Raymond McNair and the Eleventh Commandment

By Neil Earle

Ten years of Ambassador (1960-1970): Raymond McNair presents silver replica of college seal to Chancellor Herbert Armstrong. Click to enlarge.

The death of Mr. Raymond McNair in Temecula, California on October 11, 2008, was not entirely unexpected but a cause of note in many circles around this big wide world. I first heard of it from England where Mr. McNair served eventfully as Deputy Chancellor of Ambassador College, UK from 1960 to 1973.

Raymond C. McNair –
A Very Different Reverend

By Tony Goudie

(Tony Goudie was a 1968-1972 Ambassador UK student and stills serves in the ministry of the British WCG.)

My first meeting with Raymond McNair was June 1967 at Ambassador College, Bricket Wood (where else?!).

I had first heard the church's World Tomorrow broadcast in early April of that year, and had taken an early trip to Ambassador College for the campus Sports Day. RMcN had a pencil in his hand, and was about his business in the Office area. He was in his late 30's and I thought him a handsome man. Little did I know what an influence he would have on my life for about 8 years.

I was impressed with Raymond McNairs' politeness. He dressed smartly, and wore a black coat with a velvet collar when the weather turned cool. He drove a Jaguar Mark 10, and I found that amazing – so different from the reverends in the Methodist Church I was brought up in! I certainly had never experienced a minister in his mould before – practical, interesting and 'normal'.

I first heard him speak in the gymnasium on August 19th, 1967. Piles of books on the lectern and as usual (as I was to find out later) lengthening his sermon to well over the hour after giving the impression he was about to conclude. But always 'One more scripture'! I never found that a problem (but I suspect some did).

I had the opportunity to serve as Student Body President in my Senior Year, so had ample time with Mr McNair. Mr McNair told me that he would always be available for help, etc., but that I might have to bang on his door more than once as he was often closeted away writing articles for the PT.

'Keep on keeping on', and 'Never-Giveupmanship' are phrases that come to mind that RMcN often used.

Raymond had worked long and hard on his massive MA thesis and would often be a little late for morning classes having burned the midnight oil in the search for source material.

He was a pioneer student at Ambassador (Pasadena) in its second year 60 years ago along with his brother Marion, and was a most loyal individual. Some looked down on him for what they sensed was a rather simplistic outlook, and, as they rather sneeringly saw it, rather a 'lap-dog' approach to HWA but that just emphasized a certain 'innocence' about him.

He loved humour (sorry – humor!) and the English language. He was to my mind an Anglophile, but would often tell the end of a joke first and get somewhat tangled, much to everyone's amusement – including his own.

He was well read, and certainly a hard worker. Today he would be considered old fashioned I suppose, and I suspect his views on marriage and the role of husband and wife would be frowned upon in this age.

It was about 1975 that he made the announcement from the pulpit about my (wife to be) Penelope and me and our forthcoming wedding. That kind of connection always ties you to someone.

Raymond McNair was always ready to spend time to help and I always found him very good 'one on one'.

It amused us students that when he and College Bursar Charles Hunting (they were so different!) returned from a Pasadena conference, Charles Hunting would come back first and defer to RMcN to update us on what happened when he (RMcN) returned. (Mr Hunting felt that the Deputy Chancellor of Ambassador, Bricket Wood should give any news first.) But when Mr McNair returned he used to say 'Mr Hunting has of course told you all that happened, so I don't need to'! I can't help feeling on that and other occasions that Raymond said it with his tongue in his cheek.

I respected him a great deal and will miss him considerably.

My wife and I sent a card a year or so ago hearing he was in health difficulty from prostate cancer and received such a pleasant few lines when in the circumstance none was needed.

Very typical of the man, I thought.

He was also Regional Director of the Worldwide Church of God operation in the British Isles beginning in 1958. The WCG’s early name was Radio Church of God until 1968. This was a church body raised up largely through the media efforts of Herbert W. Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong, both now deceased.

The unorthodox theology of the pre-reformed WCG necessarily affected life and developments at Ambassador (UK) but in Raymond McNair students found, in the main, a largely sympathetic and utterly sincere campus leader. He had been born and raised in Camp, Arkansas and mused often on the strange workings of Providence that led him from rural America to live within twenty miles of Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.

