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12 April 2013


Wise and courteous suffragan: the Rt Revd David Farmbrough (left in photo) with Dr Robert Runcie, after his consecration in St Albans Abbey on 27 October 1981

Wise and courteous suffragan: the Rt Revd David Farmbrough (left in photo) with Dr Robert Runcie, after his consecration in St Albans Abbey on 27 Oc...

Canon Bill Ritson writes:

THE Rt Revd David John Farmbrough, who died on 9 March, aged 83, served for the whole of his ministry in the diocese of St Albans, as Archdeacon of St Albans from 1974 to 1981, and Bishop of Bedford from 1981 to 1993. He was a very gracious man, whose ministry was greatly appreciated by both clergy and laity.

Born in the diocese, at Luton in 1929, he was educated at Bedford School and Lincoln College, Oxford, and trained at Westcott House. He was ordained in 1953, and served as assistant curate in the parish of Bishop's Hatfield until 1957, when he became Priest-in-Charge of the daughter church, St John's. In 1963, he was appointed Vicar of St Michael's, Bishop's Stortford.

Then, in 1974, Bishop Robert Runcie invited him to become Archdeacon of St Albans. This was an admirable appointment, for which he was ideally suited. He was always well-organised, and managed his enormous workload with great efficiency. Despite the vast amount of work, his desk was always tidy. He never appeared rushed, and had time for everyone. He was ever available, courteous, thoughtful, and wise.

This was the time of the Sheffield report on the future deployment of the clergy, when parishes were being asked to amalgamate. As Archdeacon and chairman of the diocesan pastoral committee, David used to travel up and down the diocese to meet deanery synods and pastoral committees, to listen to the views of the people. He was a great listener, but also a judicious and sound decision-maker, who won the trust and respect of people throughout the diocese. And he was always calm.

On one occasion on his travels to an evening meeting, he was being driven by the secretary of the diocesan pastoral committee (a fellow priest), who, as they were leaving St Albans, failed to notice, at a cross-roads in a built-up area, white lines painted on the road in the form of a large circle. The secretary drove straight across to the accompaniment of hooting horns. The Archdeacon's only response was a quiet "I think that was a roundabout." He was totally unflappable, never ruffled, but after that incident, to the relief of both, on subsequent journeys he was always the driver.

As Archdeacon, his pastoral care of the clergy was a special priority, but he also acted as unofficial chaplain to the staff at the diocesan office, which was next door to his house. Clergy and laity were grateful for his wisdom and counsel, and he used to give a most helpful and encouraging lecture on "The Prayer-Life of the Clergy".

Bishop Runcie's successor, Bishop John Taylor, greatly valued his guidance and support, and, in 1981, invited him to become Bishop of Bedford. Here, he was held in high regard, and again loved by the people. Always kind and considerate, for the next 12 years he and his wife, Angela (Profile, 7 December 1990), who shared his ministry, served the Church and people of the county with distinction, and with warmth and hospitality. He was delighted when Angela was appointed High Sheriff, and also a Deputy Lieutenant of the county.

David retired in 1993, but continued to serve as Honorary Assistant Bishop in the diocese. He wrote two books, In Wonder, Love and Praise in 1966, and Believing, Belonging and Doing in 1971. He was also a keen and methodical gardener.

He was diagnosed with cancer three months before Christmas last year, and lovingly cared for at home, where he died peacefully, surrounded by his family: Angela, their three daughters, Sarah, Hilly, and Alison, and their son, Richard.

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