The John Collins Society

About John Collins

Born and raised in Kent, L. John Collins (1905-82) was educated at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.  He was ordained in 1928, and after serving as chaplain of his old college and as vice-principal of Westcott House, he became chaplain of Oriel in 1937. In 1939 he married Diana Elliot (1917–2003), who would share fully in his ministry and activism in the years to come.  During the war Collins served as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force, returning to Oriel in late 1946. Once back in Oxford, he exercised a powerful influence on members of the University who, like him, had been marked by their wartime experiences. He convened a series of gatherings that led to the creation of Christian Action, an inter-church movement dedicated to promoting Christian ideals in society at large. In 1948 Collins left Oriel to become a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral, a post he held for the next 33 years.

During the ensuing decades, Collins became known as one of nation’s leading Christian activists in the causes of justice, freedom, and peace. He was an outspoken opponent of capital punishment and took part in the campaign that led to its eventual abolition in the UK. Meanwhile, he helped to co-found organisations such as the charity War on Want in 1951 and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958. By the late fifties he also became instrumental in drawing British attention to the evils of the apartheid regime in South Africa. In all these initiatives he worked closely with his wife Diana, who was herself appointed DBE in 1999 in recognition of her works on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement. John Collins died in 1982, survived by his wife and his four sons.

Further Reading

L. John Collins, Faith under fire (London, 1966).

Ian Henderson (ed.), Man of Christian action: Canon John Collins, the man and his work (Guildford, 1976).

Diana Collins, Partners in protest: life with Canon Collins (London, 1992).

Denis Herbstein, White Lies: Canon Collins and the secret war against apartheid (Cape Town, 2004).

The John Collins Society

The John Collins Society was established in 2012 to honour the work and witness of this one-time chaplain of Oriel College. It exists to encourage Oriel students to explore the evolving relationship between Christianity and contemporary cultural, political, and scientific concerns. It also seeks to promote social responsibility among all members of the College community.

Annual John Collins Lecture

Each year, the Chaplain invites a figure of public prominence to deliver a lecture addressing some aspect of the relationship between Christianity and contemporary social and intellectual life.  As part of this annual event, the speaker also meets with students informally to discuss his or her subject, to stimulate commitment to social responsibility, and become acquainted with the Oriel community at large.

Recent John Collins lecturers:

  • 2014             The Revd Dr Sam Wells, ‘What’s Wrong with Poverty?’
  • 2015             The Rt Hon Frank Field, DL, ‘Improving Life Chances: for real this time’
  • 2016             Lord Alderdice, ‘Has the World Gone Mad?’

Social Action Bursaries

Each year applications are solicited from Oriel undergraduates and graduates seeking modest financial support to engage in some form of project or internship promoting social betterment and public service. Applicants will be expected to produce a detailed proposal and budget before receiving funding. The number and amount of the bursaries awarded will be at the discretion of the organising committee, but it is envisioned that two awards for the sum of no more than £1000 each will be made per year. As part of the larger mission of the John Collins Society, bursary recipients will be expected to make a presentation about their work to the larger College community.

Download a bursary application form here.