worship in that sense. The fact is they wouldn't have come if they hadn't been paid.

    I remember it so well, they would sit when they've done their singing, they get a book out and sit in their choir stalls reading their book. They weren't interested in church. They were just interested in being paid for singing.

    When they went, that changed the atmosphere. But that was a lot later. That was much later.

    Ling Yah: So you were really active in church and after you graduated, did you not feel as though you wanted to go into ministry full-time immediately?

    Nicky Gumbel: I did in 1976, I thought about it. Funny enough I came across a prayer diary yesterday.

    In 1976, I did think about it straight away, but it just didn't work out. I saw the Bishop and he wasn't interested, you know, he basically kind of just didn't encourage me in any way. So I, then I, that door was sort of shut.

    So I went off and trained to be a barrister. And then I did almost 10 years of law from when I started law at university to when I left.

    Ling Yah: How did you go from doing tax to criminal to mix set as well?

    Nicky Gumbel: You really have done your research so well.

    So my father put me down for tax chambers because he thought that would be the only kind of law that would survive.

    In many ways he was right. Tax is a very good part of the bar to be involved in. But it didn't involve being in court at all really, or very little court work when you're a tax lawyer. Most of it is in chambers advising.

    I mean, I did find it interesting cause I quite sort of I like math. But Sandy had been in criminal chambers. And I was that stage, anything Sandy had done, I wanted to do.

    So I went.

    And my father didn't really approve of crime.

    You know, not the criminal bar is not really looked up to by those who were, he was in the commercial bar. Actually, he was in one brick court, which is the top commercial set.

    And I think he had aspirations for me doing, you know, that kind of thing, not crime. But I liked- Crime is really interesting when you start, because you get to be in court, you get to meet some interesting characters, you get to go into prisons and you know, it's just really interesting.

    I was 21, 22. I find it fascinating and I really enjoyed it. I was very tempted to stay at the bar because I was having such a good time.

    Ling Yah: 1981 was a significant moment for you as well. Cause you met John Wimber.

    Nicky Gumbel: I've always said it's 1981, but I maybe. what the date was. I think we now know what the date was. I keep forgetting whether it was 1981 or 1982, I have a feeling it may have been 1982, but anyway John Wimber had a very big impact on the church because he was informal.

    He was Californian. He was very into informal worship, ministry of the spirit. I think that prayer, “Come Holy spirit. First time we sort of heard someone pray that and expect the Holy spirit to come was with John Wimber.

    Ling Yah: So was “Come Holy Spirit” inspired by him? Because I don't know if you know this, when I was in the HTB worship team, we would gather at the back waiting for that cue to come on.

    And they would say, wait for Nikki to say, come Holy spirit. Cause it's so distinctive.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, Veni Spiritu Sanctea is, is that the sort of an ancient prayer of the church. If you look at the Catholic liturgies, the Anglican liturgies, it's there everywhere, but as Father Raniero Cantalamessa, now, Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa who says, it's very often, it's prayed with no expectation that the Holy spirit will come. It's just a sort of formality.

    Now, this is the moment we pray, come Holy spirit. But John Wimbur prayed it with an expectation that the spirit would come and the Holy spirit does come when we pray it with an expectation that He would come.

    Ling Yah: What was it like when he prayed for you?

    Nicky Gumbel: I mean, I had a powerful experience of the spirit when he first came. And I think a lot of people did And I think it was just experiencing the power of God in a way. In a physical way. And John Wimber said that point.

    God is giving that man the gift of evangelism and I didn't really take a huge amount of notice of it. And I didn't suddenly become, you know, suddenly people leading people to Jesus or anything. But I think looking back, it was a significant moment.

    Ling Yah: What was the push then for you to decide to go to Oxford and study theology?

    Nicky Gumbel: Well, I think I sensed a call, in a number of different ways. I think. Sometimes I would read the Bible and it would be like, how will they hear without a preacher?

    And I always wanted people to know and while I enjoyed being a barrister enormously and found it very fulfilling and was aware that there was nothing wrong with being a Christian barrister. I think what I really enjoyed was what I was doing in my spare time, which was studying the Bible, telling people about Jesus, running small groups.

    That was what I enjoyed. or that's where I felt most fulfillment.

    So although for me being a barrister was very good training because I was shy and I had no experience of speaking. You know, I would shake every time I got up to speak in court, even if there was no one in the courtroom, apart from me and the magistrate.

