Remembering Archbishop Desmond Tutu

First published on: 5th January 2022

The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a dear friend of USPG and a great ally in the pursuit of justice. He was an inspiration to members of the USPG family across the world church. Archbishop Desmond was also an Honorary Vice President of USPG and knew some of our staff members personally. Below, three of them share their memories of an extraordinary man whose death over Christmas has brought tributes from around the world. 

Duncan Dormor, USPG General Secretary, shares his memories of the late archbishop. 'I had the great privilege of meeting Archbishop Desmond on a couple of occasions. Firstly, he came to the theological college where I trained. He entered the packed lecture theatre and his opening words were something like: ‘I cannot speak in this room without the blessing of my Mwalimu, my teacher, who I would like to pray for us all first.’ We didn’t know what he was talking about. But then it became clear. At the back of the room was a retired professor of New Testament, Christopher Evans, then in his late eighties or early nineties, who had taught Tutu at King’s College, London. Christopher was a quiet, inconspicuous - but wise and deeply humble - person. He was clearly overcome by this greeting and unable to say anything, so Desmond launched into a prayer which made a great deal of the importance of teaching. It was a very moving and beautiful moment which captured the humility, faith and friendship of these two very different men. Tears flowed when they were together face to face.

The second time I met Archbishop Desmond was at a mission at Oxford University, where Tutu spoke in the Sheldonian Theatre, a small figure in a dramatic and packed space. On the first night, much of what he said was actually quite dry and academic. Either he intuited that or someone told him, but the next night was a completely different experience and when he said repeatedly ‘God really loves you’ – you could feel the emotional impact, it was palpable. He had everyone on the edge of their seats, and hearts.'

Trisha Shannon, former Executive Assistant at USPG, also remembers when she met ‘The Arch’. ‘I was a regular worshipper at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town at a time when Archbishop Desmond was running the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from his office nearby. The archbishop used to come to the early morning weekday Eucharist, particularly on a Friday. He didn’t necessarily preside, sometimes preferring to sit in the congregation. Occasionally, he used to come to the Cathedral wearing a tracksuit, but there was no mistaking that it was him! We used to call him Father Desmond and although I don’t think he knew my name, he used to call me ‘dimples’. Any other day of the week, the congregation at 7.15am would be about 10 people. On Fridays, the number of people attending grew because of the archbishop’s presence. It became ridiculous, with lots of cameramen turning up to try and take a photograph of him. Yet, the archbishop was always very gracious with these people, who didn’t really know what to do in a church. I wonder how many of them may have come to faith because of him.’

We know many of the USPG family will have had encounters with Archbishop Desmond. If you would like to share any memories you have of the late archbishop, please contact us at communications@uspg.org.uk.