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18 June 2021

David Roberts writes:

NO LESS an authority than Lord Franks, the Provost of Worcester College, Oxford, when Alec Graham (Gazette, 28 May) left to become Warden of Lincoln Theological College in 1970, observed: “Mr Graham has been a very good Chaplain indeed.”

Alec successfully treated the college like a small parish, and was extremely hospitable, approachable, punctilious, and hard-working in his shy manner. He was also effective in fields outside the purely clerical — as Tutor for Admissions, Dean of Degrees, and the organiser of the college’s New Year reading party at Rydal Hall, then in Westmorland. He also served as a Proctor in Convocation.

Bishop Alec retained a good memory. He recalled that, in May 1956, he was interviewed by Bishop George Bell before his ordination to the priesthood to continue to serve in Hove. Although the Bishop of Chichester had not seen Alec for nearly a year, he took out a file, and said: “Now, Graham, last time you were here, we talked about [a theological topic]. Shall we resume where we left off?”

Alec also remembered his time as a young Chaplain at Worcester College. His evensong congregation included two unmarried daughters of the Revd C. H. O. Daniel (Provost, 1903-19), who would stage-whisper: “What is that boy saying?” Alec actually spoke very clearly.

Bishop Alec’s short time in Bedfordshire was much appreciated. His willingness to conduct services in parishes where, otherwise, an emergency would have occurred was reassuring. Personal frugality and austerity were also hallmarks, demonstrated by manuscript correspondence, unmodernised official housing, and appropriate use of public transport.

Bishop Alec’s name was the second choice for nomination to the vacant see of Newcastle, but another bishop’s refusal led to this gentler, pastoral appointment. Bishop Alec had received a sound tutorial from the Diocesan Registrar at St Albans, the late David Cheetham, on the legal meaning of “consultation”. An apt pupil put into practice what an apt teacher had instilled in him.

In his obituary, the Very Revd Nicholas Coulton has already noted Alec’s interest in railways. The house, near Penrith, to which Alec had retired was convenient not only for his beloved fells, but also for the Settle and Carlisle and Shap railway lines. An interest in railways was stimulated by undergraduate journeys from his Kentish home to Oxford aboard the multi-portioned train which, avoiding London, meandered from Thanet and East Sussex to Birkenhead.

In his long retirement, Bishop Alec was willing to preach and celebrate (as well as preside, old-style) at special services for former colleagues and students, and organisations with which they were associated. Those occasions brought back delightful memories, and also provided fresh stimulus. Alec also gave of himself in advising even experienced authors with encouraging criticism. A rare treat in retirement was a 70th-birthday voyage to St Kilda.

Alec Graham was a wise, clever, and holy bishop. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

Fr Ian Falconer adds: I would like to offer one example of Bishop Alec Graham’s thoughtfulness. While Bishop of Newcastle, he was a kindly, supportive pastor. I was very moved one day when, as a priest in Byker, I had taken the funeral of a 14-year-old boy who had been murdered. It inevitably featured on that evening’s BBC Look North. Bishop Alec recognised me and rang to ask how I was.


The Revd Robert Ellis writes:

THE old adage that “archdeacons are God’s way of showing us that not everything has to have a purpose” could never be applied to the Ven. Dennis Ede, who died earlier this year (Gazette, 1 April).

To the clergy in the archdeaconry of Stoke, he was affectionately known as the Fat Controller after the character in the Railway Books. Dennis was sensible and intelligent enough to know that it was a term of affection and humour, and he made the most of it in his farewell sermon. He loved the clergy, and they in turn loved him. He was impulsive and imaginative, but they could cope with that.

He would never have described himself as slim, but at the Swanwick Clergy Conferences he could still thrash young curates at squash. While Vicar of All Saints’, West Bromwich, he was elected three times by his fellow priests to represent them on the Church of England’s General Synod and he was very much a parish priest’s archdeacon. He was a liberal catholic who had trained at Ridley Hall but he knew theatrical and good liturgy when he saw it.

His workload was large, and he could almost be described as a workaholic; he thought nothing of phoning me at ten on a Sunday evening or seven in the morning to have a chat, much to my wife’s annoyance. “Tell him what time it is!” He obviously thought that if he was at his desk then others would probably be as well. Even when his doctor told him that he must take things easier and steadier, he could not slow down.

Dennis was firmly in the centre of a debate over a new movement, the building of new churches as social centres for the local community, Christian or not, which Christians could also use for worship. The new Church of St Philip and St James, Hodge Hill, Birmingham, where Dennis served, became the physical expression of that movement.

It was designed by the architect Martin Purdy as a multi-purpose space that could be subdivided by sliding screens to create smaller halls and rooms. In the middle of the building was the sanctuary, which could not be screened off and was permanently on view. Sadly, the church was demolished in 2008 because of structural problems, but the thinking behind it still fortunately exists and is part of Dennis’s contribution to the theory of church architecture.

Dennis chaired Lichfield diocese’s communications committee with enthusiasm. He ensured that the diocesan budget provided full salaries for a communications team, which I led, including religious-programmes producers at BBC Radio Stoke, BBC Radio Shropshire, and Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton, to ensure good-quality religious programmes that the radio stations themselves were not able to staff. Radio Stoke’s weekly broadcast act of worship, In Praise of God, had a weekly audience of 65,000 listeners. For Dennis, that was good money well spent.

After Margaret Thatcher’s 1990 Broadcasting Act, which deregulated broadcasting and allowed religious groups, for the first time, to advertise on radio and television, he was determined that Lichfield diocese, together with Birmingham, should take full advantage of the new opportunities. As a result, with funding from the Sainsbury Trust and the creative and enthusiastic advertising media specialists, from companies such as Saatchi & Saatchi, who gave their time free, the two dioceses were the first to advertise on commercial radio and national television. It was ground breaking and it certainly had its critics.

Dennis was a warm and committed priest, and clergy enjoyed his hospitality, which inevitably was his renowned huge bowl of vegetable stew, an extensive cheese board, and stewed fruit. It was always the same: it was his culinary trademark; and it was always dispensed in huge ladles with humour and affection.

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