    It was good training. Cause I had to learn to try and articulate and to argue a case basically. So I guess as I read the Bible, as I prayed, Pippa and I would go off and pray and we'd write down the reasons why we sense God was calling us.

    And I still got the piece of paper where we wrote down all the reasons and all the reasons against. And then we talked to friends, you know, we talked to the Lees, to Sandy, others advisors, everyone seemed to think it was a good idea. And then we pushed the door and the door opened.

    Ling Yah: And when you went to study theology, I believe you learned as well, a lot about your self-worth and how you had tied it previously to your job.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah. Yeah. You really have done good research.

    You know, I'd been a barrister. I'd written opinions, and I got paid for my opinions. Then I went to be a student to study theology at Oxford. I wrote essays and not only was no one paying me you know, they were criticizing my essays.

    And I realized how much my self esteem was tied up with what I did came from being a barrister, being paid for what I did. And someone said to me, the local vicar who I was training under, said to me, it's a really important thing, because what matters in life is not what you do, but who you are.

    And that's where your self esteem should come from is from who you are. And I think that was a really important lesson to learn that that's ultimately what matters and yeah, that's why I always try to stress that the New Testament tells us is that we're loved. And to know that you are a much loved human being, that you're a child of God. That's where our esteem should come from.

    That's where our confidence should come from. Not from what we do.

    And there's always a battle because it's always tempting to rely on, you know, what we do or success or whatever. Whereas actually none of those things matter. What matters is that you're a child of God. You're a much loved child of God.

    And that's where our competence should come from.

    Ling Yah: Do you feel that that confidence was shaken because after theology, you applied to nine parishes and you couldn't get in?

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah. Yeah, I would, I was thinking that of going back to being a barrister, but that would have been really hard. And I ended up, I think I only went along two or three times, but claiming unemployment benefits.

    And that was really demoralizing. But then Sandy invited me to come and be, and I didn't, there was no place at HTB at that time. So it was a kind of miracle that he was able to offer me a place. And that made all the difference.

    Ling Yah: And you ended up spending 19 years as Sandy's curate.

    Nicky Gumbel: 19 years as his curate. Wonderful, wonderful years. Huge privilege.

    Ling Yah: And you said that you had even then such a heart for evangelism and you were part of this thing called the Agnostics Anonymous course. I've never heard of it!

    Nicky Gumbel: No. Well, I wasn't a part of it, but it was- so at HTB in the 1980s, there were two courses running. I mean, there were lots of courses probably, but there was a course for new Christians called Alpha.

    And a course for non-Christians called Agnostic. I can't remember. It may have, it was called something like Agnostics Anonymous.

    So when I took on Alpha in October 1990, there were about a hundred people on Alpha and about 10 people on Agnostics Anonymous. It was very rare that anyone became a Christian through Agnostics Anonymous, but in the course that started in January 1991, we found a lot of people who were not Christians were coming and coming to faith through Alpha.

    And that's when I realized that we could change the course or adapt the course and make it a course for people who are not Christians.

    Ling Yah: I believe under Alpha, your first small group, you invited all your friends, none of them were Christian and they all became Christians at the end of the course.

    Nicky Gumbel: No, they weren't people I knew. They were people who'd come to a Carol service. Not at my invitation, but at the invitation of others. And they were remarkable. They are now friends and that's certainly true. They have become very good friends but I didn't know them at the time.

    But they were all people from outside of the church who encountered Jesus on the alpha weekend. And it was a remarkable group. We had a reunion 25 years later and it was amazing to see what had happened to them in those 25 years.

    Ling Yah: Miles said that he'd joined that garden party and it was incredible.

    Nicky Gumbel: Miles was there. Yeah. Cause he was the next door neighbor at that time. Yeah, it was amazing. I mean, it was amazing to see all these people who are 25 years on still, you know, serving the Lord.

    Ling Yah: So that moment, when you realized that there was so much potential to use Alpha, not to reach those who are non-Christians, but the non-Christians. I imagine you must have sat down over Christmas and just really work with it.

    I believe with Charlie Mackasy as well.

    Nicky Gumbel: Charlie. Yeah. Well, I don't know when Charlie came on the scene, but Charlie was probably.

    Ling Yah: Was he drawing the sketches for the manuals?

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, no, no, that you're right. You know more than I do. Charlie had joined the church in 1987. So I came back in 1986.

