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Obituary: The Rt Revd Humphrey Taylor

05 March 2021


Correspondents write:

BISHOP Humphrey Vincent Taylor, who has died, aged 82, was born in 1938 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the son of Maurice, who owned an engineering works in Gateshead, and Mary Wood. He grew up in rural Northumberland. From his preparatory school, Twyford, he won a scholarship to Harrow School. Here, as a new boy, he sang the solo verse of “Five Hundred Faces” to Winston Churchill on his annual visit.

Originally planning to join the family business, he won a scholarship to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read engineering, which he took up after National Service in the RAF. Little more than a year into the engineering course, sensing his vocation, he switched to theology.

After graduating, he went to the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield. He went on an overland trip to the Holy Land, where he was able to meet again his Harrow schoolfriend King Hussein of Jordan. In 1964, he was ordained priest in St Paul’s Cathedral, and served his title in west London, where he met and married Anne, a history teacher and daughter of Thomas Dart, Vicar of Aldershot.

Together, Anne and Humphrey went to Malawi, where Humphrey became Rector of St Peter’s, Lilongwe, and Anne taught at Likuni Secondary School. During a year’s sabbatical, Humphrey completed a Master’s degree in African Studies and rose to the challenge of preaching regularly in Chichewa.

In 1971, the President of Malawi, Dr Banda, ordered the family to leave the country, after an incident when Humphrey’s curate, unbeknown to him, recorded the inspiring singing of political detainees whom he was visiting at the prison. Humphrey himself, while exercising a much valued and appreciated pastoral ministry to the detainees, had been scrupulous to avoid giving any excuse to the Malawi Congress Party to accuse him of political bias.

On their return to the UK, Humphrey took up the post of Chaplain at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln. From there, he returned to London, where he worked as Secretary for Chaplaincies in Higher Education for the General Synod Board of Education from 1975 to 1980. He then returned to the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) as Missions Programmes Secretary in 1980 and General Secretary in 1984. He became an honorary canon of Bristol Cathedral, and Provincial Canon of Southern Africa. He was consecrated to be Suffragan Bishop of Selby at York Minster by Archbishop John Habgood in 1991, and soon moved to live in the shadow of York Minster in Precentor’s Court.

The themes of education and mission continued to be very evident in his ministry as Bishop of Selby. He was a keen supporter of mission initiatives throughout the diocese of Yor, closely associating himself with minority-ethnic Anglican concerns, and chairing the diocesan board of education. He was instrumental in setting up links between the diocese and the then diocese of Cape Town.

In 1993, when the General Synod voted in favour of the ordination of women priests, Humphrey invited the women deacons in York archdeaconry to watch the debate at his home, and rejoiced alongside them when the cliffhanging debate finally resulted in an affirmation of the call of women to the priesthood. This and countless other acts of support and ministry were greatly appreciated both among both clergy and laity.

On his retirement in 2003, Humphrey and Anne moved to the Cotswold village of Honeybourne. There, he was active in his local parish while also serving as an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the dioceses of Gloucester and Worcester.

In retirement, as throughout his ministry, he won the respect and affection of fellow clergy, colleagues, and laity for his pastoral gifts, his unfailing patience, his wise counsel, and his deeply held faith.

Humphrey was part of a large family: the Taylors are a Yorkshire family formerly of Middlewood Hall, Darfield, and his mother was the granddaughter of the Scotsman Thomas Blair Miller, a prominent member of the Plymouth Brethren. Humphrey presided at many family baptisms, marriages, and funerals, including that of his aunt, Joyce, the widow of a Presbyterian minister, which took place deep in Covenanter country in Ayrshire to the polite but well-expressed surprise of the incumbent minister. He gave large and happy parties in London, York, and Honeybourne, gathering together cousins from far and wide to join his five siblings and their families, his daughters, Katharine (Katy) and Elizabeth (Lizzie), and their families.

As well as deep family ties, Humphrey had a great gift for friendship with people of all ages and backgrounds, friendships that were often cemented by convivial entertaining and a fiercely competitive approach to games of croquet. He and Anne moved to Bristol a few years ago to be near Katy.

He died peacefully on Ash Wednesday, after a period of ill-health, with Anne, Katy, and Lizzie at his bedside. He will be much missed by his wife, daughters, sons-in-laws, siblings, and five grandchildren, and will be remembered for his wit, intellect, and compassion.

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