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
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.