You will not understand SSM unless you realise that it was begotten of failure.
Father Herbert Hamilton Kelly was a leading theologian of his time, founder of SSM and author of The Gospel of God.
Kelly was born in 1860 in Lancashire, England, the third son of an Evangelical parson. As a boy he was excessively shy and not good at either games or school, giving him the sense of inadequacy that haunted him all his life.
Kelly left Manchester Grammar School in 1877 and entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1878, destined for the artillery. The onset of deafness and a growing religious conviction led him to resign his commission and in 1880 he went to Queen’s College, Oxford, as an ordinand.
His academic success was minor (a fourth in history), but at Oxford he discovered the work of Charles Kingsley and FD Maurice.
From his father he had already learnt the power of steadfast and unassuming devotion to duty. The Military Academy had taught him the power of organisation. Kingsley and Maurice helped him form his vision of God.
As Kelly understood it, theology was inseparable from life. It was not a matter of intellectual propositions about an abstraction called ‘God’, but personal knowledge of the Living God, learnt through every aspect of God-centred living.
Kelly was ordained in 1884 (with no theological training) to a first curacy in the village of Leeds, near Maidstone in Kent. In 1886 he took up another, at St Paul’s, Wimbledon Park with St Barnabas, Southfields.
Years later he summed it all up: ‘It took me just over 10 years to learn my utter uselessness—as a soldier (exit 1879), as a student (exit 1883), as a parish priest (exit 1890). Note how a man’s incapacities may direct his calling.’
Kelly’s vision of the Living God led him to devote himself to finding new patterns of ‘divine service’ with special emphasis on theological education that provided ‘ time to read and think, to get bewildered, and to find a way through’.
He believed there were hundreds and thousands of ordinary people, not especially high church or pious who wanted to devote their lives to the service of God by the service of others.
And SSM was the means of bringing these ordinary people together and organising them so they could support and instruct one another, to do in combination far more than any one of them could do in isolation.
Indicative of the existential approach that guided his whole method of ordination training, he referred to SSM as an ‘idea’ or an ‘atmosphere’, where faith is primary and religion secondary.
After stepping down as Director of SSM in 1910, Kelly travelled to the United States and Canada. He moved to Japan in 1913, helping set up a theological college in Tokyo.
Following his return to Kelham in 1920, he continued to lecture, read and write well into his seventies and eighties. ‘The Gospel of God’, published in 1928, grew out of his lectures and summarises his teachings.
Father Kelly died at Kelham on 31 October 1950 on the eve of All Saints and three months after this 90th birthday.