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Obituary: The Rt Revd John Waine

08 January 2021

Ash Mills

Canon Philip Need writes:

BISHOP John Waine, who has died, aged 90, was the Bishop of Chelmsford from 1986 to 1996. To his ministry of leadership and service of the Church in east London and Essex he brought considerable experience, having served for 20 years as a parish priest in Liverpool and ten years as a bishop, of Stafford and subsequently of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich.

Commanding huge respect for his tact, wisdom, and insight, he always tried to see both sides of a situation and was careful in his handling of those who perhaps felt that their view had not prevailed. With a gift of humour — his responses were always perfectly well-timed — and a great ability to charm others, his ministry of encouragement, support, and friendship was appreciated and will be remembered by many. An extremely outgoing and gregarious person, he was a committed supporter of Ipswich Town Football Club, loved to watch cricket at Lord’s, and enjoyed a glass of single-malt whisky.

Born and brought up in Prescot, Lancashire, he studied theology at Manchester University. After National Service in the Royal Air Force, during which he trained as a Russian interpreter in Cambridge, he trained for ordination at Ridley Hall, being ordained deacon in 1955. Much as he often wanted to, he was denied the opportunity of spending a lot of time in one place, always moving on at the behest of his bishop. Curacies in West Derby and St Helens were followed by incumbencies in Ditton, Southport — where his love of, and expertise in, matters musical were particularly appreciated — and Kirkby, then the largest parish in the Church of England, before he was nominated for the suffragan see of Stafford. He was consecrated on 24 June 1975 at the age of 45, and thus spent half of his life in episcopal orders.

He had exactly the right touch for ministry as a bishop, and it was not long before he found himself translated to the largely rural diocese of St Edmundsbury & Ipswich in 1978. Here, he made strong connections between east and west Suffolk, bound diocesan life together, as he worked closely with clergy and lay people alike, and enjoyed links with overseas dioceses. He also served the national Church as Warden of the Board of Readers. In 1986, he was invited to be President of the Suffolk Agricultural Show and was delighted that the Princess of Wales accepted his invitation to be that year’s Royal Patron.

By this time, he had taken up his ministry as Bishop of Chelmsford, responsible for a huge, densely populated, and sometimes complex diocese covering the old county of Essex and five London boroughs, with a population of more than two million people. Here, John Waine built strong relationships with his clergy and congregations, visiting parishes regularly in the inner city as well as rural benefices. Once again, as in St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, he knew his diocese and its people as intimately as was possible in such large places.

His concerns and interests were not only with the Church, and certainly not only with the Church of England, but with the whole of society. He challenged the diocese to raise money for the inner-city appeal after the 1985 report Faith in the City; and in 1994 ordained more than 50 women to the priesthood at three services in his cathedral. Again, overseas links were important, and work was begun in Kenya which continues to this day.

He hosted a number of diocesan conferences, for clergy and laity, at Caister-on-Sea near Great Yarmouth, and much came from them in terms of how people understood their vocation, their sense of belonging, and how they could relate better to each other and to God. He built up a good team among his senior staff by making strong appointments. His inimitable style made it possible for them to respect him and work alongside him as they developed their own gifts and abilities.

He also served the Queen as Clerk of the Closet, for which he was appointed KCVO on his retirement; he took his seat on the bench of bishops in the House of Lords; and chaired the Church Commissioners at a time of the financial unrest in the early 1990s. He became the Episcopal Visitor to the Benedictine Community of St Mary’s Abbey at West Malling, in Kent and, for 25 years served at Honorary Chaplain to the Worshipful Company of Glass Sellers of London, the Livery Company of which he was to become Millennium Master and on whose Court he continued to serve until the end of his life.

He also developed a a strong and rich partnership with the then Roman Catholic Bishop of Brentwood, Thomas McMahon. This built towards a real unity of friendship which extended to the Churches and the county and included an annual united pilgrimage to Walsingham and joint youth visits to Taizé. His episcopal ministry was strong and positive, and many saw him as a potential candidate for Canterbury in 1991.

In retirement, he served on the Press Complaints Commission, and as President of Nobody’s Friends for 11 years, a post in which he was renowned for being “welcoming, witty, and wise”, and became Prelate of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. From 1995 to 2001, he served as Chair of the Council of the University of Essex, which awarded him an honorary doctorate. As an assistant bishop, back again in Suffolk, he continued in active ministry for almost 25 years, greatly loved by those whom he helped in village churches on Sunday mornings.

A previous colleague, Canon Roger Wikeley, has written: “Those who worked with John, in whatever capacity, would agree that ministry was fun — in the very best sense of the word. He enjoyed ministry and was at home equally with the leaders of industry and government as he was with a class of seven-year-olds learning about Jesus. His smile was infectious. He worked hard, and he expected his curates to work hard, but they became a part of the Waine family — which extended to being asked to ‘come and play cricket’ on Sunday afternoons before evensong.”

Throughout his ministry, John was constantly supported by his wife, Pat, whom he married in 1956, and who survives him, with their three sons, Stephen, Ian, and Simon, their wives, and seven grandchildren. A devoted family man, he and Pat enjoyed seeing them each flourish in their own lives and interests, and all of them were a source of great pride and joy.

Often described as one of the last prince-bishops of the Church, John had, in his heart a strong faith, a deep humanity, and a real love of those around him. A godly man, he said his prayers faithfully, and this was reflected in his preaching. This, accompanied by his down-to-earth approach — reflecting his early roots — meant that he always caught the richness and humour of life. Nothing was so mean as not to be of value, and nothing was so important that one could not see the funny side of it. He was a great pleasure to work with. This was, in part, because he himself received such pleasure from his work and from the people with whom he worked.

Bishop John had a profound influence on many people and we have a huge reason to be grateful to God for his life, ministry, friendship, hospitality, and love. May he rest in peace.

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