OBITUARY: THE RT REVD RALPH EMMERSON

by
23 January 2008

The Rt Revd David Young writes:

THE Rt Revd Ralph Emmerson, who died on 31 December, aged 84, spent almost the whole of his life in the diocese of Ripon. Born and bred in Leeds, he left the city for the University of London, where he took a BD. From there, he went to Westcott House, Cambridge, for his ordination preparation, but returned to Leeds on his ordination in 1938 to a curacy at St George’s.

His first independent charge was the Ascension, Seacroft. Seacroft is now a huge housing estate on the edge of Leeds. It was being developed as Ralph went there. The Church of the Ascension was built at the same time as the estate, and Ralph moved in with the first residents. His ministry there is still remembered.

The next eight years of his ministry, 1948-56, were spent at Methley, a mining area in the south-east of the diocese. He went as curate, but developed Methley into a separate benefice, becoming Rector in 1952. His ability to get alongside people and his interest in sport enabled him to gain the confidence, respect, and love of the community.

From there, he moved to St Michael’s, Headingley, a substantial church with a flourishing congregation. His pastoral gifts sustained and enriched the people. At school, he had been a gifted rugby and cricket player, and Headingley was a natural setting for him. From this work, he was appointed diocesan missioner, and Residentiary Canon of Ripon Cathedral. In this post, he worked with parochial clergy to discuss how they could reach out beyond their congregations to minister to those in the wider community.

In 1972, when the suffragan bishopric of Knaresborough became vacant, he was the natural choice. He continued his pastoral ministry, and gave encouragement, advice, and oversight to rural and urban clergy alike. After the retirement of the diocesan Bishop, John Moorman, he held the diocese together through an interregnum, the illness and death of Moorman’s successor, Bishop Hetley Price, and a further diocesan interregnum.

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When I arrived in the diocese in 1977, Ralph welcomed me warmly. Although I was 18 years younger than he was, he never imposed his views. He made them known courteously, but left me to make decisions and to lead the diocese as I felt right. It was typical of him that, after I had been two years in post, he retired, so that I could appoint my own suffragan. It was also typical of him that he moved with his wife Nancy to Wakefield, in order to give space to his successor.

During this time, while caring for Nancy, he gave his support to the Bishop of Wakefield and to Wakefield Cathedral. Nancy died in 1982.

In due course, he felt it right to move back to Ripon, where he became Hon. Assistant Bishop. He continued his work of spiritual direction and oversight of clergy who needed special care. He became a regular worshipper at the Cathedral, living in the shadow of its south side. After he had been for many years on his own, it gave his friends and colleagues much pleasure when he married his second wife, Elizabeth, in 2000. Although Ralph’s health was failing, their home was an open and welcoming place.

Ralph’s greatest gift was for pastoral work. He was able to give immediate and sustained attention to anyone who needed his ministry. It was this gift that enabled him to be so successful and so appreciated in the posts he held. He had a natural way of approaching people and putting them at their ease. This at once enabled them to open up to him, and allowed him to respond to their needs.

He was a man who will be long remembered in the diocese, and in the wider Church.

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