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Oswald Clark, veteran synodsman, dies, aged 99

06 January 2017


On his feet: Oswald Clark, in characteristic attire during his latter years as the most prominent Anglo-Catholic layman on the General Synod

On his feet: Oswald Clark, in characteristic attire during his latter years as the most prominent Anglo-Catholic layman on the General Synod

Dr Brian Hanson writes:

OSWALD CLARK, a former Chairman of the House of Laity of the General Synod, has died in his 100th year.

Oswald William Hugh Clark was born on 26 November 1917, the son of the Revd Hugh Clark and Mabel Clark. He married Diana Hine in 1966; they have one daughter. He was educated at Rutlish School, Merton, and London University (BA, BD Hons.). In later life, he was invited to be in the first batch of students to study canon law at the University of Wales under Professor Norman Doe. He graduated LLM in 1994, when he was 77.

After university, he joined the London County Council and worked for the authority and its successor body, the Greater London Council, from 1937 until 1979, apart from his war service. He retired with the rank of Assistant Director General.

At the start of the Second World War, Clark enlisted with the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, and served as part of the Eighth Army in the Middle East and North-Western Europe. His was the last intake to be trained to make a cavalry charge on horseback, but most of the war he was to be in tanks, leaving with the rank of Major. He sustained leg injuries while on active service which were to trouble him for the rest of his life.

In 1948, Clark was elected to the House of Laity of the Church Assembly (later the General Synod) for Southwark diocese, until he retired in 1990. He held many offices, including chairmanship of the Standing Orders Committee from 1950 to 1990. He was a Church Commissioner for 30 years, serving for half that time on the Board of Governors. He was elected Vice-chairman of the House of Laity in 1970, becoming Chairman in 1979, until he lost office to David McClean in 1985. He was appointed CBE in 1978 for services to the Church of England.

In his synodical career, Clark was recognised as a forceful speaker who didn’t pull his punches. He was articulate and well informed, always courteous, with a wicked sense of humour. He was brought up as a Prayer Book Catholic, being of the generation that thought of the Roman Catholic Church as “the Italian Mission down the road”. He remained a staunch supporter of the Book of Common Prayer, and never understood why some Anglo-Catholics wanted to use the Roman Missal.

In the Synod, he opposed the Anglican-Methodist Reunion Scheme supported by Archbishop Michael Ramsey. He saw the proposal concerning the conferring of Holy Orders on Methodist ministers as a fudge; his view prevailed in the Synod, and the Scheme was defeated. He kept a keen eye on liturgical revision, but lost battles for the retention of the phrase “I believe” in the Creed and for all services to have the Our Father only in traditional language.

His opposition to women’s ordination was on the ground that the Church of England did not have authority in scripture and tradition to make such a change, even though it had power from Parliament to do so. His voice was to be heard in every major debate on the subject throughout the 1980s. Always a man of principle, however, he took the decision not to seek re-election to the Synod in 1990 (having reached the age of 70) on the basis that the clergy had to retire at that age.

Two years later, the final vote on women’s ordination was narrowly carried in the House of Laity by 169 votes to 82; it needed only two laity to change sides for the two-thirds majority to have been lost. It was said by members of the Catholic Group that if Clark had still been a member of the Synod, his oratory might have led to a different result. When he retired from the Synod, he was given a standing ovation, after Archbishop Runcie’s words of thanks.

Clark worshipped at St Saviour’s, Raynes Park, and at St Andrew by the Wardrobe in the City of London, and was parish clerk and churchwarden at St Andrew’s for many years. He was a licensed Reader for 45 years, and elected Master of the Parish Clerks Company in 1997-98. The City of London and its history was a great passion of his, and, for his work as a City guide, he was made a Life Fellow of the Guild of Guide Lecturers in 1982. In his later years, from time to time a forthright letter from his pen would appear in the Church Times; although physically frail, he kept his mental faculties to the end.

The Catholic cause and its place in the Church of England owe a great deal to Clark’s tenacity, wisdom, and political acumen. May he rest in peace.

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