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Obituary: The Rt Revd Lord Habgood

15 March 2019


The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Lord Habgood, Archbishop of York, in September 1992

The Most Revd and Rt Hon. Lord Habgood, Archbishop of York, in September 1992

Rupert Shortt writes:

JOHN STAPYLTON HABGOOD, who died on 6 March, aged 91, was the outstanding British Anglican leader of his generation, and perhaps the country’s most distinguished churchman tout court. Renowned for both administrative flair and succinctness in the pulpit or in front of a microphone, he was also a thinker of broad range who began his career lecturing in pharmacology and physiology at the University of Cambridge.

His approach involved the harnessing of genuine intellectual curiosity to firm convictions, leading to what he himself termed “passionate moderation”. The stance was reflected at one level in the weight that he attached to bridge-building at a time of growing stridency in church life. But he was also readier than other recent Primates to engage in the cut and thrust of public debate. If an editor sought a cogent Christian view on a contentious subject, Habgood could be relied on to produce a pithy sound-bite or article at short notice.

Based on diligence and unflagging energy as well as faith, his labours bore abundant fruit. He served on numerous government and church working parties. He made weighty contributions to the World Council of Churches, to ecumenism, and to medical ethics. He was a member of the British Council of Churches (BCC), and took part in the joint Catholic Bishops’ Conference/BCC visit to Pope John Paul II in 1983. A cautious liturgical reformer, he also oversaw the introduction of the Alternative Service Book in 1980. A decade later, he gave a warning that AIDS might decimate the population in parts of Africa. Though rejected by many bishops in Sub-Saharan countries at the time, the forecast nevertheless proved prophetic.

Friends and former colleagues have saluted a generous spirit whose sense of decorum could make him appear aloof, but who performed innumerable acts of kindness away from the public gaze. He had a wry and unmalicious sense of humour.

While his gifts afforded him a rapid ascent of the hierarchy, however, the top post would elude him. Appointed Archbishop of York in 1983 in his mid-fifties, he might have been thought a shoo-in for translation to Canterbury when Robert Runcie announced his retirement seven years later. But Runcie’s time at Lambeth was marked by a rising sense that the Church’s senior leaders were cut from the same liberal-establishment cloth. Though questionable, the perception became embedded in parts of the media through frequent repetition, especially after the Crockford Preface affair of 1987. Suspicion of Habgood was shared by Margaret Thatcher’s appointments secretary, Robin Catford. A thirst for change led to the selection of George Carey’s name over Habgood’s.

IN MANY eyes, the result was an own goal on the Church’s part. Archbishop Carey’s presentational skills were modest by comparison with those of his fellow archbishop. The effects of a perceived misjudgement were, none the less, softened by Habgood’s effective work behind the scenes. When Dr Carey felt unsure about handling the consequences of the General Synod’s 1992 vote to allow the ordination of women priests, for example, it was Habgood who promoted the 1993 Act of Synod recognising the integrity of the dissenting position, thus securing alternative episcopal oversight and an abiding spiritual home for traditionalist Anglo-Catholics unprepared to quit the C of E.

Yet Habgood’s failure to become Archbishop of Canterbury would prove momentous for Anglican affairs in one vital respect. Having changed his mind about the legitimacy of gay relationships, he privately deplored the way in which Dr Carey allowed debate on sexuality to overshadow the Lambeth Conference in 1998. “There are various ways in which an effective chairman can steer an agenda by canny management,” he said when I interviewed him in 2007. His meaning was clear. A débâcle could have been avoided with relative ease.

He also saw how the Conference’s uncompromising Resolution 1.10, condemning sex outside heterosexual marriage, had proved a rod for the back of Dr Rowan Williams after the Archbishop of Wales succeeded Lord Carey in 2002. But blame for the impression that the Church of England had become obsessed with gay clergy was not apportioned to Lord Carey alone. Habgood felt that Lord Williams should have stood up for his progressive instincts more robustly. “Rowan is among the most deeply Christian people I know,” he suggested to me during the same conversation. “But he isn’t worldly wise.”

When Canon Jeffrey John, a priest in a celibate gay relationship, was forced to withdraw his nomination as Bishop of Reading in 2003, “it was the same conservatives who came out of the woodwork as when a campaign was mounted against David Jenkins’s appointment as Bishop of Durham in 1984,” Habgood said.

