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Obituary: CANON FRANK LESLIE SCUFFHAM

by
15 November 2013

Canon Mostyn Davies writes:

IT WAS 1964. I stood before Canon Sydney Evans, Dean of King's College, London. "Mostyn, I want you to go to Corby, and work with Frank Scuffham. He's working in the steel industry there." So I worked for the next 30 years with Frank, who died on 13 October, aged 83.

They were years of the rise and fall of an exciting area of ministry that attracted a string of brilliant, motivated mavericks such as Frank. But, as Frank put it, "Our problem is that the Church has called us to a ministry it doesn't want."

Frank faced open hostility to the whole Industrial Mission (IM) enterprise: some of the clergy said that we were deserting the front-line ministry in the parish. It was as if walking into a steelworks wearing a clerical collar, and trying to work out a ministry to its managers and workers, exploring its ethical issues and values, and trying to build bridges back to the Church, was some kind of easy option - a get-out from real ministry.

The Bishop of Middleton, Ted Wickham, had faced similar problems pioneering IM. The appointment of factory chaplains in the munitions industry during the Second World War was a quid pro quo for the Church's not opposing Sunday working. But parish clergy feared that people would be diverted from their parish churches rather than referred to them. Years later, IM in Sheffield would be split over the issue of how far IM could and should be parish-based.

Frank was deeply affected by the debate, and determined that IM should be clearly seen as the Church serving those in industry rather than the other way around. Frank dreaded using IM's privileged acceptance and trust by those in industry as a means to serve purely ecclesiastical interests. The point, he believed, was for Church and industry to be engaged in a dialogue about the "central determining values" for a just, participative, sustainable, society.

Frank's world-view was reinforced by a round-the-world tour that he made under the auspices of the Duke of Edinburgh. He painstakingly wrote this up in a book, but it remains unpublished.

Frank's real strength was his ability to network, and to build and maintain a team of colleagues, both close to him and national, through the Industrial Mission Association. In Corby, the vigour of the theological debate, exploration, and academic rigour was humbling.

Frank was more intuitive than academic; more of a gut-theologian, who began from his vision of the Kingdom, and related everything to that. For him, that vision was about justice, dignity, and respect for working people. That led him to be committed to the principles of common ownership and industrial democracy.

He was deeply influenced by Ernest Bader, and the Scott Bader Commonwealth. Scott Bader was a pioneering chemical company making resins, but it also famously advocated its own model of worker-participation and co-ownership. Frank was fascinated and inspired by it as, quite simply, a model of how things could and should be in wider industry. It ticked all the boxes for his practical notions of the Kingdom, and how wealth and power should be generated and distributed. Similar movements towards industrial democracy were snuffed out by decline and privatisation.

As the Church's finances came under pressure, so did IM, seen as a burden on those in the parishes who had to raise parish share. Urged to take on parish responsibilities "to build bridges back into the parishes", Frank became Priest-in-Charge of Stoke Albany with Wilbarston, in Peterborough diocese, in 1979. Always a workaholic, he simply went on as a full-time parish priest and a full-time industrial chaplain.

It focused his mind on the need for different structures for different ministries. For Frank, the parish was a unit of maintenance and care rather than the key unit for mission. If it is the latter, he would say, it isn't making much of a job of it; it can't! We needed new models of ministry to match an urban industrial age.

He was often taken as hostile to the parish system. He wasn't. He did his best to show ways forward, and we lesser mortals clutched at his coat tails. At the end, we had pretty much failed to make any lasting impact on church mission policy, but we had tried, and Frank had tried as hard as any.

Frank loved the Church of England with all his heart and soul. Through it all, Margaret, his most faithful and loving wife, brought up their four adopted children and kept open house for all Frank's colleagues.

The Ven. Geoffrey Arrand adds: I first met Frank in the early 1970s, when he spoke at a conference. I still vividly recall this fellow Kingsman challenging those who simply assumed that the work of the Church was done in a parish, and worse still that the Church and the Kingdom were somehow to be equated.

When, as an archdeacon, I went to visit him in retirement, I received a typically robust and amusing welcome; Frank was no respecter of ecclesiastical office for its own sake. We became close friends.

Frank could easily have felt rejected and angry when IM fell victim to financial challenges, but he loved the C of E for all its faults. He gave himself to parochial ministry part-time, and in retirement did so with enthusiasm and vigour. The benefice in Suffolk in which he lived and ministered will long remember a faithful priest who served the people well. Always cheerful, but always straightforward and critical if necessary, he worked with fellow priests, and more than once shared in leadership during vacancies.

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