Obituary: Canon Christopher Henry Briault Byworth

by
06 October 2017

Preacher and teacher: Canon Christopher Byworth

Preacher and teacher: Canon Christopher Byworth

Canon David White, the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan, the Ven. Ricky Panter, the Ven. Timothy Stratford, and others write:

THE Revd Christopher Byworth, who died on 31 August, aged 78, held curacies, lectureships, and incumbencies, in Leyton, Manchester, Oak Hill, Thetford, Durham, Faza­kerley, and St Helens; as his Rector in Manchester, the Revd (now Rt Revd) Michael Baughen, put it, “he got through mountains of work.”

When preaching and teaching in Manchester and 40 years later, he was learned and thoroughly pre­pared; but he ensured that his preaching was effective by making it relevant to his listeners. His concern was that they should hear God’s word and place it in their own circumstances.

As New Testament tutor at Oak Hill, Christopher was known for his handouts. Every topic on the syl­la­bus involved a weighty 20- to 30-page handout, which he summarised in a mere three or four pages. It set out the issues, the reasons for, the reasons against, other considerations, and then pointed towards possible conclusions and their consequences. Each student left college armed with that considerable resource.

With enormous application, Christopher worked up a simple evangelistic drama, adapted from a book by Stuart Jackman, a fictional television reporting of the Easter events. He was scrupulous in ob­­taining all the copyright permis­sions. With a little group of friends, he presented The Davidson Affair in churches and schools around the country; it was a framework for the discussion of faith. This he did along­side teaching and writing ex­­perimental liturgies.

Soon after ordination, Christo­pher was asked to join the Group for Renewal Of Worship (GROW), under its original title of Latimer House Liturgy Group. In 1968, he and Trevor Lloyd produced the first — illegal and experimental, and radical — modern English euchar­istic liturgy, a eucharist for the ’70s.

When, in 1972, the group launched into publishing Grove Booklets every month, Christopher provided two titles in that first year; they worked out the implications of the Ely report of 1971, and so were pioneering within the life of the Church of England. The first com­mended a non-baptismal thanks­giving for the birth of a child (and added a text for a pastoral rite), and the second proposed to remove admission to communion from con­firmation, and thus open it to younger children who were bap­tised.

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Christopher continued with GROW until well past 2000: his last contribution was a Grove booklet of liturgical material for the celeb­ration of the millennium. He was principled, but creative, and firm in his own convictions, but also took advice from the Group. He is warmly remembered by fellow mem­­bers, who owe much to his enthusiastic and yet highly responsible approach to writing liturgy for pas­toral purposes.

As a New Testament scholar, Chris­­topher was an effective champion of wo­­men’s ministry, espe­cially at Cran­mer Hall, and in Liverpool diocese. He fully supported the vocation of his wife Ruth, and rejoiced when Frances Briscoe, with whom he worked closely, became the first female area dean and then cathedral canon.

He was influential in the develop­ment of ordained local ministry, as well as lay ministry, through the GUML (Group for Urban Ministry and Leadership), and he chaired, for several years, the Liverpool Dio­cesan Accredited Lay Ministry Committee.

At St Helens, he was a humble, caring, affirming, and encouraging colleague. He drew his curate into the world of liturgical study, and opened up horizons of learning, earning deep gratitude. When he was appointed Priest-in-Charge (later Team Rector) in the St Helens Team Ministry, after the sudden death of his predecessor, a faction in the church sought to oppose him because he had married after divorce. But his gentle personality and deep intelligence quickly won the vast majority around.

From his father, Christopher in­­herited his love for the beautiful things of life. His mother had French blood, and passion to go with it. She was also a teacher; Christopher certainly also inherited much from her. That love of God moved Christopher from a privil­eged home to life-long service.

Yet, even in service, he found moments for his other passions. Wagner was his enduring obsession. He was thrilled when he and Ruth were able to attend the full Ring Cycle at Bayreuth. He was also, for the record, an enthusiastic Spurs supporter.

Parkinson’s disease was the main cause of his death, but it inhibited his active ministry only for the last year of his life, after the celebration on 25 September 2016, of the Golden Jubilee of his ordination to the priesthood.

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