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Obituary: The Rt Revd David Bentley

03 April 2020

The Rt Revd David Bentley

The Rt Revd David Bentley

The Ven. George Frost writes:

ON SPECIAL and sig­­nificant occa­sions in many parishes, and at cathedral events, the massed congrega­tions would watch the choir enter, followed by visit­ing clergy and distinguished guests, until, at the apogee of the proces­sion, there came that im­­mensely striking figure, six foot four high (seven foot in his mitre) — Bishop David Bentley. Their Bishop had arrived: all would now be well.

David Edward Bentley, who died on 4 March, aged 84, was born into a Norfolk family on 7 August 1935. He won a scholarship to Great Yarmouth Grammar School, and from there went to Leeds University, where he received a degree in Eng­lish and got to know well the Com­munity of the Resurrection at Mir­­field. That tradition was always to mean much to him.

During his National Service, he became Second Lieutenant with the Royal Artillery, but for quite some time he had felt called to ordination, and he decided that he wanted to train at Westcott House, Cambridge. But these were the 1950s, and David was the son of a bricklayer. His bishop said that they would never have him in Cambridge because he was not the son of a gentleman. Un­­daunted, David knocked on the college door, and was welcomed by the Vice-Principal, John Habgood. David enjoyed his time at Westcott.

Ordained in 1960 to a curacy at St Ambrose’s, Bristol, two years later he moved to a curacy in Holy Trinity with St Mary, Guildford. He worked in the Guildford diocese for the next 24 years, serving succes­sively as Rector of Headley and Esher. He was appointed Rural Dean of Emly in 1977, and an Honorary Canon of Guildford Ca­­thedral in 1980.

In 1986, he became Suffragan Bishop of Lynn. He was delighted to return to Norfolk and to discover his home county again with its variety of parishes. In the wider scene beyond Norfolk, he had much to do with the national selection and training of new clergy — a task that he enjoyed and at which he excelled.

He also struck up a friendship with the chairman of Norwich City Foot­ball Club, for which he apparently be­­came something of a lucky talis­man: for a period, the club seemed to win every time he went to watch a match.

The Rt Revd David Bentley

Norfolk has within it Sandring­ham, and, one year, David joined the Royal Family there for a day or two over the Christmas period. During his stay, he was delighted to accept an invitation from the Queen Mother to watch some old episodes of Dad’s Army, while the rest of the royals were otherwise engaged.

It may well have been that on his arrival in church his imposing figure reassured the congregation that all was well, but at no time was his arrival more welcomed and reassur­ing than when, in 1993, he became Bishop of Gloucester in succession to Peter Ball. Even after Ball’s resignation, many in the diocese still could not believe that he had been so devious.

There was a critical need for David to restore among the people and clergy of Gloucestershire a sense of confidence in the Church. His pastoral but no-nonsense ap­­proach was much appreciated. They found that he could be firmly decisive. David felt that his time in the army had helped him to relate to all kinds of people, the rough and the smooth, and certainly to be undaunted by the rich and the powerful. He could set the direction of the work plainly.

Shortly before he retired to Lich­field, he was awarded an honor­ary doctorate by the University of Glou­ces­tershire.

All his life, David was an en­­thusiast for cricket and music. He played cricket regularly for Guild­ford diocese and was delighted later to become a member of the M.C.C. In retirement, he would go to Lord’s as often as possible.

Music was a delight for him. At the age of seven, he was a chorister, and later achieved Grade 8 in piano. He loved to sing, and his range of singing varied from a remarkably hilarious performance as Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat to Bach and Elgar with the Lichfield Cathedral Chorus in his retirement many years later.

The Rt Revd David Bentley

In Glou­­cester, he was much in­­volved with the Three Choirs Fes­t­ival, and, in retirement, he and his wife, Clarice, were keen supporters of the Lichfield Festival Association of which he became, for seven years, a distin­guished and useful chair­man.

The best thing about Cambridge was that he met Clarice there. She became a strength and stay for him. She also accompanied him on various trips abroad, one of which included an adventurous tour of South India, including second-class travel, back­packing, and everything that that entailed.

On a trip to Papua New Guinea, representing Norwich dio­cese to com­mem­orate martyred An­glican missionaries, David was ferried across a shallow river on a floating throne, while Clarice had to follow on foot, splashing through the water accompanied by two Scouts.

In Gloucester, David helped to establish diocesan links with Bang­alore and Dornakal in the Church of South India; he led two pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and spent a mem­orable sab­batical at Tantur Ecumen­ical In­­sti­tute in Jerusalem. On a visit to Thai­land, he felt priv­ileged to bap­tise and confirm 170 candidates from two Karen refu­gee commun­ities.

David could be competitive in cricket and family games and very amusing in banter. He was a resolute leader. But, underneath it all, there was a sometimes vulnerable human being seeking to lead an authentic Christian life — someone who knew that it is in our weakness that we know God’s power to save; someone who knew from experience that “Underneath are the everlasting arms” — one of his favourite scrip­ture verses.

On his deathbed, David was able to join in with every word of the Lord’s Prayer with his wife and his dear children. This priest, bishop, son, brother, husband, father, grand­father, and friend was able to say the words of the Grace, and to make, for one final time, the sign of the cross. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory.

He is survived by his wife Clarice, his four children and their spouses, and 13 grand­children. Unusually, and possibly uniquely, he had two sons-in-law who are both bishops.

Contributions from Canon Roger Grey.

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