Canon David Williams writes:
THE Rt Revd Michael Gear, who died on 26 January, aged 83, was proud, as Bishop of Doncaster, to have been the first bishop in the Province of York to ordain women priests, in 1994. The ordination took place over three days in Sheffield Cathedral. He had always been a champion of ordaining women to the priesthood.
Michael Frederick Gear grew up in New Malden, Surrey, where he was educated at Tiffins School. After military service in Malaya as a national serviceman, he acquired a degree in social studies at St John’s College, Durham, and after studying theology at Cranmer Hall, was ordained in Rochester Cathedral in 1961. His first curacy, at Christ Church, Bexleyheath, with Canon Edmund Roberts, had a profound influence on his ministry. He married Daphne in 1961, and they had two daughters, Susan and Sally.
After a second curacy at St Aldate’s, Oxford, with Canon Keith de Berry, and his first incumbency at St Andrew’s, Clubmoor, Liverpool, Michael became Rector of Avondale, Salisbury (Harare), Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe). While there, he became director of the Samaritans, with which he was long involved.
The Bishop of Harare, Dr Chad Gandiya, whom Michael encouraged into ordination, has written to Daphne. “His legacy lives on in the lives of those he touched, me in particular. Baba (Father) is resting in peace and will rise in glory.”
On return to England in 1976, Michael was pastoralia tutor at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (1976-80), then Vicar and Team Rector in the Macclesfield Team Ministry (1980-88), before becoming Archdeacon of Chester (1988-93), and then Bishop of Doncaster (1993-99).
The then Bishop of Chester, the Rt Revd Michael Baughen, has written of Bishop Michael: “As Team Rector of Macclesfield, he exercised a very effective ministry in town and parish, built a fine team and was loved as preacher, pastor, and carer. It was these traits that led me to appoint him as Archdeacon of Chester, a task in which he blossomed further, and was much appreciated by clergy of all sorts for his care, love, integrity, as well as his preaching. It soon became clear that he had the marks of a potential bishop. I particularly valued his support to me, and my wife greatly valued the support of his dear wife, Daphne. Altogether he was a lovely man of God.”
During the 1990s, Bishop Michael was worldwide chaplain of the Mothers’ Union, chairman of Cranmer Hall Committee, chairman of the Northern Ordination Course, and a member of the Scargill Council, and of the Church Army Board.
Bishop Michael had the gift of a profound simplicity in sharing his faith, and was always genuinely himself, putting others at ease with his warmth, lightness of touch, his humour, and his sense of fun.
In retirement, at a confirmation service in a Kent parish, while he was laying hands on candidates whom he was confirming, one of the candidates, who had returned to his seat, was horrified when his mobile phone started to ring. Bishop Michael instantly diffused the embarrassment by pausing to say to the mortified young man: “It’s OK. Tell him I’ll ring back later.”
He was a great listener and wise counsellor, and many clergy and lay people confided in him. He and Daphne retired to Yalding, Kent, where he was an honorary assistant bishop in Rochester diocese, and licensed to officiate in Canterbury.
His interests included bird watching, golf, cricket, West Ham football club, music, history, and the contemporary politics of Southern Africa. While in Liverpool, Michael played in the Liverpool diocesan cricket team the year they beat Southwark in the Church Times cup final. He was pleased to have bowled out David Sheppard (later to become Bishop of Liverpool), who was then a batsman in the England team.
Bishop Michael is survived by Daphne, his two daughters, and four grandchildren, in whom he delighted.