    I saw Charlie sitting at the back of church one Sunday. And then I think I invited him to come to our group that used to meet in our home. And that's when we started to become friends. Yes. And Charlie then did all the drawings for the materials, yeah.

    Ling Yah: And you mentioned January 1991, the new Alpha launch, and it just grew and grew and grew. Then May 1993, the first ever Alpha training conference. How did that happen?

    Nicky Gumbel: So I was getting all these phone calls. People were ringing me up and saying, I hear you've got like 300 people on Alpha. How does it work?

    So I would explain, you know, this, we do have a meal, and then we do the talk, who is Jesus. And then we do small groups, and I was explaining it all to people and I spent so much of my time explaining it to people. I thought, I'm going to get them all in the room. Same time. I'll explain it once. And I'll never have to explain it again.

    So a thousand people turned up. I explained to them about Alpha. I thought that's it. I've done it. But there was someone at the conference who said, would you come and do that in Scotland?

    And then someone said, would you come and do it in Sheffield? And then someone said, would you come and do it in Hong Kong?

    And so I thought, okay, I've got to do three more of these and then that'll be done. So I, we did Edinburgh and Sheffield and Hong Kong. But then someone said, well, what about, could you come to Birmingham?

    And then you can come to Norridge and then can you come to Malaysia and Singapore. And then of course, eventually it was every country in the world pretty much wanted us to do a conference there.

    Ling Yah: Hong Kong. That happened in 1994, which was the following year. Was it because of this guy from HSBC who found one of your audio cassettes and just brought it around. That's really how it spread. People sharing that.

    Nicky Gumbel: I can't remember who started it, but I do remember that first time. It was the first time we visited Malaysia. And we stayed with Bishop Tan Sri Savarimuthu. Who was the Bishop in KL. And he had had an extension built on his house for the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

    And we stayed in these rooms. He didn't sleep in those rooms, but we stayed in the rooms. I remember that there was very strong air conditioning. It was so cold. And then he would have a service in the morning, a morning prayer, just him and me and We had to sing three hymns. I can't sing at all. It was acting anyway. He was a wonderful man.

    That was our first experience of Malaysia. And then we had, I think a day in Singapore, a couple of days in Singapore before that, and then Malaysia and then a conference in Hong Kong.

    Ling Yah: And I think in 1994, there was the Toronto blessing as well.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yes, that has happened just before that. There had been an amazing outpouring of the Holy spirit on the church. I mean, I think that's continued from 1994 till today just in a slightly different formats, but-

    Ling Yah: How did it impact HTB all the way from Canada?

    Nicky Gumbel: it was an extraordinary thing.

    It was just really work of the Holy spirit because everyone who prayed come Holy spirit, the Holy spirit came in a really powerful way and people had seen it in Canada and then they came back and prayed in England. And then people who've been prayed for like I was then went and prayed for other people and we saw the Holy spirit come in a powerful way and then seemed to just spread very fast.

    It was really this lack of sort of revival fire that spread

    Ling Yah: .Wasn't that this lady called Glenda Waldo? And she was really impacted by the spirit. it was like on her knees, I think and went and called Sandy, saying Sandy, come back, this has happened.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, yes. I mean she was Sandy's assistant and all of his staff were on the floor in the crypt and Glenda rang Sandy to say I just wanted to ring you to let you know that all of your staff are lying on the floor in the crypt.

    So Sandy said to her, well, how did you get to the phone? She said, I crawled there.

    Ling Yah: So there's the outpouring of the spirit and how did Alpha begin to just spread and spread and spread.

    Nicky Gumbel: Just word of mouth. We were doing all these conferences and people were telling their friends and church leaders were telling other church leaders and it just spread.

    Ling Yah: And what about Alpha Asia-Pacific. How did that come about?

    Nicky Gumbel: Well, that was Miles, really. It was Hong and Kathleen, who wanted something in Malaysia and they said to me, they wanted Miles, who was the associate vicar at HTB, to come and head it up. And they asked me for permission to ask Miles.

    I said, of course you can ask Miles. He's never going to say yes. I said, you know, you would need the Bishop in Malaysia to approve it. You need Miles to accept. And I didn't think any of those things would happen anyway. Miles did say yes. And then the Bishop said yes. And then the rest is history.

    Ling Yah: What's the vision for Alpha Asia at the time?

    Nicky Gumbel: I think the vision for Alpha is so as many people as possible, hear the good news about Jesus, Jesus changes lives. Jesus changed my life. And Alpha is an opportunity for people to explore that in their own lives, in a fun, relaxed low-key way.

