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Obituary: THE RT REVD JOHN RICHARD SATTERTHWAITE

by
06 June 2014

keystone

"Unusual episcopal friendliness": the late Bishop John Satterthwaite in 1980

"Unusual episcopal friendliness": the late Bishop John Satterthwaite in 1980

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 became apparent.

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 deanery.

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 possessed.

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 Synod.

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 England.

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 suffragan bishop.

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.

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