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23 August 2013

Leading: Bishop Davies leads 3000 to a Spirit 2000 rally in Cardiff in 1992

Leading: Bishop Davies leads 3000 to a Spirit 2000 rally in Cardiff in 1992

The Ven. Martin Williams writes:

THE Rt Revd Roy Davies, formerly Bishop of Llandaff, who died on 7 August, aged 79, was a shrewd and loving pastor, "wise as a serpent, but harmless as a dove".

His demeanour in church was that of a devout priest and teacher. He celebrated the eucharist with "wariness and devotion". He was not an exciting or fervent preacher, but, soaked in the spirituality of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, he had the gift of simple exposition from the heart. Above all, he was one who clearly loved those to whom he was preaching. His chrism-mass addresses were full of the wisdom of one experienced in prayer and pastoral care. He would sometimes quote St Francis de Sales, from whom one felt he had learned as a spiritual teacher and bishop.

He did not, however, share the Bishop of Geneva's somewhat aristocratic background. He was born in Llangennech, near Llanelli, where his father was a factory worker. It was a Welsh-speaking village, and it is said that Roy would not have used any English before he was about seven years old. He was very much a cradle Anglican, having been taken to church in his mother's arms from the first, and baptised in the village church.

He was a gifted child, and won a place at Llanelli Boys' Grammar School, from where he went to St David's College, Lampeter, for his first degree, in Welsh. The following four years, 1955-59, were spent in Oxford, studying for a B.Litt. at Jesus College, and preparing for ordination at St Stephen's House. Besides the B.Litt., he was awarded the Oxford diploma in theology.

He served after ordination in a number of parishes in St Davids diocese, and for six years as Chaplain to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. After Aberystwyth, he spent six years as secretary of the Church in Wales Provincial Council for Mission and Unity. After a further six years back in St Davids diocese, during the latter part of which he was Archdeacon of Carmarthen, he was called in 1985 to be Bishop of Llandaff.

The call itself was the cause of many sleepless nights; but Roy's sense of duty to the Church, and of abandonment to divine providence, led to his accepting it. But this was only the beginning of the suffering that he was to undergo as Bishop. He did not receive a warm welcome at first from the diocesan establishment. As a non-political priest without personal ambition, he could only persevere on the lonely path of building trust, in which he largely succeeded through his own evident integrity and humility.

His personal tragedy was that the debate about the ordination of women to the priesthood occupied such a large proportion of his time in office. He was torn both ways, and therefore subject to pressure from both directions. In the 1970s, he had, as a member of Governing Body, voted for a motion expressing no fundamental objection to women in the priesthood, but had also voted for one that declared that the time for it was not yet.

In 1994, when a motion to permit women to be ordained as priests came before Governing Body, he was one of two bishops who voted against. On that occasion, the motion failed to obtain a two-thirds majority in all three Houses.

It has been maintained that Roy was to be congratulated for his "courage" in "changing his mind" in 1996, when he seconded the motion for women to be ordained as priests. Whether or not that was cour- ageous, far more courage was required in the years after the 1994 vote, when he was subject to a relentless campaign of harassment, not least from church members in his own diocese.

This hurt him deeply, and he obviously came to the view that there was a greater risk to the unity of the Church in continuing to oppose the change than in accepting it, and ensuring full provision for those who in conscience could not accept it. He worked and prayed in this period for such provision, which, in effect, secured the passage of the Bill in 1996, and resulted in the ordination of the first (and, so far, only) Provincial Assistant Bishop, to whose ministry Roy gave full and generous support. At the same time, he was in no way grudging in the care he gave to those women whom he himself ordained.

Roy never married, but it would be wrong to portray him as an austere figure. He had the common touch, and was known to the laity for his "jollity". With friends and colleagues, he manifested a great sense of humour, and a facility for the gentle put-down, if he thought you were being pompous of pretentious.

His retirement, at the age of 65, in 1999, came at a time when he must have felt tired, and not in perfect health. He came to enjoy his retirement ministry of occasional retreat-giving, and supplying services in the humble Welsh-speaking and other parishes that were so dear to his heart. He never made a political issue of the language; on the contrary, he recognised the integrity of both the languages of Wales, but he was sensitive to the spiritual significance of the language in which people first learn to pray, and to express their faith.

His funeral mass is to be celebrated privately, in the parish church near Carmarthen, where he lived in retirement, without eulogy, and without any additional memorial services. This was the emphatic wish of a man of great humility, who was often inscrutable, but manifestly a man of God.

May he know the eternal company of Christ, in whom he hoped, and whom he preached.

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