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Recollections

by
11 June 2021

Tony Richmond writes:

THE Rt Revd Humphrey Taylor (Gazette, 5 March) was the best boss I ever had. At the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG), we didn’t always agree, but he respected where I was coming from and supported me wholeheartedly in my work for Network magazine. He listened to advice and was not afraid to take on the most difficult issues, whether to do with international politics, church controversies, or recalcitrant members of staff. He supported gay Christians and women’s ordination.

He deserves credit for his tireless opposition to apartheid. In 1986, as General Secretary of USPG, Humphrey was fighting in the top synods and church committees for targeted disinvestment from South Africa, and he went to regular meetings with Barclays Bank executives, trying to persuade them to do more to break down the cruel structures of apartheid. Margaret Thatcher was strongly against us in all this work.

At the USPG Council meeting in June that year, the South Africa debate was the main item on the agenda. Humphrey had visited the Church there and was challenged about his meeting with Mrs Winnie Mandela (she had famously given him a kiss after a sermon that he had preached in Regina Mundi Church, Soweto). Mrs Mandela was illegally back in Soweto from her banishment to Brandfort and was playing an active part in the “Freedom Struggle”. She was widely reported to have encouraged “necklace” executions, in which angry mobs killed suspected informers by placing a petrol-soaked tyre round the victim’s neck and setting it alight.

Humphrey said that he had asked her what she actually had said. “She told me she had been making the point how hopelessly inadequate it was to fight the mighty power of the Government with necklaces and matchsticks against the armoury of Pretoria.” When he asked her, further, how she thought that traitors should be dealt with, she had told him: “They must be dealt with according to the standards of the democratic society for which we are struggling.” Not everyone was convinced, as they had heard the propaganda put out by the South African Government, but all agreed that the brutality of apartheid needed to be addressed.

Council finally voted to sell all the Society’s shares in Shell and Barclays Bank because of these concerns’ failure to oppose the brutalities of apartheid. Council also urged the British Government to impose economic sanctions on South Africa, in line with a recent decision of the British Council of Churches. The policy of hanging in there as shareholders and engaging with the companies had not worked. Humphrey spoke on the BBC nine-o’clock news after a big lobbying event at Westminster.

From then on the press, which had ignored USPG in the past, was calling continually, wanting to hear from us the latest stories from South Africa. A severe news blackout was being imposed on their own correspondents by the South African Government.

Humphrey made a return visit to South Africa, for Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s enthronement. His work was acknowledge by a provincial canonry awarded in Durban.

I remember Humphrey’s concern over an article that I wrote headed “Others say no” to women priests. He accepted that it was well researched and based on the view of a prominent member of USPG’s Council, and included an opposing view by Humphrey himself. “But I don’t know how I am going to sell it to Deaconess Catherine Durnford,” he said ruefully.

I also remember Humphrey’s tactful sounding-out of Secretaries Group members on how we would react to his appointing a colleague who was a member of the Gay Christian Movement. “A very distinguished member, I might say,” he assured us. He was clearly relieved when all of us supported his choice of candidate.

Humphrey was supportive when I complained that USPG had invested in new technology without any consultation about the editorial requirements. My team needed more than one computer, DTP software, and training in the use of it. He took the point and arranged for all these requests to be fulfilled.

The Revd Sue Murray adds: I had the privilege of being ordained priest by the Rt Revd Humphrey Taylor, Bishop of Selby, in 1994, at his first ordination of women priests in York Minster. Almost immediately, I left the area, married, and went to live in Argentina. On my return in 2002, I was offered a post in York diocese and went to visit Bishop Humphrey in his study in sight of the Minster.

On the wall was a large photograph of that first group of women priests, and he knew where everyone in that picture was now posted. Knowing that my family and I had returned to the UK with nothing in the way of furniture, remembering his own return from Malawi many years beforehand, and being about to retire, he freely offered us furniture from his house.

The rather nice three-piece sofa lasted barely six years with the children, but the double bed was traded in only last year, and we still use the potato masher in the kitchen. He was a generous and kind man whom I will never forget.

 

Canon Peter Sedgwick writes:

THE thoughtful obituary of Bishop Bob Hardy by Bishop Alastair Redfern (Gazette, 23 April) mentioned his work as Bishop for Prisons, and his work in public affairs for the Church of England. It is worth remembering what a remarkable person he was in the difficult political events in the late 1990s.

