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The Rt Revd Michael Francis Perham

28 April 2017

Diocese of Gloucester

Respected and valued: the Rt Revd Michael Perham

Respected and valued: the Rt Revd Michael Perham

The Rt Revd Dr David Stancliffe writes:
FOR the wider Church, Michael Perham’s name is — and will con­tinue to be — synonymous with liturgy. Liturgy Pastoral and Parochial is the title of a valued book of 1984, and Michael never lost sight of the goal of making worship in the enor­mous diversity of the C of E better.

Michael died on 17 April, aged 69. He was ordained deacon in 1976, after studies at Keble College, Ox­­ford, and Cuddesdon, and served a five-year curacy in Addington. Be­­com­­ing secretary to the Doctrine Com­­mis­sion, he learnt the import­ance of recording complex theo­logical deci­sions meticulously, and its chair­man, Bishop John Taylor, recog­nised his gifts of clear-headed, strat­egic think­ing and appointed Michael as his chaplain in 1981.

Travelling around the diocese of Winchester in the early 1980s, he was able to observe worship of all kinds, and see just where the clergy needed most help. This was to be the seedbed of that fertile stream of books, de­signed to help clergy and lay people understand and put into practice worship that was theo­log­ically co­­herent and dignified, yet unfussy.

Michael had a facility for writing accessibly, and was one of those members of the Liturgical Commis­sion, on which he served for more than 15 years, who could craft texts. He was much more than a fluent word­­smith — although Lent, Holy Week and Easter, Enriching the Christian Year, and collects, patterns of intercession and Eucharistic Prayers show his skills in that. In the Com­mission’s meetings he was a skilled broker, able to interpret the deeply held theo­logical differences of mem­bers, and knowing instinctively how to respond to the gut reactions that emerged on the floor of the General Synod and discern a way forward.

As parish priest in Oakdale, the largest parish in the diocese of Salis­bury, and then as Canon Pre­centor at Norwich and subsequently Provost of Derby, while he would have recog­nised himself as a pastoral liturgist,
he became an “oiler of wheels” in decision-making processes, a clear and strategic thinker, and an efficient chairman of meetings. Ca­­thedrals are collegiate settings, and Michael de­­veloped those skills of leadership that involve persuading by teaching and example rather than coercion.

All the while, his family was grow­ing up. His wife, Alison, a specialist in palliative medicine, continued her work in Staffordshire for part of the week, and their four daughters — remembered from Nor­wich days for their splendid hats in church — were forging inde­pendent lives.

Michael was not a bragging father, but his family was his great joy. He was justifiably proud of his four daughters and full of admiration for the women they had become. He was delighted that they had each found someone to share her life with.

When he arrived at Gloucester, Michael was well prepared for the office of a bishop. He was at home in his cathedral, going to evensong when­­ever he could, but never, as a former dean, interfering in its run­­ning. He was an effortless admin­istrator, and the reforms he instituted felt commonsensical, so were readily accepted. He led study days for the clergy — or persuaded others to do so — and turned his mind to matters other than liturgy, like reconciliation.

Michael would not have labelled himself primarily a pastor, but he discovered that he was enormously respected and valued; the building-up of the chrism eucharist had a profound effect on the diocese’s clergy, who enjoyed coming to­­gether across the divides of tradition to gather around their bishop. With individuals, he had the ability to un­­earth and enjoy the positive at­­tributes of a person, and never succumbed to the cynicism that besets institutions; he said that being a bishop included more pastoral work than any of his previous posts — and he enjoyed it.

But there was life beyond the local church. He was Pro-Chancellor and Vice-Chair of the Council of the Uni­versity of Gloucestershire, and patron of numerous charities in the diocese; he maintained posts in the national Church, chairing the govern­ing body of Ripon College, Cuddes­don, and providing oversight to the Society of St Francis as their Bishop Protector. At the heart of his ministry was a rich and disciplined life of prayer.

At Gloucester, he was able to relinquish a good deal of the Syn­odical activity that had consumed much of his attention earlier and where his clarity of expression and fair-mindedness made him a sought-after chair for difficult assignments. Being a bishop came naturally, and it was a great pity that one of the events that overshadowed his final years blighted the end of his time there.

The first was an accusation of impropriety, stemming from his years as a curate. Within a few weeks, the police had decided that there was no case to answer. But the Church of England needed to follow its own pro­cedures, and after these was pleased to welcome Michael back fully into ministry. So, in June 2015, more than 1000 people joined him as he celeb­rated a final eucharist in Gloucester Cathedral, to give thanks for his ministry as Bishop of Gloucester.

The second was the diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour. To both of these blows, Michael responded with characteristic serenity. While his family and friends felt the unfairness sharply, Michael busied himself with his prayers; wrote another book; chaired the Board of Governors at Ply­­mouth Marjon University, ap­­point­­­­ing a new Vice Chancellor; officiated at the Candlemas marriage of his daughter; and signed up to teach a Lent course for the diocese of Salisbury.

In the event, he died on Easter Monday, having journeyed with his family though Holy Week. His funeral in Gloucester Cathedral will be a fitting celebration of the triumph of the Easter faith, which was the heart of his life and witness.

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