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28 February 2014

Cyril Bernard

Courtesy, wit, and conviction:
the Revd Dr Kenneth Greet

Courtesy, wit, and conviction:
the Revd Dr Kenneth Greet

Margaret Holness writes:

THE Revd Dr Kenneth Greet, who led the Methodist Church for more than a decade, died on 11 February, aged 95. Influential in his own Church and beyond, he was a significant player in the ecumenical movement that dominated mainstream Christian thinking in the 1960s and '70s. An outspoken social commentator, who regularly incurred the wrath of Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, he was the best-known Free Churchman of his generation.

Born six days after the end of the Great War, Greet was nurturedin the liberal ideals of a Bristol Methodist family, dedicated to social justice and pacifism. These values, to which he added church unity, dominated his life and work. They were not, however, immediately obvious from his urbane manner: he was never a tub-thumper, but expressed his views with courtesy and wit, as well as conviction.

As a teenager, he was already preparing for life as a Methodist minister, at the same time speaking publicly for the pacifist cause, and sharing platforms with celebrities of the day, such as Vera Brittain and George Lansbury. After formal training at Handsworth Theological College, Birmingham, he was or-dained in 1943. He held appointments in Herefordshire before taking over a large Methodist "parish" in Tonypandy, South Wales (home of another well-known Methodist, the late Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas).

In Tonypandy, his ministry was associated with the development of an effective local social-action programme. That led to his appointment, in 1954, as head of the Christian Citizenship department, based at the Methodist Church's Westminster headquarters. He remained at Westminster for 30 years, becoming Secretary (chief executive) of the Methodist Conference in 1971, a post that he held for 13 years.

His years at Westminster were conterminous with the flowering of the ecumenical movement. For more than a quarter of a century many - perhaps a majority - of mainstream Christians believed in the near certainty that organic unity, between the main Protestant Churches at least, would be a reality by the end of the 20th century. In the British Council of Churches, and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, it was regarded almost as a fait accompli. Greet was a member of both, as he was of the national and international bilateral conversations that included the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and other Churches.

For Greet, and many senior Methodists and Anglicans, including Archbishop Michael Ramsey, there was a more immediate aspiration: the reunion of Methodism with its parent, the Church of England.

By backing this goal, senior Methodists had to risk upsetting a vociferous diehard minority, who marched under the banner of the Voice of Methodism, and wanted nothing to do with episcopacy. Anglican opposition came from Anglo-Catholics concerned about the understanding of priesthood, as well as conservative Evangelicals with their own concerns about the proposed service of reconciliation of ministries. In 1969, and again in 1972, the Methodist Conference voted in favour of reunion, but first in the Church Assembly, and then in the first General Synod, the proposal failed to gain a sufficient majority in the House of Clergy. Archbishop Ramsey described the second defeat as a vote against God.

Undeterred by this double rebuff, Greet continued to work for unity over the next decade. By then, a broader programme, the Churches Council for Covenanting, was under way. This was intended to result in a covenant between the Anglican, Methodist, United Reformed, and Moravian Churches which included the mutual recognition of each other's ministries. In June 1982, it gained the backing of the Methodist Conference. By then, however, both the Methodist and URC Churches had women ministers, a move to which Anglo-Catholics and conservative Evangelicals were opposed. At the General Synod in July that year, the proposal fell, again because of a too narrow majority in the House of Clergy. The CCC was wound up; about to attend its last meeting, the chairman, David Brown, then Bishop of Guildford, died from a heart attack.

There was one ecumenical consolation for Greet that summer. With Archbishop Runcie and Pope John Paul II, he knelt in prayer for unity during the latter's historic visit to Canterbury.

That year also saw Greet defending the pacifist position. He was both co-chairman, with Fenner Brockway, of the World Disarmament Campaign, and President of the Methodist Conference, a one-year, honorary office. He used both positions publicly to oppose the Falklands War. This stance notwithstanding, he was asked by Archbishop Runcie to take part in the service at St Paul's Cathedral to mark the end of the conflict. Praying for the dead and wounded of both sides, he incurred once more the wrath of the Prime Minister of the day - who had also begun life in a Methodist household.

After his retirement in 1984, Greet continued to argue for his idealsin sermons, lectures, and the weekly articles in the Methodist Recorder, which he wrote for 25 years. Peace remained an imperative, and disunity among Christians a scan-dal.

In his last years, he cared devotedly for his wife, Mary, who died last year after a long illness. A son, John, predeceased him. He is survived by his daughters, Susan and Elizabeth.

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