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Obituary: Sylvia Brantingham

10 July 2020

The Rt Revd Lord Hope writes:

I FIRST met Sylvia Brantingham about nine months after my consecration as Bishop of Wakefield, when I was attending the General Synod meeting at York. Sylvia was then working in the General Synod Office at Church House, and was responsible for sorting out and organising the accommodation and other arrangements at York.

At that time, the halls of residence at the university were most of them pretty basic. Sylvia, however, always saw to it that “her bishops” — the Catholic bishops — had as good rooms as could be had. Moreover, she worked extremely hard to try to satisfy the demands of some Synod members — totally unreasonable, many of them — but always with a good grace and humour. I would often see her at her desk immediately after breakfast and still there at 10 p. m. and beyond. There could have been no more devoted or committed servant of the Church than Sylvia.

I guess that she could have told some interesting stories about certain members — yes, and priests and bishops as well. Yet she was the soul of discretion and utterly trustworthy — a very shrewd judge of character, too. I always thought that she would have made a good member of the Crown Appointments Commission.

Another memory of her is the many times she came on the pilgrimages that I led to the Holy Land, to Turkey, in the footsteps of St Paul, and to Romania, the painted monasteries. Sylvia and her friend the “other Sylvia” were devoted pilgrims, much valued for their ready friendship with other pilgrims and, even though “off work”, she would always offer to help with any administrative matters — especially useful with a pilgrimage of some three hundred on one occasion to the Holy Land.

Beneath all this was a quiet deep and profound commitment to Jesus Christ, her faith as a Catholic never shrill or assertive, but lived out and nourished by her unfailing presence at mass daily, and undergirded by regular prayer and devotion, especially to our Lady.

After her retirement from the General Synod Office, she worked at the Church Union, and then, attracted by another of “her bishops”, Geoffrey Rowell, in the offices of the diocese in Europe, where again her administrative and organisational skills were hugely appreciated, not to mention what these days are called her “people skills”. She needed no training, simply because of the person she was in relation to others: sympathetic, generous, welcoming. She finally retired in 2014, aged 76.

Above all, I cherish, remember, and give thanks for her natural cheerfulness, faith, and unfailing trust and hope in the God who raised Jesus from the dead.

A correspondent adds: Sylvia’s career at the office of the General Synod began in 1967, and ended 30 years later, in 1997, during which time she had worked under four Archbishops of Canterbury: Michael Ramsey, Donald Coggan, Robert Runcie, and George Carey.

Sylvia’s Christian devotion was both humble and inspiring. The diocese in Europe’s office manager knew her well and recalls getting a bit cross with her as she would quietly disappear to say her midday prayers. I also recall how Sylvia never wasted a moment: in the midst of the busy-ness of answering doors, phone calls, preparing refreshments for visitors and meetings, sorting post, and other general office duties, if she had a spare moment, she would be found at her desk quietly reciting the rosary, in all likelihood with a special intention for us all.

The Revd James Elston adds: Sylvia was a faithful member, and sometime churchwarden, of St Pancras Old Church, London, for nearly four decades. Her devotion was an example to many, and her ministry of prayer for those in need, and for the priests of this parish, was outstanding. Sylvia died on the feast of Pentecost, 31 May, aged 82, after having received holy communion and the Last Rites of the Church. I was by her side as she passed into the loving arms of God. She will be greatly missed. May she rest in peace.

Angela Devaney, churchwarden of St Pancras Old Church, adds: When I arrived at St Pancras for the first time, Sylvia welcomed me, stopped for a chat, and made sure that I would feel at home there; and, thanks to Sylvia I have been there ever since, some 35 years.

Until shortly before she died, Sylvia was doing the same thing for any newcomer, any solitary person standing alone in a corner, anyone who looked lost. St Pancras will not be the same without her. She was one of the most deeply Christian people I have known, in that her Catholic faith was the most important thing in her life: it was at the root of everything she did. She was steadfast in her observance: she loved the mass, and really celebrated each feast day throughout the church year; she just loved to be in church. We will never know how many were her acts of kindness and encouragement, especially to children and young people, and the prayers she offered for them; to her, prayer was part of the working day.

She was faithful and firm in standing up for her beliefs, and viewed with sadness some recent departures from what she regarded as right and proper within the Church. But there was nothing sanctimonious about Sylvia; she loved a good laugh and enjoyed all our parties and festivities, and she was very partial to football and chocolate.

The depth of her faith supported her through a life that had its difficulties; the old-fashioned qualities of discipline and fidelity were her strength. In her quiet way, she was a shining light. I feel privileged to have known her.

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