THE Rt Revd Kenneth Gill, who died on 16 February, aged 80, was
born and brought up in Yorkshire. He worked in Newcastle and
retired to Scotland, but his heart was in India.
In the better years of his retirement, he would sit in his
favourite chair in the conservatory, pipe in hand; but in his mind
he was miles away. You only had to mention India to see him become
He went to South India as a Methodist minister, with his wife,
Edna, in 1957, and began his ministry in Bangalore, the capital of
what was then the state of Mysore, later known as Karnataka.
He was ordained in the Church of South India (CSI), a United
Church comprising Anglican, Methodist, Reformed, and Presbyterian
traditions. It was significant that, on arrival, he was made deacon
in St Mark's Anglican Cathedral, and ordained presbyter in St
Andrew's Church, of a Church of Scotland tradition.
The first task for Kenneth and Edna was to learn the main local
language, Kanarese, and this they did; and before too long he could
converse with local people and lead services in the language.
After four months, they were then transferred to Hassan, 120
miles west of Bangalore, where he had responsibility not only for
the town, but also for a wide, very pleasant rural area bordering
the coffee plantations of Coorg.
There they lived in a large but antiquated bungalow, with few
modern amenities; bathwater had to be heated over a wood fire
outside the house, and then carried inside, and cooking was largely
done over a kerosene stove. During their time in Hassan, their
children Paul, Kathryn, and Lynda were all born.
In 1965, they were transferred from Hassan to Tumkur, a
district-headquarters town some 40 miles north of Bangalore. There,
Kenneth assumed responsibility not only for churches, but also for
a boys' boarding home, a farm, and a workshop that produced
furniture of quality. It also had its own small theological
college. I think that for Kenneth this was his ideal life; perhaps
much of him would have liked to spend his retirement there.
In 1972, the very large Mysore diocese was split into three.
Kenneth was elected to be the Bishop of what was then known as the
Karnataka Central diocese, centred on Bangalore. Being convinced
that it was important that Indian nationals provide leadership for
the Church, he announced that he would serve for a five-year term
only; but, at the end of the five years, by popular acclaim, he was
asked to stay on for a further two-and-a-half years.
During his time as Bishop, the Church grew, new churches were
built, many new social institutions came into being, and the city
of Bangalore experienced enormous population growth and rapid
expansion, including the building of a massive new cricket stadium
across the road from St Mark's Cathedral. I remember sitting there
with Kenneth to watch India beat Eng- land, captained by Tony
Greig, in 1977.
When Kenneth became bishop, the diocese had not only many
churches, but also large schools, hospitals, boarding homes,
clinics, and evangelistic and social outreach programmes, and also
the United Theological College, the largest of its kind in Asia.
Kenneth was the right person to have this responsibility, as he had
the practical skills to manage often very complex and difficult
First, he was a fine organiser: he knew the constitution inside
out and he knew how to chair a meeting well. He always said that he
was reluctant to take votes, but always tried to look for a
consensus. His colleagues have said that he administered with a
Moreover, he encouraged his presbyters, especially the younger
ones, and several eventually reached key senior positions in CSI.
Emails from Bishop Vasantha Kumar and Bishop P. J. Lawrence and
their families spoke of his care and support in their ministry, and
the way in which he inspired them to see their ministries in terms
of evangelism and social justice.
He pioneered women's ministry in the diocese, often against
opposition from traditionalists, and he was proud of those who came
forward for ordination. There was one service where a candidate for
ordination had been barred because someone had taken out a legal
stay order against her. Spotting her in the congregation, he called
her forward and gave her a blessing, and then ordained her at a
He worked to make provision for housing and pensions for retired
presbyters, who often ended their days impoverished.
He also worked to support many social-outreach programmes to get
alongside the poorest of the poor; one good example was the
training programme for leaders of crèches in slums. Edna played the
leading part here.
Perhaps his greatest contribution was the way in which he held
the diocese together, in the face of much potential disharmony.
All Churches have their ecclesiastical politics. India's is
often open, aggressive, and very nasty. People rush to litigation
over the slightest difference. Kenneth had to deal with fundamental
splits between Tamil-speaking and Kanarese-speaking Christians,
each wanting power. There were also the subtle differences that are
part of the intricate caste system.
He suffered many unpleasant personal attacks. There were threats
against him and his family. Once he was prevented from coming back
to England with his family for Christmas because of a court case.
But somehow he faced all this, and remained impartial. In the end,
many enemies became friends.
Over the years in India, he acquired many skills. He learned to
plan and design and build new properties. He discovered how to do
accounts and make the books balance. He learned a lot about farming
and animal husbandry. He could take a car engine to pieces and put
it together again - a valuable skill in India, where breakdowns
miles away from anywhere were very common. He was once called to a
village where a wild panther was causing fear and disruption. With
a rather antiquated shotgun, he managed to dispatch it.
He wrote histories of the Tumkur Institution, and also the
definitive history of the diocese. Partly because of these and
other publications, he was awarded a Lambeth MA degree, and, on his
final visit to India, an honorary doctorate of divinity by the
University of Serampore. His little autobiography was A
Multi-faceted Ministry. India showed some of those facets.
The Rt Revd Dr Alec Graham adds: Kenneth Gill began his
ministry as full-time Assistant Bishop of Newcastle only a few
weeks before the announcement that the diocesan bishop was to be
translated to Southwark. Kenneth had never ministered in the Church
He quickly adapted to Anglican ways, and I, as the new Bishop,
counted myself fortunate to have inherited so experienced and
capable a colleague. The diocese had already come to know and trust
him. His very presence with us prevented a diocese, traditional in
outlook, and by its location a bit isolated, from ever supposing
the Church of England to be the only Church in England, or, for
that matter, in the wider world.
He was well organised and efficient, a shrewd judge of both
people and situations. No diocesan bishop could have had a
colleague more loyal and supportive, discreet and reliable. I thank
God for every remembrance of him and of Edna, his widow, on whose
quiet support he relied.