Obituary: THE VEN. ANTHONY JAMES BALMFORTH

by
11 March 2009

Canon Michael Soulsby and Canon Brian Pearce write:

THE Ven. Anthony Balmforth, who died on 20 February, aged 82, was Archdeacon of Bristol from 1979 to 1990.

He was the eldest son of the Revd Joseph and Florence Balmforth. His father’s incumbencies included that of St John’s, Kidderminster — a position that Tony himself would in due course hold with distinction. He was educated at Sebright’s School, and at Christ Church, Oxford, where, for one year, he read Physics. After that first year, he was called up to military service, arriving in Malaya in the autumn of 1945.

At Singapore Cathedral, he met and was deeply influenced by the famous Bishop of that diocese, Leonard Wilson. Tony’s military service came to an abrupt end when he was seriously injured in a tank explosion. Later, he used to make light of this experience when he told the story of his extensive plastic surgery, the appalling journey home, and convalescence in Switzerland at taxpayers’ expense; but clearly he had come close to losing his life.

During this time, Tony became certain that he should test his vocation to the priesthood. Having been accepted, he returned to Oxford, this time to read Theology at Brasenose, before going to spend two years at Lincoln Theological College.

Ordained in 1952, he served his title at St Peter’s, Mansfield. Unusually for those days, after three years and only one curacy, he was appointed to his first living. This was in the nearby mining village of Skegby.

After six years in that parish, he was invited to return to Kidder­minster as Vicar of St John’s. His abilities as a parish priest were such that he was then invited to respond to the even greater challenge of being Vicar of St Nicolas’s, King’s Norton, on the southern edge of the city of Birmingham. It was with much hesita­tion that he eventually re­sponded to this offer, but, in December 1965, his mentor from Singapore, Bishop Wilson, instituted him to the living.

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With the building of new housing estates, the parish population had grown to become one of the largest in England, and it was set to grow much more. Gathering a team of assistant clergy was his first priority. Within 18 months, three curates had joined him. The new Pastoral Measure, which came into operation in the early 1970s, led to the possibility of team ministries. Tony immediately realised that this would be the right way forward for King’s Norton.

The new estates would have clergy of incumbent status, which would lead to less frequent changes, and, when required, the appointment of clergy of greater experience. In January 1973, King’s Norton became one of the very early team parishes. Tony was the ideal leader for such a team: he had a great deal of wisdom and experience, but was willing to step back from the day-to-day life of ministry to the estates. Much of the responsibility for building one of the first joint Anglican-Methodist church schools was his. It opened on the new Hawkesley estate.

Tony was always generous in his support of the team clergy. The weekly staff meetings and daily offices were greatly appreciated. During the 1970s, King’s Norton did not escape the economic difficulties afflicting much of the country, but, thanks to superbly organised Christian-giving campaigns, held at three-year intervals, the finances of the parish were in good shape when he left in 1979. When the office of Rural Dean became vacant, he was the obvious choice. Two years later, he had become an Hon. Canon of Birmingham Cathedral.

In Bristol, Tony was especially concerned to support ecumenical initiatives. He also used every opportunity to promote women’s ministry. One of the most difficult tasks, which called for all his skills as diplomat and negotiator, was the reorganisation of the city-centre parishes.

Once again, the other clergy valued his strong support. But, despite 13 years of distinguished archidiaconal ministry, he looked back on his par­ochial ministry, especially in King’s Norton, as the best of times.

After retirement, he and Eileen, to whom he was married for 57 years, moved to Yorkley in the Forest of Dean. There he greatly enjoyed assisting where needed in the churches; and the congregations valued his ministry.

Tony is survived by Eileen and by his three children. His dedication to ministry would get him labelled a workaholic today, and the family often saw him as a somewhat occasional visitor to the Rectory. But, each August, the family would share his love of caravanning for holidays of three — sometimes four — weeks, during which they travelled to many different parts of Europe.

His clergy colleagues had always had to remember that Mondays in summer were sacrosanct: nothing was to stop him turning out for the diocesan clergy cricket team.

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