In Jenkins’s case, controversy hinged on his revisionist interpretation of the Virgin birth and resurrection. But Habgood thought that the same principles were at stake. Liberals are likely to see justice in his remark. But the unconvinced may see it as reflecting the attitudes of a pre-internet era when the conduct of debate, though often tetchy, was less febrile than subsequently. At least one well-placed observer used a sporting analogy to evoke shifting perceptions about church government in the 21st century: “What [in Habgood’s day] had been like a gentlemanly game of tennis that needed no umpire . . . had become more like a scrappy game of football calling out for the restraint of a referee.”

None of this, though, diminished the respect in which the former Archbishop continued to be held. Even commentators usually highly critical of the Church, such as the journalist Matthew Parris, expressed nostalgia for a time when “men of intellect” were ordained in greater numbers, and a speech by Habgood in the House of Lords was awaited with particular interest by MPs and journalists, as well as peers. He largely retreated from the public stage after 1995, formally relinquishing his place in the House of Lords in 2011. His voice was missed by many during his long retirement in Malton, the North Yorkshire market town.

PAThe Archbishop of York, Dr John Habgood, speaks at the opening session of the General Synod, at Church House, on 10 November 1987

HABGOOD’s path would have been hard to predict at the outset. He was born on 23 June 1927, the son of a GP, Arthur Henry Habgood, and his wife, Vera — known as Poppy and renowned for her work with the British Legion. Poppy was a widow when she met her second husband. She brought two children from her first marriage; John also had a full sister, Pamela, two years his senior. The family lived at Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, from where the future Archbishop wrote a letter to the Almighty in 1935:

Dear God

If you feel lonely up in the sky would you like to come down and stay with us, you could sleep in the spier-room [sic], and you could bathe with us, and I think you would enjoy yourself.

Love from John

The family worshipped regularly at their parish church. John’s early induction as an Anglican was consolidated by his schooling: first at Hill Brow in Eastbourne, then at Eton between 1941 and 1945, where he acquired a reputation for studiousness enlivened by an appetite for fun.

But he moved on to King’s College, Cambridge, a convinced atheist. The industry endured — Habgood gained a double First in Natural Sciences — while the unbelief gave way to an embrace of Evangelicalism after a university mission conducted by Donald Barnhouse, an American Presbyterian, in 1946.

That phase, too, led to a further change in outlook, now in the direction of mainstream Anglicanism. Initially attracted by the strength of Barnhouse’s convictions, Habgood later concluded that some conservative Evangelical shibboleths — especially about scriptural inerrancy and the relative worthlessness of non-Evangelical culture — were badly flawed.

The evolution is encapsulated by John Peart-Binns in Living with Paradox (1987), his biography of the Archbishop: “The overwhelming self-assurance of CICCU [the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union] adherents was beginning to look like smug superiority and bigotry. It is said that people who are capable of setting people free are also good at enslaving them. Is this what was in danger of happening? Had Christ set Habgood free or enslaved him? The ‘simple gospel’ began to look like a fiction. Problems could not be prayed away in a CICCU prayer meeting.”

Habgood himself would later recall an unease shading into outrage at the complacency of visiting Evangelical speakers, one of whom, a country parson, addressed students on the subject of creation: “He was obviously out of his depth as most of us would be on such a topic; but the disturbing thing was that he showed no sign of realising it. On the contrary he began discussing contemporary scientific thought in a most arrogant fashion, and finally dismissed the theory of evolution with a joke about Darwin’s personal appearance. . .

“And the really shattering thing was that the audience laughed — not at him, but with him. This was . . . a group of young men, the intellectual elite of Evangelicalism, who were prepared to dismiss staggering questions with a laugh, a pious phrase or a scripture text. It was a revelation to me. I began to see for the first time the closed mind in operation.”

HE SOON entered a larger theological room, through immersion in the work of C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, the French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and through personal contact with contemporaries, including John Polkinghorne (later Professor of Mathematical Physics) in the Research Scientists’ Christian Fellowship.

As he embarked on an academic career — as a Prize Fellow of King’s, combining doctoral work with teaching — he also broadened his ecclesiastical horizons, discovering Anglo-Catholicism and some of its leading lights in Cambridge, such as Harry Williams, Dean of Trinity, and Brother Michael SSF, the Franciscan and future Bishop of St Germans.

