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The Rt Revd John William Salt OGS

17 February 2017

Bishop, dean, archdeacon, and parish priest: the Rt Revd John Salt

Bishop, dean, archdeacon, and parish priest: the Rt Revd John Salt

The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS writes:

BORN in 1941, John Salt, who died on 7 February, aged 75, was trained for the priesthood by the Society of the Sacred Mission at Kelham. In­­spired by the call to sacred mission and after serving his title, John offered himself to USPG and spent the next 41 years in active ministry overseas. For most of that time, he served in missions and parishes, although among his exotic-sounding appointments he was Archdeacon of Mafeking, Dean of Zululand, Pro­vincial of the Southern African Province of the Oratory of the Good Shepherd (OGS), and Bishop of St Helena.

John was a larger-than-life char­acter and a man of warmth and fun, joy and entertainment. He had a raconteur’s gift of anecdote and a collection of stories of his life in Africa and on the island of St Helena. He enjoyed offering hos­pitality and was equally at home among the marginalised and poor as among the influential and powerful. At heart, he was always the mis­sionary who enjoyed proclaiming the gospel and could do so equally well in the pulpit or the pub.

His first posting was to the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho, where he had to visit the people on horseback and also ministered as a school chaplain and on the cathed­ral staff. After seven years in Les­otho, he moved to South Africa, where he was to spend the next 22 years ministering as mission priest, archdeacon, and dean. He served during some of the dark days of apartheid, which helped to develop his deep passion for justice. He had various brushes with the police and authorities, while frequently risking arrest by breaking the laws that re­­­stricted mixed-race meetings.

As Dean of Zululand, John was instrumental in setting up schools, health care, and a safe refuge for women who had suffered physical abuse. He encouraged vocations to the priesthood and felt at home in Africa with its colourful and joyful worship, packed churches, and some­­what relaxed approach to life. John would never have made an archdeacon, dean, or bishop else­where: his lack of organisation and failure to answer letters was leg­end­ary, but his pastoral care and evangelistic zeal more than made up for his shortcomings.

It was while he was in South Africa that he met two Oratorians, Bishop (later Archbishop) Robert Selby Taylor and Fr (later Bishop) John Ruston, and joined the Oratory of the Good Shepherd. His training at Kelham had established a life cen­tred in prayer and mission, and the Oratory’s emphasis on study and spiritual discipline combined to give John a firm foundation for his life and ministry.

During the time that he served as Provincial of the Ora­tory in Southern Africa, he en­­couraged and sustained vocations from among the Zulus. He also served for nine years as Superior.

In 1999, John was appointed as Bishop of St Helena (part of the Province of Southern Africa), and, where as Bishop of the smallest and remotest Anglican diocese, he was also the Dean and a parish priest; he campaigned for the restoration of UK passports for the Saints, as the islanders are called.

At the age of 70, John retired to live at Walsingham so that he could be part of a worshipping commun­ity and be available to assist, par­ticularly with hearing confessions and spiritual direction. People dis­covered that beneath the extrovert exterior was a man of deep humility, compassion, and prayer.

There will be those in Africa who knew John as “Baba”; the St Helenians who knew him as the Lord Bishop; the members of the Oratory who knew him as their brother, but for all he was a friend, a missionary and a faithful priest.

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