In the 1950’s the veterinary profession was small and a majority worked in “mixed” practice. By modern standards it was rather “primitive”. The first vaccine for dogs came in Sept 1959 with the supply of distemper vaccine by Burroughs Wellcome. The antibiotics were simple penicillin and streptomycin and the sulphonamides were very unsophisticated! Anaesthetic for cats was ether, barbiturates for dogs and chloroform for horses! Yet we managed most things!
The main annual congress was that of the British Veterinary Association and that was more social and political than scientific.
In this context Sydney Jennings pictured (Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University) invited known Christians for fellowship and prayer in his room at such conferences. He was joined by a number of vets including Ian Hall (President of the RCVS Practitioners Association). Over the years a network of contacts were made informally and opportunities arose for Christian students (a number of the colleges had small struggling Christian Unions seeking to encourage each other and be a witness in their college) to “see practice” in “Christian practices” – there was endless debate as to what that phrase meant! However before VAT and computers the business of veterinary practice was less straight forward than today and it was very helpful for new graduates to experience good practice in their profession both scientifically and financially!
A number of vets and practices developed informal contacts. Clement Fennell (later with Carnation – Purina products) at Odiham had a large “Christian practice” with Bruce Stevenson at Alton, Cathcart brothers at Farnham, and John Cleverly at Fleet (later joined by Dick Avery). Ken Davis started a practice at Ilfracombe where Bernard Phillips, Cameron Gibson (later in Church of Scotland) and later Brian Crawford, Peter Green and Andrew Nash (who later became a vice Chancellor at Glasgow University), worked.
Ian Hall had a practice in Huntingdon where Tom Thurley, David Soldan, David Fennel, Alison Craven, John Brown, Peter Green worked and for shorter periods Peter Anderson, Peter Milne, Steve Gillgan, Tom Coulter and Keith Dalzell have all worked. John Wickens and David Barfoot had a Christian practice in Essex in the sixties and seventies. Philip Kyle in Northern Ireland had several Christian vets working with him over the years and arranged N.Ireland VCF meetings at which Bob Trelogan spoke in 1979. All these practices, and others, influenced many students during their university years and in fact some became Christians as a result! Notably one of these students, Dave Swan, later became a missionary in Thailand and is now a Church of Scotland church planter in Aberdeen. In 1966 there was a vet student bible study at Glasgow University with Andrew Nash, Peter White, John Rushton and Bob Trelogan. This developed into a vet student group strongly linked with the University Christian union which pattern was duplicated in all the universities. Clement Fennel visited the Glasgow group (and probably all the others) in the late 60’s.
A formal structure developed, linked with the IVF (later UCCF) Graduates Fellowship of which the VCF became a division. The Graduates secretary distributed the newsletter etc. We had a president, secretary and treasurer who managed the simple newsletter from time to time and tried to keep contact with each veterinary school. There was a VCF AGM in London in 1979/80 where Jack Dawkins, lecturer at Royal Vet College, attended. Student numbers, by modern standards, were small and the health of the Christian group in each university was very variable from year to year plus the fact that the division into preclinical and clinical years caused separation and timetable problems.
As the profession grew in numbers, and in specialisation, the importance of the BVA congress declined and the BSAVA, and other specialist divisions grew. This led to a decreased opportunity to meet and the VCF declined, and questions were asked about its value and purpose. At first meetings tended to duplicate what vets were already receiving in church or from other Christian groups as the content was not specifically related to working as a Christian vet, but later veterinary ethics and subjects specific to the Christian veterinary group were addressed and this was appreciated. Christian vets were in all the disciplines open to vets from practice, academia, research, MAFF (later DEFRA), as well as commercial companies. A members list was a valuable resource when visiting seminars or conferences.
Missionary interest had been there from the start. Tom Owens was in Nigeria and later Alison Craven went to Nepal. The Americans had a VCF equivalent which later merged with Christian Veterinary Missions (CVM) under the leadership of Leroy Dorminy. The former had a newsletter and had meetings at various conferences but also was a notice board for jobs and exchanges. The Mission side largely did trips and short term work in South America but later sent vets to Nepal, Thailand and Mongolia. Over time a number of English vets have served overseas including the following:
- Tom Owens (Nigeria),
- Anne Struthers (Nigeria),
- Julie Mercer (Comoro Islands),
- Bob Trelogan (Thailand),
- Keith and Judith Dalzell (‘Overseas’),
- David Swan (Thailand),
- David Forster (‘Overseas’)
- Jan and Flor Morrow (Samaritan’s Purse),
- Michael and Nicki Duncalfe (MAF Papua New Guinea),
- Andy and Susie Hart (Tanzania),
- Mary Kim (Uganda).
Also a number of Christian vets have been involved with the work of Vetaid. Today the opportunity for short work overseas is principally managed by CVM, full details of which can be had from Vikki Wyse or Mary Kim on the VCF committee who have himselves been on a number of shuttle missions.
Conferences and the Future
The national conferences developed in the early 80’s – previously the AGM (a business meeting alongside a guest speaker) was the only opportunity for the membership to gather and as this was held in London was obviously not available to all. Various conference venues around the country (details will be in the Newsletter archives) were used and the event became a highlight of the VCF year. Since 2003 the ‘National’ Conference has become biennial and held at The Hayes, Swanwick with Southern and Northern Conferences in the alternate years.
The current appointment of a part time secretary and an active committee bodes well for the future with a more regular newsletter (sent to many via e-mail) keeping the flow of information, needs and activity up to date. The development of a web site should be an invaluable tool for the future, giving immediate access for job vacancies etc.
The value of the student links has always been positive and unquestioned but the need to speak on moral, ethical and spiritual issues has not in the past been effectively addressed. The veterinary profession has become more aware of depression and stress related problems of which suicide can be the sad end result.
VCF has recently adopted the “mission statement”- Serving Christ through Veterinary Medicine- which encapsulates all that the Fellowship is and should be trying to do through the wide range of professional and personal activities in which each of us is involved.
During the Covid Induced Lock down of 2020 a group of some of the early members got together to update the documentation of the VCF and to reminisce. More details can be found in an article here.