Anglican vicar and pioneer of the Alpha Course, Nicky Gumbel, is stepping down as vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, the largest congregation in the Church of England.
“We’ve been here 46 years, since 1976, and we love all of you,” he said on Sunday to the 4,000-member central London congregation. “I believe the best is yet to come—for you, for the church, for all of us.” Gumbel has served as vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) since 2005, and before that was one of several curates, or associate ministers, at the multi-site church.
The Rev. Archie Coates, alongside his wife, Sam, will take up the role of vicar of HTB, according to an announcement from the Diocese of London, which comprises over 500 congregations. “Everyone who was involved in the decision—whether it was the church wardens or the patrons or the bishop—were unanimous that God was calling (the Coates),” said Gumbel.
Gumbel, a former court barrister known worldwide for pioneering the Alpha course, will continue to lead Alpha’s UK-based parachurch ministry. A graduate of Cambridge and Oxford, he is lead presenter in the 15-session Alpha video course known for its conversational style and concise logic.
According to stats cited by the Church of England, the Alpha course “is now running in over 30,000 churches of all denominations—including Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Salvation Army and Pentecostal.” It has been translated into 112 languages and used in 169 countries.
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In his final sermon as vicar, Gumbel said he and his wife, Pippa, will work to resource the 127 congregations that HTB has planted. “We’ll be working for Archie and Sam (to) encourage all the plants that have come out of here, many of whom we’ve never visited.”
The Gumbels’ official hand-off to Rev. Coates will occur this coming weekend at Focus, an annual conference of HTB and its network churches, which over 10,000 people are expected to attend.
Praise for Couple’s Integrity and Doctrinal Focus
Many evangelical leaders expressed their love of the Gumbels and affirmation of their ministry.
Pete Greig, pastor of Emmaus Rd Church near London, who served as Alpha’s UK director of prayer for several years, shared in a Facebook post. “Nicky and Pippa have served the Lord faithfully, with integrity, without any hint of scandal, with extraordinary effectiveness and kindness for almost fifty years,” he wrote.
He mentioned several statistics, including Gumbel’s nearly five decades “following Jesus” and the couple’s 44-year marriage. Greig stated that Gumbel has for 32 years been “quietly running his own Alpha small group every week, whilst turning the course into a global resource that has introduced literally millions to Jesus, and has also become a major catalyst for Christian unity.”
Similarly, Bible teacher Christy Wimber, ex-daughter-in-law of Vineyard movement forerunner John Wimber, tweeted directly to the Gumbels: “You have modeled longevity in faithful ministry so well. Another reminder, it’s not how we start but how we finish. Your love for the lost has changed countless lives.”
I am grateful for the lives & ministry of @pippagumbel @nickygumbel You have modeled longevity in faithful ministry so well. Another reminder, its not how we start but how we finish. Your love for the lost has changed countless lives. We thank God for you! @HTBChurch
— Christy Wimber (@ChristyWimber) July 21, 2022
Associated with the global Methodist movement for decades, Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., wrote of Gumbel’s “powerful impact on American Christianity” through the Alpha ministry.
Tooley said U.S. evangelical churches “tend to be more experiential and practical than doctrinal,” and Alpha helped fill in those gaps. “Gumbel’s work through Alpha provided a helpful corrective whose consequences are immeasurable,” he stated via email.
In his sermon, Gumbel noted that two previous vicars of Holy Trinity Brompton are still living. John Collins, who retired in 1985, is currently 97. And Gumbel’s immediate predecessor, Sandy Miller, is currently 82. “It’s good to be a vicar of HTB—they live a long time!” Gumbel quipped.
He made a larger point by citing Acts 20:28, which reads: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
“This is not our church. This is God’s church,” preached Gumbel. “And that’s how Paul describes it here: ‘the church of God.’”
During the service, HTB churchwarden Genevieve Mensah spoke of the Gumbels’ kindness and generosity as she led the congregation in prayer for them.
“We’re grateful, Lord, that they’ve been part of HTB,” prayed Mensah. “Thank you that they have led so many people to you, Lord—that their lives point to Jesus.”
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.