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The Ven. Timothy John Raphael

27 January 2017

The Ven. John Barton writes:

THE Ven. Timothy Raphael, who died in Cheltenham on 20 Novem­ber, aged 87, exercised a notable ministry as parish priest, cathedral dean, and archdeacon in England and New Zealand. Irritated by ecclesiastical stuffiness, he enjoyed the description “radical spike” and put his own stamp on the churches where he served.

Tim was born in New Zealand in 1929, in a maternity home that was to become an abortion clinic. “I only just made it,” he wrote. His father was of Jewish stock; his mother’s forebears included Wes­leyan missionaries. Tim believed that the prayers of his godmother brought him to ordination.

His secondary education was followed by a spell as a preparatory schoolmaster, when he read lan­guages for an external degree at Wellington University, and plunged into left-wing politics and amateur dramatics. He was not enamoured of theological training in his home country, and so chose England for ordination. The Community of the Resurrection paid his fees at Leeds University and at Mirfield, where he became Senior Student.

He was a curate at St Stephen’s, Rochester Row, Westminster, from 1955 to 1960, with the irrepressible George Reindorp, later Bishop of Guildford, then of Salisbury. Tim wrote: “I had never heard of him until Fr Jonathan Graham CR returned from a preaching engage­ment at St Stephen’s, saying ‘the vicar kept me up all night: he talks more than you do. You should go and be his curate.’”

In 1957, Tim married Anne Shep­herd, a nurse at St Thomas’ Hos­pital, who needed the permis­sion of her Matron. He overcame the objections of his Vicar by appealing to the Bishop, but an occa­sional eye­­brow was raised at Mirfield, which he had left as an Oblate. Anne proved to be the model of a priest’s wife, while vigor­ously main­taining her own personality. Her hospitality was legendary.

In 1960, Tim was appointed Vicar of St Mary, Welling, in the diocese of Southwark. Well suited to the radical and political religion of London’s South Bank, he was among the first tutors on the South­wark Ordination Course, and one of the clergy with whom the Bishop of Woolwich, John Robin­son, spoke of his ideas. “He had slipped a disc and we young clergy would sit at his bedside while he tried out on us chapters of Honest to God.”

To Bishop Mervyn Stockwood’s displeasure, in 1963 Tim was offered, and accepted, the New Zea­land post of Rector of St Michael’s, Christchurch, where he had wor­shipped as a layman. It had always been his intention to return home, but it meant a major upheaval for the family. He modified the church­manship to what he considered “sens­­ible Catholic”, and set about the refurbishment of the building.

Two years later, he was invited to be Dean of the parish-church Cathedral of St Paul, Dunedin. At 35, he was the youngest Dean in the Anglican Communion. He arrived with a reputation of being “very high-church”, but was quickly accepted by the less formal congre­gation. During his ministry, the temporary chancel was reconstructed, and a new organ installed, financed by plays, shows, and mod­ern dance. At the opening service, a cascade of balloons was released.

Having won the university public-speaking prize, and possessing an abiding sense of theatre, he had such a reputation for thoughtful and provocative preaching that the main Otago newspaper sent a reporter, so that the sermon could be reported on the front page the next day. He was a regular broadcaster and a campaigner for church unity. A former parishioner writes: “Life was exciting with Tim.”

In 1973, the Bishop of London persuaded the Raphaels to return to London, and the parish of St John’s Wood. He made himself unpopular with the next Bishop, Gerald Elli­son, not only by remarrying divor­cees, but also for promoting the prac­tice in a letter to The Times. Close relationships were established with both synagogue and mosque — his farewell party was thrown by a Rabbi.

He was Bishop Graham Leon­ard’s surprising nominee to be Archdeacon of Middlesex in 1983. He formed a strong partnership with the Area Bishop of Kensington, Mark Santer, who valued his loyalty and sound judgement. As poacher turned gamekeeper, his radicalism became less apparent.

He knew the parishes, visiting at least one every Sunday, and was the model of a caring pastor — a duty sorely needed after Bishop Santer was appointed to Birmingham in 1987.

Though supportive of innova­tion, he is primarily remembered there as an encourager of the clergy and their families, especially when they were in trouble. He took over from his predecessor the publica­tion of a newsletter. This was a source of information with a back page that always began, “and God said to his wife. . .” He chaired many of the 30 or more committees of which he was a member, including the London Diocesan Board for Schools.

Tim was an avid reader, reaching beyond the mountain-tops for new inspiration to share with others, and always had a poem, or a paragraph, or a joke to offer. He considered theology without prayer to be harsh, cold, and meaningless, but prayer with­out theology he saw as “senti­mental, subjective and ineffective”. Every Holy Week, he read Waiting for Godot.

He retired to Cheltenham in 1996, and hated it at first. Invita­tions to preach soon came, and he was in his element during an inter­regnum at All Saints’, Cheltenham, although he was disappointed with their affiliation to Forward in Faith. He was also used as a trouble-shooter elsewhere in the Church of England.

After a triple by-pass operation, and a stroke that affected his eyesight, dementia began to set in. He spent his final years in a nursing home, visited by the indefatigable Anne, driving her “Ferrari” motor­ised invalid carriage. Though unable to converse, he would join in fluently when friends came to say the Office with him.

Timothy Raphael is survived by Anne and their children, Caroline, Bridget, and Julian, and grandchil­dren, Dorothy, Nino, Raphael, Comfrey, and Rose. A Memorial Service will be held at Dunedin Cathedral on 3 February at 11 a.m., after which his ashes will be buried in the Garden of Remembrance.

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