These were pioneering days in Habgood’s scientific field. Departments were small; most of the equipment had to be assembled from scratch. To track the transmission of pain in the nervous system, for example, Habgood had first to construct his own cathode-ray oscilloscope; to do so, he scoured an aerodrome and used spares from discarded bombers.

Yet, by the early 1950s, he had decided that physiology did not answer all his needs as a Christian seeking to probe the coherence of faith. He summed up the matter by asking himself a pointed question: “If there was a nuclear war and I survived it, what use would I be if all I can do is cut up frogs and rats?” It was the impulse behind this question which led him to ordination training at Cuddesdon Theological College (then yet to be merged with Ripon Hall).

Cuddesdon was headed by another future bishop, Edward Knapp-Fisher. The regime was unpalatable to Habgood in some respects. He found his fellow students intellectually unambitious after King’s, and unduly churchy. But, as before, he won respect for his mixture of conscientiousness and flair, not just in a new academic field (his study of theology was more concerted than that of Runcie, another future leader without a degree in the subject), but also as a budding preacher.

Habgood was ordained deacon in 1954 for the London diocese. He joined a staff of six, serving three churches in Kensington: St Mary Abbots; Christ Church, Victoria Road; and St George’s, Campden Square. An apparently serious and reserved young man revealed unexpected talents, including a strong rapport with children. Normally rowdy infants listened with keen attention to his addresses, which were always crisp and often funny. He later looked back with delight on the experience of running a Sunday school.

The Press Agency (Yorkshire)1981

HABGOOD’s real métier earlier in his career nevertheless lay in more advanced teaching. Two years after ordination, he returned to Cambridge, now as Vice-Principal of Westcott House. He married Rosalie Boston, a pianist and music teacher, in 1961, after a brief courtship.

Rumbles of theological ferment during Habgood’s earlier period in the city were multiplying. His peers now included iconoclastic figures such as John Robinson, Alec Vidler, Hugh Montefiore, Geoffrey Lampe, and Howard Root. Though he would never identify himself explicitly with doctrinal revisionism, Habgood was anything but complacent in the face of intellectual challenges and social change. His brand of conservative liberalism gained focus at this time in a series of briefer writings, notably his contribution to Soundings: Essays concerning Christian ynderstanding (1952), edited by Vidler, entitled “The Uneasy Truce between Science and Theology”.

In brief, Habgood’s position was that human understanding is not exhausted by mapping the world of nature. Thoughtful people will reflect on wider questions about the good life, including seeking to relate their own narratives to those of the wider world.

A forward glance at the Archbishop’s public debate with Richard Dawkins in 1992 helps to encapsulate his mature vision. The fallacy of a scientistic or positivist approach was laid bare. Habgood warned that if you searched the universe for certain kinds of connections, those were the only ones that you would find. Everything else slipped through the net. God did not appear in the scientific account of nature, because the objectives and methods of science shut out anything — any hint of purpose or intention or feeling or value — which might point to a Creator. That was not a criticism of science, he maintained. It was a description of what science was, and the key to what made it so successful in studying those aspects of reality in which purpose, feeling, value, and so on were not of central importance.

Religious language points to truths that elude scientific treatment, his argument continues, but this should not render it invalid by definition. For example, our understanding of others, not as objects to be analysed but as persons to be encountered, is just as real as our knowledge of stars or genes — more so, in fact, because it is more direct and involves a greater spread of our capacities.

Habgood was also influenced by Michael Polanyi, writing during his time at Westcott that “Science is the great example of articulate knowledge. The aim of science is to describe and explain the natural world . . . using words or symbols whose meanings are precise and whose relationships can be expressed as far as possible mathematically. [But] such a body of knowledge may presuppose another type of knowledge, whose existence may go unrecognised — what Polanyi calls ‘inarticulate knowledge’.

“To admit that there can be inarticulate knowledge clears away one of the basic theoretical objections to religion which is strongly felt nowadays. It allows us to believe that our gropings after the meaning of things and our sense of the mystery of existence are not simply mistakes and misunderstandings, to be removed by being a bit more scientific . . . It becomes possible to see how there can be a confused and partial knowledge of reality, which is genuine even though it cannot be brought within the bounds of science.”

Habgood ranged well beyond the domain of science and religion. In an essay, “Moral Discovery”, for Theology, in 1966, he produced a memorable definition of “receptivity”: “This is the word especially used by Professor Donald MacKinnon [in A Study in Ethical Theory]. By it he seems to mean the sort of reverence and humility that should go with a religious outlook on life; the sense of mystery and dignity that should surround our relationship with other people; the quality of inwardness which is lacking in those who are always judging morality by its outward effects rather than by its effects on the soul.

