Dr Brian Hanson writes:
ERIC WALDRAM KEMP, theologian, canonist, ecumenist, and Bishop of Chichester for 27 years, died on 28 November, aged 94.
He was born on 27 April 1915 at Waltham, near Grimsby, in Lincoln diocese, and educated at Brigg Grammar School. His incumbent, who had been ordained by Bishop Edward King, regaled the young Kemp (born only five years after Edward King’s death) with the story of how Bishop King was charged with ritualistic practices, and of his trial before the Archbishop of Canterbury. This left a deep impression on Kemp, and, when he went up to Exeter College, Oxford, he was drawn to theology and canon law. After graduating, he was trained for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House, and ordained priest in 1940.
After serving his title at St Luke’s, Southampton, he was Librarian at Pusey House from 1941 until 1946. From 1943 to 1946, he was also Chaplain at Christ Church. In 1946, he was appointed Tutor and Chaplain of Exeter College, lecturing in theology and medieval history. From 1952, he was an Honorary Canon and Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral (a post he was to hold for 50 years), and became examining chaplain to five bishops.
In 1953, he married Patricia, daughter of Kenneth Kirk, then Bishop of Oxford. They had a son and four daughters in what was a long and happy marriage. They shared an interest in the theatre, which was a great relaxation to them both. Eric Kemp was also a lover of opera, being something of an authority on Wagner.
Kemp had been elected as a Proctor to Canterbury Convocation for Oxford University in 1949, a position he was to hold until becoming Dean of Worcester in 1969. With his background, he was soon drawn into the huge task of canon-law revision which was dear to the heart of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher. In no time, Kemp was acting as spokesman for the steering committee presenting the new canons to Convocation and Church Assembly. The Code was finally promulged in 1969.
No sooner had Kemp completed that task than he was asked to become a member of the group charged with implementing the reunion scheme between the Church of England and the Methodist Church. Kemp was instrumental in persuading the Methodist representatives to agree to the Service of Reconciliation with the laying on of hands by a bishop, which, he had no difficulty in arguing, amounted to ordination of Methodist ministers to the priesthood.
His friends in the Church Union and Anglo-Catholics in the Church Assembly — soon to become the General Synod — did not accept Kemp’s argument concerning the Service of Reconciliation, and opposed the Scheme vehemently. After the Scheme was defeated in 1972, Kemp spent less time in the General Synod and concentrated on his duties as Dean of Worcester Cathedral, to which he had been appointed in 1969.
Archbishop Michael Ramsey was keen that Eric Kemp should be a diocesan bishop, but the then Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary, Sir John Hewitt, would not countenance the idea, considering Kemp to be too radical on the issue of relations between Church and State. There was some truth in this: his Bampton Lectures published in 1961 as Counsel and Consent were critical of state interference in church matters.
Within two months of Hewitt’s retiring in 1974, however, Kemp was appointed Bishop of Chichester. True to his principles, Bishop Kemp refused every five years to attend the inauguration of the General Synod by the Queen, believing that Synods should be able to meet without requiring the leave and licence of the Monarch. It is alleged that this was reported back to the Queen, and, as a result, Kemp was the only diocesan in recent times not to be invited to preach at Sandringham and stay the weekend. Conversely, before becoming Dean of Worcester, he had been a Chaplain to the Queen for two years.
One of his first tasks on going to the diocese was to reorganise the Church in Brighton and Hove, which, in 1974, was grossly over-supplied with buildings. He was instrumental in closing some 18 churches, but it was done with such sensitivity that there was no animosity. Through good appointments, Kemp was able to cope with ease with the large diocese; he had no difficulty paying pastoral visits to some parishes that were two hours’ drive from his home in Chichester.
Again, he was keen to establish ecumenical links both within the diocese and abroad. He had a personal friendship with Bishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, who was appointed to Arundel & Brighton in 1977, until 2000, when he was translated to Westminster. Kemp also fostered links with the Roman Catholic diocese of Chartres, inviting the Bishop of Chartres to become an ecumenical canon of Chichester Cathedral.
Bishop Kemp was assiduous in his attendance at meetings of the House of Bishops, but found that the General Synod was not to his liking. Instead, when not active in his diocese, he spent time promoting the subject of canon law, and, with Chancellor Garth Moore, was a founding father of the Ecclesiastical Law Society, of which he was appointed the first President in 1987. He lived to see the society thrive, with more than 500 members, and a learned journal, published twice a year, to which he was a regular contributor.
On the ordination of women, Kemp spoke in favour of ordaining women to the diaconate, because, in his view, there was scriptural warrant for it. As with the Methodist Scheme, once again, his view clashed with the view of some of his Anglo-Catholic friends. On the question of the ordination of women to the presbyterate, however, he was resolutely opposed.
The legislation, when passed, made it possible for a diocesan to declare his diocese a “no-go” diocese, where no woman could be ordained or serve. When it became clear in the House of Bishops that Archbishop Habgood would be successful in persuading the House of the necessity of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, the Anglo-Catholic bishops met privately, and the next day it was the Bishop of Chichester who announced to the House that they had decided not to take advantage of the clause, and that there would be no “no-go” dioceses.
As a result, Kemp refrained from ordaining women as priests, and would not permit his licence to be issued to any woman who was serving in the diocese. He did not wish to be obstructive, however, and, as a canonist, he came up with the solution (which was adopted by the Provincial Registrar) that women priests were licensed to Chichester diocese by the Archbishop of Canterbury, acting in his capacity as Provincial.
Kemp took his membership of the House of Lords seriously, and was involved in many of the debates on Lords reform during the Blair administration, speaking with authority on constitutional issues. If he was unable to travel home to his diocese because a debate ran late, he would stay at the National Liberal Club, of which he was President.
Having been appointed to the bishopric of Chichester before the Age Limit Measure came into force, he was the last bishop who did not have to retire at the age of 70. He did not lose his faculties or his sense of humour, and kept the diocese — and the national Church — guessing when he would retire.
When he was 70 in 1985, he was saying that he needed to continue as diocesan in order to attend the 1988 Lambeth Conference, because of the grave issues coming up for discussion. This was also his argument when it came to the 1998 Lambeth Conference. He stayed in office long enough to celebrate his silver jubilee as diocesan, which took place at Worth Abbey, with most of his priests and a large number of the laity there to thank God for his ministry — a bishop well loved and respected by all his people.
As father-in-God, he was good at delegating, but was always available to give sound advice when needed. He finally retired in 2001, when he was 86, to the relief of Archbishop Carey, who made no secret of his annoyance at his continuing in office after the age of 70.
Dr and Mrs Kemp bought a retirement house in Chichester to be close to their many friends, and to the Festival Theatre, to which they were devoted. Eric Kemp was scrupulous in not interfering in his former diocese, and never caused any problems to his successor, John Hind. In retirement, he continued to attend the biannual Chapter of the Guardians of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, of which he had been an honorary guardian for many years.
In his 90th year, he attended the 150th-anniversary celebration of the founding of the Society of the Holy Cross, and to his great amusement found himself sitting in the Royal Box at the Albert Hall, where, at the end of the high mass, he received a standing ovation from the packed auditorium.
His was a full life devoted to the proclamation of the gospel as he had received it. In some matters, he was seen as a radical, but in the fundamentals of the faith he was a conservative, or, as he would wish to describe it, a traditionalist. May he rest in peace.