Obituary: THE RT REVD JAMES WILLIAM ROXBURGH

by
10 January 2008

Loved: Bishop Roxburgh

Loved: Bishop Roxburgh

Canon Dick Williams writes:

BISHOP JIM ROXBURGH’s 63-year ministry began dramatically. At Michaelmas 1944, he was among those to be ordained in Canterbury Cathedral by Archbishop William Temple. Temple, however, became too ill to conduct the service — he died on 26 October last year — and Jim was ordained by the Bishop of Dover, Alfred Rose.

Jim set off for his first curacy in Folkestone by a bus that failed to get there. German artillery on the other side of the Channel was bombarding Folkestone, and he had to complete the journey on foot. His curacy began in a Church in shock, and in a parish under fire.

His two curacies were important to his formation. At Christ Church and Holy Trinity, Folkestone, he served under Edwin Cook, a former missionary in China, later to be Archdeacon of Bath, while at St Mary’s, Handsworth, Birmingham, he served under Bishop J. H. Linton, a former missionary in Persia.

These six years laid the foundations of his own care of curates, of whom he was to train more than 40. He accepted tough parishes in the three incumbencies that preceded his six years as Archdeacon of Colchester, seven years as Bishop of Barking, and a further 17 fruitful years as Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Liverpool.

In bomb-battered Bootle, he helped to revive St Matthew’s. Here he preached at the dock gates, organised an ecumenical mission, and found the first of 21 ordination candidates who, together with many distinguished lay workers, came forward in response to his ministry. Here, too, in 1955, the Sunday service was broadcast by the BBC long before local radio.

Bootle was followed by bomb-battered Hull, where the parish of Drypool, with its 40,000 souls, had an alarming workload — a church to rebuild, a clutch of funerals every week, and, on one busy Saturday, 18 weddings for the three clergy.

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From there, he went to Barking, so beginning 25 years’ work in the diocese of Chelmsford, first as Vicar of that historic parish, then as Archdeacon of Colchester, and finally — when a vigorous 62 — as Bishop of Barking. Such advancement within a diocese is rare, and says much for the regard in which he was held.

After an initial year in 1983 as Suffragan, he was the first Bishop of Barking to be an Area Bishop. The area stretched from the Dartford Tunnel to Stansted Airport, and had a population of one and a half million. The Rt Revd John Waine, Bishop of Chelmsford 1986-96, speaks warmly of the great love in which he was held by clergy and laity alike: “As Bishop of Barking (an area larger than any one of 18 English dioceses), Jim was a parish priest writ large. Barking claimed him as its son.” Jim Roxburgh was made a Freeman of the Borough of Barking and Dagenham in 1990.

In 1961, he attended the World Council of Churches’ Assembly in New Delhi. He was also a long-term member of the old Church Assembly, and then, from 1970, of the General Synod, where some of his most valuable work was done in helping to draft the Pastoral Measure. He brought to this task his long experience as chairman of the Simeon Trustees’ patronage board.

He was a life-long supporter of the CMS, served on the Council of the Church Army, and was one of the small group of visionaries who in the late 1950s raised funds for the purchase of Scargill House as a conference centre for the north. He served on its Council from 1961 to 1989.

He had a passion for detail, which took many forms. He seemed to know Bradshaw’s railway timetable by heart, and on his road map inked over every road that he travelled. This often amusing trait served a warm and pastoral heart that embraced a huge network of friends and colleagues.

In 1949, he married Marjorie Hipkiss. They had two children, Pamela and Ian, who survive them. It was an ideal marriage, lasting until Marjorie’s death in 2002. Retirement meant a search for a region offering plenty of work. He opted for Liverpool, where he served as an Assistant Bishop, first to Bishop David Sheppard, and then to Bishop James Jones. In 2003, he married Audrey Wood (née Hawthorne), an inspiring partner, who lovingly nursed him through his final illness. He died on 10 December, aged 86.

He was committed to Christian faith, and to the issues of his day. The art of ministry is to understand both. He did so with distinction, and taught others to do likewise.

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