“The receptive man is one who cares about facts, who is not going to be content with snap judgements or slick formulae, but is deeply conscious of the complexity of the moral choices that we actually have to make. He is aware too that we are sinners in a sinful world so that even the highest that men can do is not enough.”

And a paper on censorship Habgood wrote for the Christian Ethics and Natural Law group expressed the following insight: “Reverence is a profound human emotion of great personal and social importance. The fact that it can often lead to blindness and hypocrisy is a reminder that it is possible to be stupidly reverent about the wrong things, but to do without reverence at all is to sacrifice human depth. The critical question about censorship is whether it can safeguard the kind of social conditions which allow the genuine expression of reverence, while making it possible to expose humbug.”

THE post at Westcott was by definition transitional. When the Principal, Kenneth Carey, became Bishop of Edinburgh in 1961, Habgood followed him north of the border to become Vicar of St John’s, Jedburgh, the next year. His pastoral style, dry in some eyes, was hailed by others as quietly effective through being unshowy. Habgood himself believed that pastors should not be over-invested emotionally with their flocks, and that it was inappropriate for their characters to emerge unduly through preaching. A priest should be God’s instrument. As he argued later, “out of a curious amalgam of what the preacher is, how he prays, his experience, his aliveness to the world, his relationship to the congregation, the depth of his conviction, there can occur an event, a meeting with God.”

Peart-Binns records that a man in an emotional mess went to Habgood seeking counsel and expected a solution to be offered. When his hopes weren’t met, he felt let down. It was only later that he appreciated the wisdom of the Vicar’s approach. What Habgood had done was help the man clean his mental lenses and understand his options more clearly.

Three of the Habgoods’ children — Laura, Francis, and Ruth — were born during their time in Scotland; a second son, Adrian, was born in 1971. The Vicar was ready for a new challenge by 1967. Even though he had lectured part-time at Edinburgh Theological College (in a register judged daunting by some of the less academically gifted students), Habgood wanted to focus more on teaching. This led him to accept nomination as Principal of Queen’s College, Birmingham, in 1967.

From its opening in 1828, the college had had a first incarnation as the Royal School of Medicine and Surgery. It later acquired faculties of divinity, law, engineering, and other subjects. In the 1930s, it broke with its medical past, becoming an Anglican theological college. Habgood’s main challenge consisted not only of reviving Queen’s after a period of decline, but also of planning a merger with Handsworth College, a Methodist foundation near by. His vision drew ready support locally; it was endorsed by the Methodist Conference in 1969. Habgood became leader of an ecumenical establishment in the autumn of 1970.

His leadership style was relaxed by the standards of an earlier generation. Self-discipline was encouraged, as were the adoption of first names and the involvement in college life of students’ wives. He radiated a quiet authority. In the words of a colleague, John Turner, “Here was a principal who superbly exemplified the virtues of his own Anglican tradition but he was always hearing ‘echoes’ coming from other cultural . . . traditions and then superbly weaving them into the pattern of college life. He is a man who bridges the gulf between the so-called conservative and the so-called radical, for he is both, all that Sir Herbert Butterfield meant when he wrote in Christianity and History about the firm rock and the elastic freedom which are needed in the Church of today.”

Unsurprisingly, Habgood was dismayed when the Anglican-Methodist Unity Scheme failed for the second time, in 1972, complaining in a college sermon that “The Church of England has lost its authority as an ecumenical pace-setter and bridge-builder.”

FeliciA visit to Rome, in April 1983, when he was Bishop of Durham

UNSURPRISING, too, was the widespread perception of his suitability for the see of Durham when Ian Ramsey died in office in 1972.

Though a distinguished philosopher, Ramsey could not pace himself, sacrificing his already weak health through overwork. Yet the diocese was also thought to have been poorly run on a practical level. Habgood’s achievement in his ten years at Auckland Castle lay in dispersing power on the one hand, while constantly keeping his ear to the ground through his presence in parishes and deaneries on the other. “His manner was always cool,” in the words of a well-placed observer; “sometimes it seemed aloof, but at others, and always when personal need was involved, it could break into great kindness and almost youthful fun.” His care for clergy in trouble — including some in prison — was also noted.

