25 October 2019

Robin Stevens writes:

IT WAS with great sadness that I saw the announcement of the death of the Rt Revd Roy Williamson. There is one part of Bishop Roy’s story that was missing from the obituary by the Rt Revd Dr Colin Buchanan (Gazette, 27 September).

Bishop Roy was chairman of the Central Board of Finance’s Christian Stewardship Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I first met him in 1991, soon after he had moved from Bradford to Southwark, when I was shortlisted for the post of Central Stewardship Officer. He chaired the interview panel. My background was an engineer in broadcast television and a Reader. In my preparation for the interview, I had rehearsed my reasons for why a jump from that background to Church House was appropriate. Bishop Roy was much too on the ball to ask that kind of question, however. He opened with, “What excites you about God?” I knew, in a flash, that, “Not a lot really” and “Can I get back to you about that?” were both wrong answers. I spoke from the heart, and that, of course, is exactly what Bishop Roy wanted.

After I was offered the post and before I took it up, I was invited to attend a meeting of the board’s stewardship committee, of which I was, inter alia, to be the secretary. I sat quietly, trying to absorb the issues, but at one point I found myself speaking out quite vehemently on a matter. I apologised to the bishop for my outburst, and he said that no apology was necessary. “That’s why we appointed you.”

As we got to know each other better, I felt that our temperaments were probably similar. He was a great man of God — a gentle man, but one who spoke his mind. Sadly, after I had been in post for only a year, he decided to stand down as chairman because “he had been drafted in new directions.” Among many things, as a London bishop, he had been appointed chairman of the Central Religious Advisory Council.

He brought his wisdom, his insight, his humour, and his considerable powers of communication to supporting and motivating the network of Christian stewardship advisers in dioceses. On one occasion, he memorably said: “It is a personal conviction of mine that money is congealed life. It is my work, my talents, my personality reduced to negotiable form. In so far as I give money to God, or anyone else, I give that which represents me.

“I am faced with responding to the tremendous generosity of God. If I claim to be his child and if, by his Spirit, I am being changed into his likeness, then I must surely expect some of his generosity to rub off on me and to see my Christian giving move from the level of obligation, through the level of generosity, to the level of sacrifice.”

The Revd Dr Paul Oestreicher adds: It was my privilege to serve as vicar in the parish where Elsie Baker was the gentle and wise deaconess. The pastoral work was in her capable hands. In so many ways my senior, she had felt a call to the priesthood from the age of 19.

When finally women could achieve for what she had long campaigned, Bishop Roy Williamson visited her, she was well into her eighties.

“I’m sorry”, he said to Elsie, “not to be able to make you a priest.”

“At my age Bishop, I don’t expect that,” Elsie said, “but I am so happy for the others.”

“You have misunderstood me, Elsie,” he replied. “God made you a priest a long time ago. All I can do is to confirm it.”

Elsie was ordained priest in Southwark Cathedral, and was the oldest ordinand. Memorably, she read the Gospel.

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