Obituary: The Rt Revd Kenneth Newing OSB

by
07 June 2019

The Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee writes:

THE Rt Revd Kenneth Albert Newing died on 15 May, aged 95. He was Bishop of Plymouth until his retirement in 1988, when he became a Benedictine monk at Elmore Abbey, in Berkshire.

Born in 1923, he was raised in Kent and attended Dover Grammar School. On leaving school in 1940, he served in the army, through and beyond the Second World War, after which he studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge, trained at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and was ordained in 1955.

Here began his long love affair with the diocese of Exeter, serving first as an assistant curate in Plymstock, a fast-growing suburb of Plymouth, before being inducted as incumbent of the neighbouring parish of Plympton St Maurice.

Here, he endeared himself to the local community for nearly 20 years, including four years as also Archdeacon of Plymouth. His parochial ministry reflected his formation as a traditional Anglo-Catholic priest dedicated to the sacraments, a disciplined prayer life, pastoral care — and little affection for administrative distractions.

For some years, he served as Warden of Readers for the archdeaconry, in which post his profound, but practical, spirituality left a lasting impression on an expanding cohort of lay ministers. Indeed, fostering vocations, especially among young people at confirmations, was an abiding passion.

Those who knew him best invariably testify to his humility — he demurred three times before accepting nomination to the episcopate. But, nevertheless, in 1982, he was consecrated to the suffragan see of Plymouth during a period of adjustment to significant pastoral reorganisation across the city itself and the rural/coastal communities around Dartmoor and Torbay.

His determination to ensure stronger traditional Catholic representation among the clergy, especially on the many post-war housing estates, was not universally welcomed, nor did it necessarily leave a positive legacy. But his care for the clergy, their families, and the parochial faithful was never in doubt.

His impish sense of humour came to the fore when he was delighted to have “sub-canopial status” conferred on him by the Bishop of Exeter to process in the manner to which a prominent Anglo-Catholic congregation had become accustomed.

A former colleague reports that, although in his leadership of retreats and quiet days he was always original and inspiring, when it came to preaching, he had a filing cabinet containing one sermon for each Sunday and holy day in the Church’s calendar — and these were simply repeated year on year.

It came as little surprise when, on his retirement in 1988, he joined the Benedictine community of Elmore Abbey and then, on its closure in 2011, moved with three other brothers to form St Benedict’s Priory in the Close at Salisbury, attached to Sarum College.

It is tempting to characterise Bishop Kenneth as essentially a non-claustrated monk who finally found his true self in the cloister. But this would be a mistake. He was fully at home in parochial and episcopal ministry, enjoying the delights of friendship, social engagements, and hospitality, as well as the pastoral encounters that mattered so much to him, and for which he is so fondly remembered.

Yet he was, indeed, equally at home in a monastic community, where he remained actively involved well into his nineties, even when confined to a wheelchair.

Throughout such a long life, his deep personal faith in God and Christ-centred discipleship were in the disciplines of daily prayer, with his ministry as a priest, bishop, pastor, and spiritual director underscored by one of his celebrated maxims: if you are too busy to pray, you’re too busy.

His funeral will be held in Salisbury Cathedral on Tuesday 11 June at 2 p.m.

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