Two vignettes from the 1978 Lambeth Conference confirm these positive impressions. One is of Habgood and David Jenkins sitting up late into the night drafting a coherent-sounding communiqué with very little to go on, given the unmemorable quality of debate at the gathering; the other of the iconoclastic Jack Spong, Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, in the United States, declaring newfound admiration for the Bishop of Durham, having earlier written him off as a cold fish.

A sense that Habgood was more than a safe pair of hands was crystallised for some by his enthronement sermon as Archbishop of York in 1983, awarded marks of “11 out of ten” by Margaret Thatcher. (Aware that such praise would count as a very mixed blessing in the Church and elsewhere, Habgood, a centrist in political terms, later remarked that the Prime Minister had misinterpreted him.)

At the heart of the sermon stood a question about the interface between Church and society. People didn’t just want to be individuals, the Archbishop argued. “We want to belong to a society which helps us to be what, at our deepest and best, we know we ought to be.” He then drew attention to the cloudiness of popular belief: “I am constantly amazed at what people do believe: half-remembered Bible stories, odd bits of science fiction, snippets of proverbial wisdom passed on through grandmothers and glossy magazines.”

There was also evidence of “a huge and largely unrecognised reservoir of religious experience in all sorts of people who would be horrified to class themselves as religious”. There seemed to be “a widespread diffuse awareness of some sort of religious reality, which can attach itself to whatever materials happen to be around”.

Lacking was “a focused awareness, a public frame, a shared faith, which can sharpen vague feelings into prayer and commitment and action”. Then came a pointed question. “How dare an Archbishop, how dare a ceremony like this” witness to such a need “without seeming impertinent or blind?” Here lay a lifetime’s work, he declared.

“But . . . I see no ultimate contradiction between relying on a coherent public framework of faith, and being critically aware of its limitations. In fact it is only by alternating between belief and doubt that we come to know anything at all. It is the coherence of faith which makes it powerful and effective. A jackdaw kind of religion, a nugget of gold here, a strip of tinsel there, this belief or that belief picked out of context while the unattractive bits are ignored, such a hotch-potch faith provides no defence against mere self-indulgence. To believe only what you like, is to believe only in yourself.”

THE Crockford tragedy probably formed the greatest crisis in Habgood’s public ministry. The clerical directory had for some time included an anonymous preface by a distinguished cleric or theologian giving an overview of the contemporary ecclesiastical scene. Writing with greater candour than many of his predecessors, Gareth Bennett, a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and traditional Anglo-Catholic, diagnosed a mixture of rudderless leadership in the Church and liberal cronyism in the senior-appointments process. Archbishop Robert Runcie was praised for his intelligence and charm, but castigated for taking the line of least resistance in disputed areas, and “nailing his colours to the fence”. Habgood, too, drew fire.

Tory-supporting commentators on Fleet Street had a field day. The preface offered a handy springboard for sharp criticism of the Church in general (including a putative left-wing bias), while a hunt for the author left Bennett — who had denied involvement even to close friends — acutely anxious that his cover would be blown.

It became clear that Runcie intended to keep a dignified silence. This impelled Habgood to take the initiative by producing a frank rebuttal. In a statement, he described the preface as an outburst from a disappointed cleric who had abused the cloak of anonymity to voice complaints that anyone with actual experience of the appointments process would know to be unjust. In brief, the text was deplorable, being based on ignorance at best and at worst on outright malice.

But Habgood did not even suspect that Bennett was a likely author: his suspicions focused instead on Canon Peter Boulton, a former Vicar of Worksop and forthright critic of both archbishops.

Within less than a week of the preface’s publication on Thursday 3 December, its author had taken his own life. During morning prayers at Bishopthorpe Palace on the following Tuesday, Daphne Wood, the Archbishop’s Private Secretary, prayed for the soul of Bennett, whose body had been found the night before. Observers noted a look of shock and anguish on Habgood’s face. The verdict of David Wilbourne, his chaplain at the time, seems germane: “Just occasionally he could say the right thing at the unfortunately wrong time, and I feel this trait has to be reckoned with vis-à-vis his denunciation of the Crockford Preface.”

The chaplain had observed his employer at close quarters for several years. They regularly travelled round the Northern Province by car: Bishop Wilbourne always in the front with the chauffeur; Habgood reading and working on the back seat. The journeys were always made in silence at the Archbishop’s request. (At Bishopthorpe, a leading part was played by Raymond Barker, the press secretary.)

