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.
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).