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21 November 2014


"Human, humble, hospitable, and humorous": the late Bishop Colin Docker in January 1975

"Human, humble, hospitable, and humorous": the late Bishop Colin Docker in January 1975

The Rt Revd Michael Manktelow writes:

THE Rt Revd Colin Docker, Bishop of Horsham, from 1975 to 1991, in the diocese of Chichester, died suddenly at home on Monday 3 November, just one month shy of his 89th birthday. Only the previous day, he and his wife, Thelma, had worshipped as usual in Exeter Cathedral, where they had made their spiritual home in retirement. He will be missed as a much loved friend and pastoral bishop in Sussex, and in Devon, where they had lived for the past 23 years.

Colin was born in Birmingham in December 1925, and educated at King Edward's School, and at the University of Birmingham. In 1946 he went to Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, to train for ordination. He was ordained three years later in Wakefield Cathedral, to a title at Normanton, moving on in 1952 to be Lecturer of Halifax Parish Church. In 1954, he took on a more peripatetic ministry as Area Secretary of CMS in the dioceses of Derby, Lincoln, and South- well.

Five years later, however, Bishop Roger Wilson, who had been translated from Wakefield to Chichester, reclaimed Colin for parish ministry, by bringing him south to be Vicar of Midhurst, a busy market town in West Sussex. To this was later added the rural parish of Woolbeding, and the responsibility of being rural dean.

So began a long and memorable pastoral ministry in the counties of both East and West Sussex, as he and Thelma moved on to Seaford in 1964, and then to St Mary's, Eastbourne, seven years later. In both places he was also rural dean, but, as St Mary's was the mother church of the town, he was also patron of several benefices in the deanery.

He was installed as a canon of Chichester Cathedral in 1966, a prebendal stall that he held for 25 years. He was a Proctor in Convocation from 1970 to 1975. During this time, he also produced the Docker report on the reorganisation of the diocese.

This could well have influenced Eric Kemp, who, only months after becoming Bishop of Chichester in 1974, had to appoint a new Bishop of Horsham, in succession to Simon Phipps, who had been translated to Lincoln. It was no surprise that he chose Colin, who was then consecrated by Archbishop Donald Coggan in Westminster Abbey in 1975 (along with John Taylor, whom he had known from CMS days). Sixteen years at Horsham, comprising all of West Sussex, including remote downland parishes as well as Crawley new town, with all its social problems, brought together and crowned all Colin's previous ministry - pastoral, evangelistic, and administrative.

Although Bishops Kemp and Docker came from different stables, they worked well together, developing a very real friendship, as did their respective wives. Thelma became diocesan President of the Mothers' Union, while Colin took over Eric's ecumenical responsibility with the Old Catholics in Europe.

Nationally, Colin served as Chairman of the Council for Social Concern from 1987 to 2001, and also of CARA (Caring and Resource for People with HIV/AIDS) in the mid-1990s. When Colin retired to Bovey Tracey in 1991, he was appointed Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Exeter, relishing, as he said, being "a bishop without responsibility". His counsel and his preaching were greatly valued in both cathedral and diocese, as were his and Thelma's approachability and friendship.

Theirs was a great partnership throughout the 64 years of their marriage; they had a friendship that went back to their school days. Human, humble, hospitable, and humorous, they knew the clergy and cared for their families. While extending our loving thoughts now to Thelma along with their son and their daughter, we thank God upon every remembrance of this pre-eminently pastoral bishop, a good and faithful servant of his Lord.

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