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19 December 2007

by Brian McHenry

Committed: John Smallwood

Committed: John Smallwood

John Frank Monton Smallwood was born in 1926, his father a Battersea schoolmaster. He was educated at the City of London School. Awarded a scholarship to Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1944, he was immediately recruited by the RAF to learn technical Japanese — the written script of aircraft armaments, navigation, and signal equipment. Commissioned in 1945, he spent the next three years in the Far East, including several months on the Burma-Siam railway on war-crimes identification work.

John took his degree in 1951. He then joined the staff of the Bank of England, for which he worked in several senior posts, until 1979, when he retired to devote himself to church finance and administration.

His strong Christian commitment had led him to work with Bishop John Robinson in establishing the Southwark Ordination Course (SOC), the pioneering part-time course. SOC was followed by the Southwark Diocesan Board of Finance, the Church Assembly, the Central Board of Finance, the Church Commissioners, the City Parochial Foundation, the General Synod, the General Synod Standing Committee, the Anglican Consultative Council, the Overseas Bishoprics Fund, and the Pensions Fund, to name only some of the many bodies on which he served.

He was unstinting in the time, effort, and expertise that he devoted to the finances of Southwark diocese. Southwark became one of the financially strongest dioceses in England, able with greater ease than any other diocese to ride the clergy pensions problem from the mid 1990s onwards. John’s annual presentation to the Southwark diocesan synod was always a tour de force, and woe betide anyone who dared challenge him.

As a Commissioner, John was a persistent and untiring advocate for the maximum distributions from the Commissioners’ income to diocesan stipends funds and, through them, to the material support of the clergy and clergy pensions. The clergy have reason to be grateful to John. His attention to detail led him to spot the over-extension of the Commissioners’ commitments in 1992, but his warnings were not picked up.

Under John, the City Parochial Foundation became particularly involved with grants to a wide range of refugee groups. John’s distinguished service to the Foundation led to the award of the CBE in 1991.

John’s work went far beyond the financial. He played a significant part in the opening up of ordained ministry to women, as he chaired the steering committee for the Deacons (Ordination of Women) Measure (1986).

He was immensely kind in personal relationships. When I stood but was not elected to the General Synod in 1985, he encouraged me to “hang on in” with sympathetic and generous words.

John was incredibly energetic. When others flagged in meetings, he thirsted for more, and would frequently continue debates by way of a lengthy fax the next morning. Rumour had it that there was a room in Millbank where someone worked whose sole responsibility was to answer John’s letters.

He was persistent. He was thorough and detailed in presentation, and, like a Yorkshire terrier, would let go only in order to get a better grip.

He would take on the establishment, especially when the financial care of the clergy was at stake. None of this endeared him to that establishment. This may explain why John was never appointed to a senior executive post in the Church.

In 1993, Archbishop Carey suggested that John research and collate the accounts of the Church of England bishops from Augustine to the present. John applied himself diligently to the task. By 2007, the nearly complete aggregate was some 4.3 million words on 12,900 pages of A5, now lodged at Lambeth Palace.

John did not wear his faith on his sleeve. There was, however, no doubt that his deep faith in his Lord energised all that he did.

That faith, and his happy marriage to Jean for well over half a century, and his children and grandchildren, sustained him through all the changes and chances of his mortal life. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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