THE Rt Revd John Satterthwaite, a notable ecclesiastical
diplomat for Lambeth Palace in the 1960s, who went on to reorganise
the Church of England on the Continent and become the first Bishop
of Gibraltar in Europe, died on 22 May, aged 89.
The Rt Revd Dr David Tustin writes: After training at
Leeds University and at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield,
John Satterthwaite returned to his native Cumberland, where he was
ordained (deacon 1950, priest 1951), and served two curacies in
Carlisle. He was then appointed to Archbishop Fisher's staff at
Lambeth Palace, as Canon Herbert Waddams's assistant at the Church
of England's Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).
When Waddams departed for Canada in 1959, John was invited to
succeed him as general secretary of CFR, though it was under
Archbishop Ramsey that he came to the height of his powers and
influence. The years at Lambeth (1955-70) were probably the most
fulfilling phase of his ministry, when his particular strengths
John was a dedicated and disciplined priest in the Mirfield
tradition, who combined his administrative appointment at CFR with
a pastoral ministry at the Guild Church of St Dunstan-in-the-West,
Fleet Street. He celebrated the eucharist carefully and reverently,
cared diligently for the eclectic congregation, ministered to a
growing number of penitents, and played an active part in the City
At the same time, he led the Foreign Relations department at
Lambeth Palace with outstanding executive ability. He adamantly
maintained his right of direct access to the Archbishop on
international ecumenical matters, and became one of his most
trusted advisers. While brisk, efficient, and sometimes irascible,
he was also caring and thoughtful for members of his own staff.
The same pastoral bent was evident not only in his dealings with
visiting church leaders from all parts of the globe, but also with
the steady two-way stream of students for whom he was responsible:
Anglican ordinands and clergy sent to study in such places as
Louvain, Pontigny, Rome, Halki, Athens, or Bucharest, and overseas
monks and priests on placement in English theological colleges.
He took endless trouble to maintain relations with foreign
clergy ministering to diaspora congregations in London and
elsewhere, and helped them secure the use of Anglican church
buildings where necessary. It was characteristic of him to hold a
special commemoration in 1965, at St Dunstan's, to mark the 50th
anniversary of the Armenian massacre (of which the centenary will
occur next year), and to offer a permanent home there for the
Romanian Orthodox congregation.
He also gave time to fostering links with a range of voluntary
bodies working for Christian unity, such as the Anglican and
Eastern Churches' Association, the Fellowship of St Alban and St
Sergius, and the Anglo-German Christian Fellowship.
CFR had traditionally devoted much attention to relations
withthe Orthodox and other Eastern Churches, and, in John's time,
the senior leadership of several of these sister Churches came to
place great reliance on his diplomatic wisdom. He was not a deep
thinker, but had a canny ability to discern the signs of the times.
This was grounded in his wide network of contacts (both
ecclesiastical and diplomatic), in his indefatigable travels on
both sides of the Iron Curtain, and in the steady gathering of
information by his staff at Lambeth Palace.
During these years, contacts with the Roman Catholic Church
increased significantly, and John was a prime mover in bringing
this about. For example, he organised the attendance of Anglican
observers at the Second Vatican Council, and was present himself
for part of each session. In 1965, he set up the Commission on RC
Relations, to alleviate the resentment of the English RC hierarchy
at being dealt with as a foreign Church. He was involved in the
initiative to create an Anglican Centre in Rome, led by an official
representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury. He co-planned the
historic and fruitful visit of Archbishop Ramsey to Pope Paul VI in
1966, and subsequently helped to prepare the way for ARCIC to begin
its theological dialogue.
John's ecumenical sympathies lay more with the Orthodox, Roman
Catholic, and other episcopal Churches than with the Lutherans and
Reformed, and he took particular pride in being a canon of the Old
Catholic Cathedral in Utrecht. Nevertheless, he relied on his
colleagues at CFR to hold an overall balance and spread of
ecumenical concerns, and also looked to them to provide linguistic
skills, and engage with greater theological depth than he
He played a vital part in the participation of ecumenical
delegates in the Lambeth Conferences of 1958 and 1968. He was an
energetic Guestmaster of the Nikaean Club (which provides
ecumenical hospitality on behalf of the Archbishop of Canterbury),
and often showed considerable ingenuity in bringing about events
for which no budget existed, such as visits by the Russian and
Romanian patriarchs with their entourages.
