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Farewells to First Church Estates Commissioner and Bishop of London

24 February 2017

Geoff Crawford/Church Times

“Worth and lurid”: The First Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Andreas Whittam Smith

“Worth and lurid”: The First Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Andreas Whittam Smith

PAYING tribute to the First Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Andreas Whittam Smith, who is retiring in June after 15 years in office, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, said that he was one of the sons and daughters of the clergy who had made a big impact on the life of the nation. As a graduate of Keble College, Oxford, he had been “destined for greatness; before accountancy beckoned”, he joked.

Sir Andreas understood the “value of sheer hard work” and understood that “cleverness was not the same as intelligence.” He was a “restless risk-taker”, as evidenced by his becoming founding editor of The Independent, and his work with the Church Commissioners.

When he had stepped down from full-time work in the 1990s, he had undertaken “an unlikely collection of new responsibilities”, including “the worthy”, such as chairmanship of the Winston Churchill Archive Trust, and “the lurid”, his chairmanship of the British Board of Film Classification. This combination of worthy and lurid had been “not a bad preparation for the life of the General Synod”, the Archbishop said.

In his 15 years at the Church Commissioners, Sir Andreas had improved its governance and placed a greater emphasis on its investment responsibilities. A former Bishop of St Albans had described him at a House of Bishops’ meeting as “brutality with a smirk”.

He had begun his work with the Church Commissioners when they had a £3.5-billion investment pot. That now stood at approaching £8 billion, after 15 years in which it had spent £3 billion on the mission and ministry of the Church of England.

Responding, Sir Andreas said that he was “overwhelmed” by the Archbishop’s tribute and by the standing ovation from Synod members that followed it. He was leaving the post of First Commissioner, but was “extremely optimistic of the future of the Church of England”.

Provisional results for July suggested that the Church Commissioners’ investments had grown by 16 per cent; and they would have paid out £220 million “to a wide variety of beneficiaries”.

His optimism for the future of the Church stemmed from a combination of its capacities for innovation, funding, research, training, and “facing up to reality”, he said. “That is what Reform and Renewal does. We have a full hand, and that is why I am enthusiastic about the Church. I say farewell happy in my belief that the future is good.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury paid farewell tribute to the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, who was in the gallery, with his wife, Caroline, on Thursday morning. The task of honouring Bishop Chartres was “hazardous in the extreme”, the Archbishop said, since everyone had a story, an anecdote of his “extraordinary and marvellous” ministry, a “rock-like staying the same, while allowing people to grow and flourish and change”.

Bishop Chartres had always proved to be the “best-informed person in the room” on the origins of tradition, or at least, Archbishop Welby joked, “gave the impression of being informed”. His subtle undertone often conveyed what he really thought, and an enquiring mind had led him to know the history of the Church, and of those he had engaged with eccumenically. This included his relations with the Orthodox Churches, with whom he had “kept open channels of communication”.

As the Dean of the Chapel Royal, the Bishop had been “hugely appreciated” by the Royal Household, and by whom he had been honoured in with the KCVO.

The Archbishop reflected on the Bishop’s speech in the House of Lords in response to the 9/11 attacks.That speech, the Archbishop said, had been reassuring to a House looking for a way forward, “magnificent in its structure, and more magnificent in its ability to rise above the predictable, and illustrate what a bishop, at his best, can be in the public realm”.

Here was “a Bishop of London who has more people attending his churches that when he began,” the Archbishop said, “a tribute to his evangelistic and engaging style, allowing people to experiment”. He was never self-important, but, rather, confident in his vocation and calling, and found encouragement in HTB and Alpha. “His hope and energy and articulated confidence in the good news in Christ.”

The Archbishop said that he would “spare the blushes” of the Synod at what Bishop Chartres thought of that institution; but questions from the chamber “never seemed to trouble him”, not least one member who had asked whether the Synod would congratulate the Bishop on his “award-winning” facial hair, to which the BIshop had said that he was “very grateful indeed for the serious question” and had given a short history of the apostolic tradition of the beard.

“It has been an indefatigable high-profile ministry, through which he has been relied on to present the gospel and speak to the nation,” the Archbishop continued, before paying tribute to Caroline, who “has a career in her own right”, and the welcome and hospitality that she had provided at the Old Deanery .

The Archbishop spoke of the Bishop’s “cadences of oratory”, his “inventive, imaginative, and able chairing” of the Commissioners, his support of Renewal and Reform, and for his “wise advice, speaking in friendship”, but also with honesty. “We now pray that the preacher will still be heard frequently,” he finished. “We can only thank you and your whole family deeply and sincerely for your service and ministry.” Synod members stood to applaud.

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