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09 July 2008

by The Archbishop of Wales

Pastoral heart: Bishop Crockett

Pastoral heart: Bishop Crockett

FOR much of the 18 months Bishop Anthony Crockett was being treated for cancer, he ran the diocese of Bangor from his bedside. When he learnt that he had only a few hours left to live, he devoted much of it to writing a last letter to that diocese. In it, he gave thanks for the love and prayers that had given him strength to continue his pilgrimage in faith and joy to the end. “God is good,” he bid them remember. “All the time.”

It was this deep faith, courage, and warm pastoral heart that made Tony an obvious choice for the see of Bangor in 2004 for the Bench of Bishops, after the Electoral College had failed to agree on a candidate. They were also persuaded by his keen intellect; his interest in all kinds of people, especially rural farming communities; his wide experience in two very different dioceses, Llandaff and St Davids; and his appreciation of the challenges and problems of ordained ministry.

These gifts had been honed during his varied career. Curacies at Aberdare and Whitchurch, preceded by training for ordination at St Michael’s College, Llandaff, were followed by incumbencies in rural parishes: first in Cardiganshire for eight years, and then in Carmarthenshire, the latter combined with being Archdeacon of Carmarthen.

He had also served as Rector of Dowlais for five years from 1986 to 1991, in the industrial town of Merthyr. As secretary of the Provincial Selection Panel from 1983 to 1987, he had the task of collating selectors’ comments on the relative strengths and weaknesses of candidates. His summaries were models of clarity and precision. Later, as secretary of the Board of Ministry from 1991 to 1999, he had the responsibility of looking after the financial arrangements of those in training for ministry, and for organising courses for continual ministerial education.

He relished this work, took it immensely seriously, and turned what could have been a bureaucratic chore into real pastoral engagement, especially with younger clergy, many of whom he influenced greatly. He insisted on taking services in parishes without incumbents every Sunday during this period, and sometimes did so for many months in the same place. This not only endeared him to those parishes, but also to the clergy of the diocese. His contributions on matters to do with the ordained ministry were listened to all the more readily because clergy realised that he knew what he was talking about.

A man of definite views on subjects such as the ordination of women (his own wife Caroline is a priest) or on the present state of the Anglican Communion, especially on human sexuality, he was not shy in sharing them. He could be fierce in argument with those whom he regarded his equal in intellect, but gentle with those who were not, and had the ability, nevertheless, to relate warmly to those from whom he disagreed the most.

Unashamedly liberal in theology, he was fairly conservative liturgically, and propounded his views cogently, persuasively, and sometimes quite trenchantly. He held, after all, degrees in both Classics and Theology from King’s College, London, where he had gone after his education at Pontypridd Boys’ Grammar School, a school of which he was immensely proud.

He enjoyed fishing and walking, and was a great man for pilgrimages. In 1995, while on sabbatical, he walked 1000 miles at a punishing 25 miles a day from Le Puy in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. He also walked the pilgrim route from Clynnog Fawr to Aberdaron in the diocese of Bangor and from the Bangor diocese along the coast to St Davids, meeting people en route and talking to them about their own particular journeys of faith.

That earthly pilgrimage for him was all too suddenly cut short; but the strong faith that sustained him through his long illness became a source of inspiration for the diocese as he struggled to minister, sometimes from his hospital bed or its chapel. He was a living embodiment of the truth of being able to exercise an effective ministry in weakness and vulnerability.

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