He himself was a believer in the grand old American virtue of perseverance, or stick-to-it-ive-ness. (Read more about the Bricket Wood campus in "The Spirit of Ambassador" under Founder's Bio). While an early student at the former Ambassador College campus in Pasadena, CA from 1948 to 1952 he had begun transforming himself into an effective communicator, writer and speech instructor – more effective than some of his critics, the mercurial Herbert Armstrong included – gave him credit.

Where were you in 1969? A note from a friend in England sending me this tribute can now come back as a personal retrospective.

As a WCG member and reader in Goose Bay, Labrador I remember reading articles such as “Are You A Spiritual Drone” and “It Happened in Britain” – more hard-hitting than Christian journalism would dare be today, but always clear, comprehensive, lively and helpful, yes, helpful to the max for a young Christian such as myself. At Ambassador (UK) in 1969-70 I remember Raymond McNair’s series of sermons that turned into articles titled “Lessons From The Master Potter” wherein he showed how the experience of conversion went through a seven-step process. This he demonstrated with the help of props given him by one of England’s talented potters at the time. The series should be reprinted somewhere as an example of the McNair perseverance, or “diligence” (almost his middle name) and kindly humor. If you think he couldn’t write – read those in an older WCG publication called The Good News. Warts and all, they read very well today.

The Spiritual Disciplines

Which is not to say Raymond McNair didn’t have faults along those lines. His fondness for loquacity (read – “going overtime”) and inability to tell a good joke were both legendary and part of his legend. For legend in a small way he certainly was. My own experiences with Raymond McNair were as a student at the Ambassador (UK) campus north of London in Bricket Wood, Hertsfordshire from 1968 to 1972. While sometimes being exasperated at his trait as a stickler for detail, I found much in the man to admire. The Bricket Wood campus at peak capacity was about 250 students from all around the world. Of these a good percentage were Americans, Britons, and Australians with a sprinkling of continental Europeans, Asians, an Iraqi, an Israeli and even a few Indians, Canadians and New Zealanders – a Commonwealth of young people potentially given to mischief. Even for a college devoted to Christian principles of conduct it was never easy keeping the whole shebang running smoothly.

“Please Mr. President don't press the button” – Student President Tony Goudie (left) and Neil Earle ham it up at Ambassador College, Bricket Wood. Click to enlarge.

Somehow it worked, and in my book Raymond McNair deserved a lot of credit for that. He always seemed cheerful, concerned and superbly dedicated. Coming from a conservative part of the world himself, he adapted to the English penchant for decorum and propriety as much as any North American could. He radiated an appreciation for the opportunities life had handed him his way and his commitment to the spiritual disciplines – especially prayer, Bible Study and fasting – was unquestioned. He was a lifelong avid reader. I remember a campus forum he gave on Shakespeare – not too exceptional, perhaps, but “cults don’t read Shakespeare” (I jest – with an eye to our sterner WCG critics). Raymond McNair regarded Herbert Armstrong as a father and this trait permeated the campus and made what was sometimes an authoritarian and stifling atmosphere much more enjoyable.

In short, he was a practicioner of what he often taught: live a balanced life.

He practiced that in his preaching as well. In the winter of 1968-69 I noticed the solid, basic rotation in his sermon subjects – Christian Living, History, Diligence and Prophecy. Just this summer I had to deal with a series of tough counselings where it was obvious that the counselee had lost sight of some basic human relationship principles. I was helped in this by remembering Raymond McNair’s “Practical Psychology Class” of 1968. There the main assignment was to categorize the various subjects in Proverbs – the Tongue, Wisdom, Money, Diligence, Human Relations, Working Under Authority, the Fool, etc. Once the Old Testament/Iron Age leanings were leavened with New Testament Charity, the project aided me in my counseling and served as the a basis for a series of sermons.

Thus Raymond McNair, or a good part of him, lived on in my life. It’s been said that the Eleventh Commandment for pastors and counselors is “Thou shalt do no harm” and the Mr. McNair I knew scored highly on that score. He was not a wrathful person, a ranter or a grudge-holder or a politician/schemer as, alas, bedevil many churches and Christian colleges. Based on the WCG code of conduct in those days, based on what we then believed about life, the Bible and the future, Raymond McNair was one of our best – a hard worker, a devoted family man and as impeccably moral a man as I have ever met. I will always remember him fondly and think of the Bricket Wood experience under him in the words of Yeats:

“Think where man’s glory most begins and ends/And my glory was that I had such friends.”