The Archdeacon of St Albans writes:
THE Rt Revd John Taylor, who died on 1 June, aged 87, served with distinction in a variety of ministries within the Church. Common to them all was his calling to be both teacher and pastor.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, as a young boy he moved with his family to Watford, attending Watford Boys’ Grammar School, and becoming a member of a Crusader group. Aged 17, John made a conscious decision to give his life to Jesus Christ, and to serve wherever his Lord directed.
Clearly exhibiting a keen and sharp mind, he went up to Christ’s College, Cambridge, where began a lifelong love of the study of Hebrew, enlivened by a research year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The award of a double First caused no surprise. Had he wished, John could have chosen the life of a university scholar and don, and this would have brought a fulfilment in his calling to teach.
John knew, however, that an equal insistent calling was to be a pastor, ministering the love of God and leading people to an active faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Ordained in 1956, John served a curacy at St Lawrence’s, Morden, and then as Vicar of Henham, and of Elsenham in Essex. From these earliest days, biblical exposition and evangelism were the hallmark of his ministry. Then followed a time on the staff of Oak Hill Theological College, teaching mainly Old Testament, during which time he wrote a commentary on Ezekiel. This commentary bore the imprint of its author, at one and the same time theologically rigorous and very accessible.
In 1972, John was invited by Bishop John Trillo to return to the diocese of Chelmsford, to be Vicar of the Evangelical parish of All Saints’, Woodford Wells, and Diocesan Director of Ordinands. Three years later he was appointed Archdeacon of West Ham, then one of the largest and most diverse archdeaconries in the Church of England.
Leaving parochial ministry was a wrench, but being assured of the pastoral opportunities of archidiaconal ministry, John took up the challenge with enthusiasm and commitment. He quickly became held in great affection and respect, particularly by the clergy and lay ministers in the archdeaconry. Then, early in 1980, John received a letter from Downing Street, which caused him the utmost soul-searching. Would he be prepared to accept the nomination as Bishop of St Albans, in succession to Robert Runcie, who had recently been translated to Canterbury? The diocese of St Albans had a long tradition of somewhat polished Liberal Catholicism, and John wondered how an Evangelical would be received. After much prayer and consideration, he concluded that this was God’s calling, and the only faithful response was obedience, fortified by trust in the One who calls.
Thus began 15 deeply happy years, when the people of St Albans diocese, following the pattern of previous places, came to have enormous respect and affection for their Bishop. They recognised in John a formidable scholar, who wore his learning lightly, and a pastor of warmth and grace. They recognised, too, a man who was not constrained by the shibboleths of a particular theological tribe.
Always holding to the truths enshrined in scripture, John’s thought developed. In particular, he came to believe that God’s calling of people to be deacons, priests, and bishops was open to all baptised Christians, both male and female, and he was proud to be one of the first diocesan bishops to ordain women to the priesthood. During this time at St Albans, John was appointed Lord High Almoner, attending the Queen on her Maundy Thursday cathedral visits, for which service he was appointed KCVO.
Other ecclesiastical interests were a love of the Holy Land, which led to being President of the Garden Tomb Association, and also President of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish People (CMJ). There were also links with the Intercontinental Church Society, the Bible Society, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, and Haileybury College. He chaired the Church of England Communications Committee, and exercised a profound witness in debates in the House of Lords.
Retirement from the see of St Albans, in 1995, brought the beginning of life back in Cambridge for 20 years, before a last move to Potten End, in the diocese of St Albans, to be nearer his family.
Perhaps the most significant moment in John’s life was attending a Christian house party at Hildenborough Hall in the mid 1950s; for there John met and fell in love with a fellow guest, Linda Barnes. They married in August 1956, and enjoyed a partnership of the utmost joy and happiness for nearly 60 years. John and Linda were each to the other a rock of tenderness and support. They were ever mindful of the blessings of family life, shared with their three children, their children’s spouses and grandchildren.
John’s humour was legendary; he delighted in the absurdities of life, and his laughter was at times unconstrained and infectious. A well-lived Christian life will display the fruits of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Of the many fruits that John bore, perhaps it was his kindness that was the most vivid. This was not a synthetic kindness, manufactured by the professional carer, but a true and gentle kindness springing from the love of Christ. John knew what it was to be enfolded in Christ’s love, and he knew his task was to try and radiate this to all who came within his orbit. He was generous in his judgements, and determined that the grace of God, shown in Jesus Christ, must prevail. For John, sin was never the last word: rather, for the believer, the truth of Henry Francis Lyte’s famous words “ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven”.
In his last illness, John resided in the Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted. There, peacefully and full of faith, his earthly life came to its close. His funeral service, in a packed St Albans Cathedral, was, like the man himself, full of faith and love and with a fair sprinkling of laughter. His earthly remains lie in the cathedral churchyard, close to Robert Runcie, of whom he was such a worthy successor.
One of the tributes at his funeral concluded by quoting the prologue to St John’s Gospel. “There was a man sent from God whose name was John.” Many people have cause to bless God for sending John Taylor as a teacher and pastor. May he rest gently, and rise gloriously at the day of Christ Jesus.