Wilbourne certainly felt admiration shading into affection for a leader with much pastoral nous, as well as the strength and commitment to shoulder a heavy workload. But he also found Habgood a little forbidding on occasion. When Wilbourne presented the Archbishop with a copy of his second book, A Vicar’s Diary, “he launched into a devastating critique,” the author recalls. “That critique was undoubtedly accurate, but authors tend to be just a touch vulnerable when their infant novel first hits the shelves.”

Wilbourne’s judgement about the longer-term consequences of Bennett’s death are also to the point. Habgood, he thinks, adjusted his style, and resolved to allow more Anglo-Catholics into the fold. He appointed George Austin, one of his foremost critics, to be Archdeacon of York (Obituary, 8 March), and became the principal architect of the Act of Synod in 1993.

Opponents of the Act described it as a fudge. The same charge could be levelled with greater justice against Issues in Human Sexuality (1991), the House of Bishops report that held that gay relationships were permissible for the laity but not the clergy, given a priest’s position as a public exponent of church teaching. Habgood strongly defended this line at the time, but would go on to accept that the double standard was theologically dubious. A private change of heart emerged explicitly in his review of Stephen Bates’s book A Church at War for The Times Literary Supplement in 2004.

Habgood himself insisted in interviews that in his heart he didn’t really want further promotion. To say anything else would have been unseemly, but the Archbishop certainly derived many other forms of fulfilment by bowing out two years shy of his 70th birthday and devoting his long retirement to Rosalie, the rest of his family, and his books. He remained an accomplished carpenter, passing on his skills to several of his ten grandchildren. When Rosalie began to display symptoms of Alzheimer’s in 2010, he cared for her with devotion for the remaining six years of her life.

His greatest if undernoticed legacy to Church and society is intellectual, especially given the dearth of theological talent on the bench since Lord Williams’s return to academia.

Habgood’s insights still deserve to be widely pondered. Some of his most valuable were revealed to small audiences. Fortunately, a good many addresses were collected in Confessions of a Conservative Liberal, one of his most valuable books alongside Religion and Science (1964), Church and Nation in a Secular Age (1983), and Being a Person (1998). “Confessions” was meant in the Augustinian sense of a statement of belief.

HIS address to a clergy conference in Durham brought that passionate moderation into sharp focus: “The need, as I see it, is for public expressions of faith which are broad enough to be inclusive, [fostering] the ability to live and move within our great Christian heritage and not be narrowed by it, but also faith which is firm and definite enough to give some reassurance that what is being carried through into the future is definitely rooted in what we have received from the past.

“If there are to be prophetic voices they have to speak within this tradition and out of these shared convictions. It is exceedingly difficult to prophesy within a community where there are no shared convictions to which to recall those to whom one is prophesying. All the great Hebrew prophets were essentially recalling people to a faith they already professed, albeit very inadequately. This is a further reason, therefore, why churches should remain within the public square and seek to clothe it. Not only are their truth claims likely to be suspect if they do not, but their prophetic voice is likely to be speaking in a vacuum, where no resonances are heard and no response evoked.”

Another address alluded to the self-sacrifice entailed by Christian discipleship as such, not only by ministry: “To live with opposites, not in weak compromise, but constantly allowing different convictions, different emphases, different insights to react fruitfully on each other, entails a kind of death. We have to let others be themselves. If need be, we have to let them wound us. We have to reject utterly the sort of touchiness . . . which can so easily make us all scurry away from one another behind our defences. We have to bear the pain of difference if we are to know the joy of discovery.”

Finally, Habgood’s comment on the connection between preaching and worship for an introductory essay to his book Queen’s Sermons (1977) forms a vivid summary of his broader vision: “Anyone who feels called to preach at all must have seen some truth which he longs to share. There is a difference between conviction and dogmatism. There is a difference between having seen some truth, and claiming to speak in the name of all truth. There is a difference between knowing what we believe and refusing to respect the beliefs and experiences of others.

“And these differences are essential for the preacher. He must speak with a humble authority as one who knows, and yet knows above all the limitations of his knowledge. As he speaks out of learned ignorance his very limitations will reveal something of the dimensions of the truth he is seeking to convey. His authority is not that of the wise man and the scholar, important though wisdom and scholarship may be, but that of a lover who must express his delight in what he loves even though he has scarcely begun to glimpse its full extent.”

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