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Obituary: The Rt Revd John Stevens Waller

by
25 September 2015

J. S. Peart

Spirituality and honesty: the Rt Revd John Waller

Spirituality and honesty: the Rt Revd John Waller

The Very Revd Dr Robert Jeffery writes:

THE Rt Revd John Waller, who died on 3 September, aged 91, epitomises that group of people who served in the Second Word War, and found a vocation to the priesthood to care for people and renew the Church.

Born into a clergy family going back three generations (his father was Provost of Chelmsford from 1949 to 1951), he was educated at St Edward’s School, Oxford, and joined the RNVR in 1942, a time in his life he rarely talked about. From Peterhouse, Cambridge, he moved to Wells Theological College, where his tutors included John Robinson and Kenneth Skelton.

After a two-year curacy in Hillingdon, he moved to the diocese of Bath & Wells, where he both served a second curacy, and, in 1955, pioneered work in the Conventional District of Bourneville. As Rector of Yarlington, he was also Diocesan Youth Officer, when youth work was a key area of growth in the Church. From there, he was recruited to work at the Church of England Youth Council. This was a time when the insights of Group Dynamics became an important expression of his ministry.

In 1967, motivated by a strong sense of justice and mission, he was invited to develop clergy training in youth work for the Church of the Province of South Africa. Eight days before he was to leave, the apartheid government refused him a visa. (He remained committed to South Africa, and was chairman of the Zululand and Swaziland Association for 16 years.)

Stranded, he was rescued by the Bishop of Rochester, David Say, who offered him a pioneering post in initiating the Strood Team Ministry. This was an early project in the development of team ministries, and there was a massive task to be done in encouraging five parishes to blend together as a single parish. He recruited a team of able younger clergy, with whom, and their families, he established deep and effective relationships.

Combining this pioneering ministry with the work of Rural Dean, considerable involvement at both diocesan and ecumenical level, and marriage-guidance work proved so demanding that, in 1973, he moved to the single parish of Harpenden.

In 1979, his old tutor Skelton, having become Bishop of Lichfield, where he was establishing a co-operative team of area bishops and archdeacons, invited John to be Bishop of Stafford. John was a deeply pastoral bishop, at his best caring for individuals, and reconciling situations of tension. He worked creatively with his archdeacon, John Delight, who was a convinced Evangelical; they respected each other. John chaired the Diocesan Board of Ministry, and encouraged new experimental patterns on ministry.

In 1987, he became Assistant Bishop in his old diocese of Bath & Wells, where he served as an incumbent for two further years, until retirement in 1989. He was a member of the Franciscan Third Order, and his spirituality and honesty often meant that he viewed the Church’s mindset with a wry sense of humour. Many clergy and laity, whose friendship he valued, found John to be a supportive and sympathetic colleague.

In 1951, he married Pamela Peregrine, who survives him. They had five children. Susan, who predeceased them, was seriously ill from birth, and Liz was ordained priest in 1994 (thus extending the clerical generation to five). Pamela shared fully in his ministry, and was President of the Lichfield Mothers’ Union. John also shared in hers, by being Central Chaplain of the MU from 1982 to 1988. Deeply supportive of each other, they retired to Salisbury, where they entered fully into parish and cathedral life.

In 2013, they moved to St Barnabas’s College, Lingfield, where he was able to sustain his devotional and pastoral life; but his health deteriorated. His funeral took place there on 15 September, where a large number of family members, friends, and former colleagues gathered to say farewell.

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