Another notable achievement was to sustain the active panel of
volunteers who assisted CFR's work by scanning or translating
foreign periodicals, and contributing their expert knowledge of
particular foreign Churches - a network sadly disbanded in the
1970s. These 15 years at Lambeth were John's heyday, though he
never overcame his caution or defensiveness in dealings with Church
House, Westminster, the Church Assembly, and later the General
The Rt Revd Edward Holland adds: In 1970, John was
consecrated Bishop of Fulham. The plan, which was largely his, was
that he would work with Stanley Eley, the Bishop of Gibraltar, to
bring the diocese of Gibraltar, which covered the north side of the
Mediterranean, and the Jurisdiction of Fulham, which covered the
Bishop of London's episcopal oversight for Northern Europe, into a
single diocese, which would find its place in the Church of
Unfortunately, at the opening of the meeting in London to
discuss this, Bishop Eley had a heart attack and died, leaving John
with sole responsibility for the process. So he took on the title
of Fulham & Gibraltar, and began the work of bringing the two
jurisdictions into one diocese.
He already knew many of the chaplaincies and the people in them
from his ecumenical work at Lambeth, but now he processed round the
chaplaincies, getting to know the clergy and people quite
intimately. People liked him. They enjoyed his unusual episcopal
friendliness and sense of humour, and supported his plans for the
new diocese. It took ten years for the legislation to be passed by
the General Synod, and the new diocese came into being in 1980.
Eley's administration had consisted of a typewriter and a filing
cabinet in the basement of his house. John was used to a very
well-run office, and had high standards, especially about answering
letters, and writing them according to rules that he said he had
been taught by his secretaries at Lambeth. He first of all
appointed Canon Harold Isherwood as Vicar General to run the
office, which at the beginning was situated in Brussels, where
Isherwood had been chaplain. Isherwood was then consecrated as
Assistant Bishop, but now working from the Bishop's office, which
was still in the basement of the Bishop's house in Kensington.
Later, it moved to a cul-de-sac behind St Mary Abbots, and the
staff grew to include a Vicar General, two secretaries, and a
part-time Secretary for Finance.
When Harold retired, the Dean of Gibraltar, Ambrose Weekes,
formerly Chaplain of the Fleet, was appointed as his successor,
and, when the new diocese was established, Ambrose became the first
John was not someone who easily worked in collaboration with
others. He could be impatient and demanding, though he could also
be immensely kind and considerate, especially in a crisis. Eley's
death meant that John was on his own, and so entirely responsible
for shaping the diocese.
He remained as Bishop of Gibraltar for 23 years of constant
travel, always faced with the difficulty of dealing with the
chaplaincies from a distance. He increasingly fell out of sympathy
with the direction of the Church of England, and regarded the
diocese as a place of safety where we got on with the real work of
the Church. He always emphasised that the work of the diocese was
to support those English-speaking Anglicans and others in each
place, and that, as guests of our host country, and of its Church,
we were not there to proselytise, but to work in collaboration.
In 1992, he launched a programme celebrating 150 years since the
establishment of the diocese of Gibraltar by Letters Patent.
Fortunately, this, which included a great service in Westminster
Abbey at which the Archbishop of Canterbury preached, had come to
an end by November 1992, when the General Synod approved the
ordination of women to the priesthood. For John, this was the end
of what he called "classical Anglicanism", which was to be a bridge
between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox, and with the Reformed
and Protestant Churches.
It was also at this time that he suffered a serious car accident
on the road between Barcelona and Andorra in which he was badly
injured. He retired in the summer of 1993 to Carlisle, where he had
begun his ministry. In 1991, he had been appointed CMG in
recognition of his services to international relations.
As a retiring present, the Intercontinental Church Society gave
him two lambs, one called Fulham, and the other Gibraltar. This
might have been a problem, but in fact they were able to run with
the Bishop of Carlisle's flock at Rose Castle.