    And so the vision is that as many people in Asia get the opportunity to explore faith and hopefully find faith and be filled with the spirit and find Jesus.

    Ling Yah: I imagine COVID massive, really impacted the way that Alpha is being shared. Cause it's always been in person. You have a meal, you watch together, but now you I've seen that you've gone around you really shared saying that let's do online church.

    Let's do online Alpha.

    Nicky Gumbel: Yeah, well, I think this is the greatest evangelist opportunity of my lifetime, because if you look at church history, it was during the pandemics that the church really grew in 165 AD, two six one eight. The church, the pagans ran away and the church ran towards the need and they were hospitable.

    That's where the word hospital comes from. They invented hospitals basically. And after the pandemics were over, everyone said, wow, these Christians were amazing and the church grew. And I think that's what the church should be doing right now.

    The other thing that's happened, of course it's digital.

    This is like the greatest opportunity since the printing press, that since Gutenberg and then Caxton in England invented the printing press. And everyone could get the Bible in their own language. And now with digital, everyone can hear the gospel right across the world.

    And amazingly we're finding Alpha Online works even better than Alpha in person. It's just so much more convenient. It's so much easier. it's an hour and a half and you can do it from your own home.

    I mean look at this. If we tried to set up this conversation, it would have taken months and one of us would have had to fly and have jet lag and all the rest of it.

    But like, one hour, we were just together. And it works as well. Course. You know, there is a little bit of an advantage to being in the same room, But like you're in my home. So there's hospitality involved. And it works. It really works.

    And the Holy spirit comes when you pray, come Holy spirit on zoom. The Holy spirit is not confused by zoom, as I often say. It's amazing to see.

    Ling Yah: So when I told people in HTBB that I was interviewing you one of the top questions that came up was the fact that you have so much energy doing so many things.

    You just launched a podcast. Where do you get that drive from?

    Nicky Gumbel: You know, I think the spirit of God. There's a verse in Ephesians, which Eugene Peterson translates as, the Holy Spirit gives us endless energy and boundless strength. And I think that's true. The Holy spirit gives us energy and strength and I want people to know about Jesus.

    I want people to hear the good news. I see around so much pain, addiction, fear, anxiety. People lost, broken relationships, broken families. And I long for people to know the difference that Jesus makes in our lives to relationships, to communities and to experience love.

    Everyone's looking for love and that's supremely you find in a relationship with God that you're loved. Everyone's looking for purpose, and ultimately there is no purpose beyond this life if there is no God.

    And once you've discovered that there is a God then you find ultimate purpose, everyone's looking to belong.

    So people are lonely and they don't realize the church is this amazing community where you're not on your own. You've got all these friends and they're more than friends. They're brothers and sisters. You have this instant connection. And so I won't be able to experience all of that.

    Ling Yah: So speaking of purpose, I normally wrap up with all of these questions. So for the first one, is this, do you feel that you have found your way?

    Nicky Gumbel: I do feel I have, I, you know, I think this is what God's called me to do.

    Ling Yah: What kind of legacy would you like to leave behind?

    Nicky Gumbel: I hope my children and grandchildren will all grow up to know and follow Jesus.

    And my children. I'm so thrilled all my children are amazing followers of Jesus and have married, wonderful, wonderful people. And I'm so loved by nine grandchildren. I hope they will follow Jesus all their lives. That's what I would love.

    Ling Yah: And what'd you think of the most important qualities of a successful person?

    Nicky Gumbel: I think love is what life is all about. It's just love. The sum of everything in life with the word, love that the whole of the Bible, the whole of New Testament, the whole of the teaching of Jesus is, you are loved. And love God. Jesus said, this is how can you sum up the whole Bible?

    Jesus said, well, love, God, love your neighbor. That's basically it. That's what life's about. Know that you're loved. Love God, love your neighbor. That's it.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 43.

    The show notes and transcript can be found at www.sothisismywhy.com/43, alongside a link to subscribe to this podcast's weekly newsletter, featuring all kinds of other inspiring and interesting things I've found over the course of this week.

    And stay tuned for next Sunday.

    Because we'll be meeting one of Malaysia's staunches arts and cultural advocate. Best known for producing the highly successful annual Georgetown Festival, as well as the Rainforest Fringe Festival and Rainforest World Music Festival.

    Want to learn more?

    See you next Sunday!

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