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Obituary: Canon Colin Craston

02 March 2018

Canon Christopher Hall writes:

CANON Richard Colin Craston was born in Preston on the eve of 1923. He was Vicar of St Paul’s, Bolton, for 38 years, and died on the feast of the Conversion of St Paul, 25 January 2018, at home in Horwich — ever a Preston North End supporter.

He had preached the gospel for 79 years, beginning in his father’s Mission Hall. In By Word and Deed, a resource booklet that promoted the five strands of Anglican mission during the Decade of Evangelism, he wrote that other opportunities for service in diocesan, national, and Anglican Communion structures had come along, but he remained a local minister of word and sacra­ment and a pastor attentive to the life situations of people.

A churchwarden says that, in photographic terms, Colin could be said to have looked through both wide-angle and tele­photo lenses. The wide-angle oppor­tunities included being Area Dean of Bolton for 20 years; a member of the General Synod for 25 years and the Standing Committee for 20 years; C of E clerical member of the Anglican Consultative Council for 15 years, and its vice-chair and then chair from 1990 to 1996; and a member of the Crown Appointments Commission for ten years. With the telephoto lens, he looked far back into the origins of salvation history recorded in scripture, besides looking to the needs of the Church into the future.

Adding a macro lens, in 1998 Colin published Debtor To Grace, his apologia pro vita sua, which he wrote by hand and which was typed by his devoted wife, Brenda, who survives him. In its 239 pages, his close attention to detail explores the issues that preoccupied the national Church and Anglican Communion in both of which he a played pivotal part. Reviewing it in this paper, Provost David Edwards said that the chapter on the General Synod 1970-95 ought to be studied by all its members present and future.

Colin knew he was saved by grace. Spiritually, this was by the “at-one-ment” sealed, he affirmed, by the Holy Trinity at Calvary. Physically, this took place in 1943. He was on leave when his ship HMS Eclipse was sunk. Fifty years later, his surgeon agreed that it was the sacrament’s healing power that removed a life-threatening abscess. Such deliverance freed him to take on church-changing posts.

He opened up Evangelical interpretation of scrip­ture from the straitjacket of verbal inerrancy; he resurrected Trinity College, Bristol, from the internal struggles which would have killed two colleges there; and he brought together the rival missionary societies into Partnership in World Mission.

Colin was deeply involved locally in Billy Graham’s Crusades, which turned the tide for Evangelicals in the Church of England. Yet, in spite of five months’ preparation in 1961, and every house visited in his working-class parish, he was not aware of any new commitment to Christ. He realised that in such sub-cultures “fishers of men” needed to use nets, not lines, to land a com­munity.

Disagreeing in charity with his conservative Evangelical brethren, he supported the ordination of women. In 1975, when the Synod had agreed the principle, he argued that deeds should implement words without procrastination.

Privately, he urged that the words “and the episcopate” should be deleted from the 1978 motion to begin legislation; evading the “headship” objection then might have saved years of prevarication.

Colin was the courier importing the badges that Joyce Bennett had had made appropriately in Hong Kong for the Movement for the Ordination of Women. As vice-chair of the Li Tim-Oi Foundation, he brought his invaluable experience administering the Lambeth Personal Emergency Fund. In his 93rd year, he travelled to St Martin-in-the-Fields to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Li Tim-Oi’s priesting.

Colin wrestled with the challenges raised by the undeniable existence of homosexuality. Present as an observer at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, he protested in letters to this paper eight years later that Resolution 1.10 did not settle the issue for the Anglican Communion. Hun­dreds of bishops ignored the state­ment that had been agreed in ten days of unhurried debate by a repre­sentative section of the Conference. Resolution 1.10 acknowledged the need for continued study — which did not happen.

Colin stipulated that there should be no eulogy at his funeral. There will be no further memorial service. Instead, a much fuller appreciation of the debt owed to him by the Anglican Church can be uncovered in copies of Debtor to Grace, deeply discounted online.

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