Bob was well aware that the Labour Government under Tony Blair was determined to be tough on crime, and prison numbers soared during this period. He became a member of the House of Lords in 1993 and used this to work with other agencies in promoting a more humane criminal-justice system.

He had held a series of four Lincoln conferences on prison reform with very distinguished international criminologists such as Nils Christie and Howard Zehr, which were chaired by Sir Stephen Tumin (Chief Inspector of Prisons) from 1989 to1995. This had several effects. It gave him a well-thought-out programme to put against the populist policies of the Labour Government, and it put him in touch with the leading players in the criminal-justice system, whether academics, those from NGOs, judges, or prison governors.

As a result, Bob was a persistent speaker in the House of Lords against the policies of Jack Straw and David Blunkett as Home Secretary. Those in the Prison Reform Trust, NACRO, and others knew what a good ally he was. Bob could rely not only on his well-researched moral authority, but also on the work of prison chaplains, criminal-justice groups in dioceses, and voluntary groups in prison, often made up of Christians. He repeatedly pointed to their work as enabling criminal justice to be far more humane, whether in the area of racial justice, domestic violence, or Appropriate Adults, working with vulnerable adults in detention. One example will serve for many.

Christopher Edwards was killed in Chelmsford Prison in 1994 by a fellow inmate. The prison service denied responsibility. Christopher’s parents took the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

While the appeal was pending, Bob sponsored a debate in his name in the House of Lords, in October 1998. Paul and Audrey Edwards sat in the gallery of the House of Lords to hear the Government concede to Bob their failure to protect Christopher. Eventually, the ECHR ruled against the Government, but the turning point had been Bob’s forcing a Government climb-down in the Lords. The Head of the Prison Service, a government minister, Bishop Bob, and Paul and Audrey Edwards met afterwards for an emotional meeting in the Lords.

It was no surprise, therefore, that, when Bob retired in 2001, there was a collection of essays in his honour. The Future of Criminal Justice (edited by Christopher Jones and me, SPCK, 2002) had contributions from David Ramsbotham, Chief Inspector of Prisons; Harry Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice; Helena Kennedy, and many others. The foreword was by Douglas Hurd, former Home Secretary. It was a galaxy of luminaries in the criminal-justice system.

Few Anglican bishops could have had such a reputation as one of the main advocates of prison reform. Bob had worked at this for many years. He knew that the political climate was very difficult, but his work as Bishop for Prisons and a Bishop in the House of Lords is a magnificent example of the contribution the Church of England can make to social and political life.

The Rt Revd Peter Selby adds: As Bishop Bob’s successor as Bishop to HM Prisons, I loved his account of how he took on a post traditionally added to the work of one of the Canterbury suffragans: “Bob Runcie came up to me at the end of a staff meeting and said ‘I need a new Bishop to Prisons, and I need a thug.’” There was a certain toughness required at the time for the oversight of the chaplaincy; but, remarkably, Bob declined to lay the task down when he became Bishop of Lincoln.

By the time he came to retire, he had so enlarged the Prisons post that it was expected to be held by a diocesan bishop and one of the Lords Spiritual, so that the officeholder could speak for the Church on criminal-justice matters. We all have reason to be grateful for his bringing a critical mind along with his down-to-earth toughness.

 

Mary Nunns writes:

IN JULY 1980, I attended a wedding of university friends of my husband. This fell on Men’s Finals day at Wimbledon. I had a pocket radio, on which I followed the match during the wedding reception. Canon Michael Bourdeaux (Gazette 16 April) was sitting near by, and was keen to know what was happen­ing in SW19. So, at fairly regular inter­vals, I kept him updated with the score. He was for many years a line judge at Wimbledon.



Correspondents write:

IT WAS not the Rt Revd Paul Barber who worked tirelessly during the illness and death of Bishop Ian Cundy in 2009 (Gazette, 4 June), since he, Bishop Barber retired in 2001. The Suffragan Bishop of Brixworth in 2009 was the Rt Revd Frank White, who worked to keep things on an even keel. Bishop Barber was not appointed by Bishop Ian Cundy, who took up office in 1996; Bishop William Westwood was the Bishop of Peterborough when Bishop Barber was consecrated for Brixworth in 1989.

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