The Rt Revd Mark Santer writes:
THE Rt Revd Michael Humphrey Dickens Whinney, who died on 3 February, aged 86, was a much-loved friend and pastor. He came from a professional background; indeed, as a young man, he spent two years in accountancy. He treasured his ancestry as a great-great-grandson of Charles Dickens, and as such was a stalwart participant in Dickens family gatherings.
Typically, for his class and generation, he was sent to boarding schools from an early age, and learned to survive, at whatever personal cost. In due course he attended Charterhouse, and became captain of the school’s football team. With his background, his good looks, and his physical prowess, he was a natural candidate for the well-known “bash camps” at Iwerne. He became a committed Evangelical Christian, and, in due course, recognised a call to ordination. During his National Service, he was commissioned in the Royal Horse Artillery.
After reading history at Pembroke College, Cambridge, Michael trained for ordination at Ridley Hall. In 1957, he was ordained to a curacy at Rainham in Essex, and, in 1958, married Veronica Webster, with whom he shared his life for the next 58 years.
In 1960, he moved to Southwark diocese, in which he ministered for the next 22 years, first as Head of the Cambridge University Mission, and then as Vicar of St James’s, Bermondsey. This was one of the happiest and most fulfilling periods of his whole ministry. His heart was in the inner city with both young and old, but, above all, with the young people in his youth clubs. He established a football team, and used to take them on walking holidays in north Wales. He remained in touch with some of them for the rest of his life.
In 1973, Bishop Mervyn Stockwood, who had a gift for assembling a team of colleagues of varied
gifts and backgrounds, appointed Michael as Archdeacon of Southwark. In this post, he revealed not only his administrative competence, but also an exemplary gift for the care of clergy and their families, as well as a capacity for making contacts with civic authorities and other agencies. With his extensive inner-city experience, it was no surprise when Hugh Montefiore, then Bishop of Birmingham, invited Michael to be Bishop of Aston.
Only three years later, he was appointed Bishop of Southwell. This was less of a success. Michael was an urban man, and he and Veronica were uncomfortable in the goldfish bowl of life in a small cathedral city. Also, and importantly, his strengths turned out to be those of a member of a team rather than of someone who has to carry final responsibility. Nobody was better as a parish priest, an archdeacon, or an assistant bishop, but he was burdened by the conflicts and decisions that inescapably confront a diocesan. His health broke down (indeed, he suffered from problems with his back for the rest of his life). He resigned, and, in 1988, he and Veronica moved back to Birmingham.
After a period of recuperation, Michael accepted appointment as Assistant Bishop of Birmingham. Until the appointment of a new Bishop of Aston in 1992, he in effect functioned as suffragan bishop. In this capacity, he was trusted and appreciated by all, as a wise and loyal colleague, and as an understanding and sympathetic pastor. From 1992 until his retirement in 1996, he was a Residentiary Canon of Birmingham Cathedral, with responsibility for mission in the diocese.
Thereafter, Michael continued to give valued assistance in the diocese. He also continued and developed his work as a Myers-Briggs practitioner. His expertise in this approach to human personality, and inter-personal relationships, enabled clergy and others to gain greater self-understanding and insight, and so to enrich their work.
A high point for Michael’s ministry in retirement was his year (2005-06) as Archbishop’s Commissary for the diocese of Birmingham, between the departure of Bishop Sentamu for York, and the arrival of Bishop David Urquhart. During this year, Michael was able to care for the diocese and it clergy without the burden of the national duties and committees that continually distract diocesan bishops from their primary tasks. The fact that he was already known and trusted in the diocese was also a great help. In their turn, clergy and their families felt themselves known and understood. They appreciated his warmth, his care, his support, and his hospitality.
Michael was helped in all of this by the breadth of his sympathies. He never lost touch with his Evangelical roots, and maintained contacts and friendships with Evangelicals outside the bounds of the Church of England. At the same time, he valued clergy and people of all traditions in the Church. In their turn, they valued him for his care, his sympathetic listening, and his practical wisdom.
Michael flourished best when he was appreciated. Like many apparently strong and confident people, he had internal vulnerabilities, of which he was acutely aware. But those to whom he ministered found only encouragement, wisdom, and understanding.
Veronica survives him, together with his three children, Tim, Kathryn, and David. He was proud of them all.