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Obituary: THE RT REVD MICHAEL HARE DUKE

by
02 January 2015

Bringing about change: the Rt Revd Michael Hare Duke

Bringing about change: the Rt Revd Michael Hare Duke

The Very Revd Gerald Stranraer-Mull writes:

THE Rt Revd Michael Geoffrey Hare Duke, who died on 15 December, aged 89, was Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane in the Scottish Episcopal Church for 25 years. He was born in Calcutta, where his father was a civil engineer with the East India Railway, and lived in India for the first six years of his life.

He was educated at Bradfield College, and Trinity College, Oxford. He served as an officer in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve from 1944 to 1946, and trained for ordination at Westcott House, Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in 1952, and priest a year later.

He was curate of St John's Wood Chapel (formerly St Stephen's, Marylebone) from 1952 to 1956, and Vicar of St Mark's, Bury, in Lancashire, from 1956 to 1962. He served as Pastoral Director of the Clinical Theology Association in Nottingham from 1962 to 1964, and Vicar of St Paul's, Daybrook, and Pastoral Consultant to the Clinical Theology Association from 1964, until elected as Bishop in 1969.

In that election, he was a compromise candidate, when the diocesan electors could not decide between the Anglo-Catholic Graham Leonard (a future diocesan Bishop successively of Truro and London) and Thurstan Irvine, Dean of the diocese of St Andrews, and very much rooted in its Scottish heartland.

Different descriptions of the new bishop reflect the range of perceptions of the man who had come to serve Perthshire and Fife: "a breath of fresh air", "the wind of change", "a hurricane". Eventually, of course, few doubted the commitment of this very proper Englishman to the people of the diocese, a commitment that continued in retirement, when he remained in Perth, still contributing to church and national life.

The process of acceptance for this liberal, modernist bishop was a long one, however. The younger clergy generally welcomed him from the beginning, while many of the older, or more Anglo-Catholic, priests and lay people remained suspicious. People either admired or were in resentful awe of his energy, which remained undiminished during his 25 years as diocesan bishop, and indeed beyond.

In the pre-email days of his early episcopate, he was known as "the fastest Fax in the West". When the newer technology arrived, he embraced it with enthusiasm, as a way of keeping in easiest touch with people across the world, and especially with the Brazilian companion diocese of St Andrews.

Hare Duke was a radical thinker, looking for new solutions to old problems, and willing to go outside the box. Peace and justice issues were always close to his heart, including his early stand against nuclear weapons. This, as with much else, was welcomed by some and not by others. One of his inspired moves was to bring Celia Matthews, his licensed parish worker at Daybrook, to Scotland where - later ordained deacon and priest - she served as Diocesan Missioner of St Andrews from 1970 until 1995.

But, for much of his episcopate, there was a lurking shadow of lack of trust in some quarters. This became apparent at the highest level in 1990, when Edward Luscombe resigned as Primus, shortly before his retire-ment as Bishop of Brechin. Bishop Michael, as the senior bishop, might have been expected to be elected (and was predicted to be so by Scotland's Herald newspaper); but he was not. The electorate for Primus is both small and sophisticated - just the seven diocesan bishops of the Scottish Episcopal Church - and there was a successful move among them to prevent his accession, a fact revealed in John Peart-Binns's biography of Edward Luscombe.

Hare Duke continued faithfully as Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane for another four years, before retiring in 1994. In the same year, he received an honorary doctorate of divinity from the University of St Andrews.

No shadow, though, can detract from the remarkable effect of his 25 years as a diocesan bishop. He played a key part in bringing about significant changes in the Scottish Episcopal Church, with the introduction of non-stipendiary ministry, the move from an enormous Representative Church Council to a much smaller General Synod, the shaping of modern eucharistic liturgies, and the ordination of women as deacons and priests.

Although the credit clearly does not belong with him alone, it is certainly true that, by the end of his 25 years in office, the Scottish Episcopal Church had moved a very long way indeed, and he had encouraged it at every step of the journey. A former church member in the diocese said of him: "He was always forward thinking, and was at the forefront of bringing the diocese and the Episcopal Church into the modern age, and equipping it for the 21st century."

In 1949, he married Grace Lydia Frances Dodd, known to everyone as Baa. It was the beginning of a 63- year long partnership, which continued until her death in 2012. Baa played a key part in his ministry, enabling their home to be a welcoming, open house to all, as well as a family base for their son and three daughters.

Bishop Michael was a member of the Third Order of St Francis, and was also involved in a long association with the Institute of Human Relations in Edinburgh. Counselling was always part of his ministry, and, the present Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney says, "Where the role of the counsellor and that of the bishop came into conflict, Michael Hare Duke's tendency veered towards the former."

In his retirement, he chaired the Scottish Association of Mental Health, Age Concern Scotland, and the RSVP National Forum on Older Volunteering, among other organisations. Throughout his life, he was a writer, journalist, and poet, with a prolific output of books, articles, poems, and hymns. He was for many years a frequent contributor to the Church Times.

Bishop Michael died in Perth, and his funeral was in St Ninian's Cathedral there on 23 December. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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