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Obituary: Chris Smith

10 November 2023

Rebecca Chapman writes:

CHRIS SMITH was not someone who drew attention to himself. Always unassuming, he was someone whom visitors to Lambeth Palace could chat to at receptions and not realise that he was the Chief of Staff. Anyone, from the chef to the Archbishop, would pop in to sit in his armchairs and ask for advice. He was utterly unflappable, finding simple solutions to practical problems that had seemed insurmountable.

Before Lambeth, Chris had a successful career as a chartered accountant and a banker, initially at PriceWaterhouseCoopers for 23 years, eventually becoming a partner. Then, in 1993, he moved into the ecclesiastical world as General Secretary of the diocese of London, accountable to Bishops David Hope and then Richard Chartres, before becoming General Manager at Hoare’s Bank in 1999. His kindness, thoughtfulness, and ability to listen to everyone were much loved everywhere he worked.

In 2003, Chris become Chief of Staff at Lambeth Palace. It was a new lay post, created by the Hurd and Mellows reviews. Chris made it his own, and his sense of joy at work — whether it was finding funds, befriending bishops, or leading the Lambeth team — helped to set the tone of the palace as a place of warm hospitality, where staff volunteered to help out of hours because of the sense of community and camaraderie.

In a model of difference, working together across traditions and theologies for the good of the wider Church, the liberal Anglo-Catholic Archbishop Rowan Williams had the steadfast support of the Evangelical Chris. Rowan remembers Chris as “unfailingly loyal, never just compliant, willing to push where necessary, absolutely to be trusted with confidences, sympathetic without being lax, and above all visibly demonstrating his commitment to the common life of prayer at Lambeth”.

Church had always been a large part of Chris’s life, and, in 1973, aged 24, he became treasurer at Holy Trinity, Brompton. During his 17 years in the post, Holy Trinity underwent a transformation from society church to Charismatic powerhouse, with its finances also positively transformed. Influenced by John Wimber, it began church-planting across London in the 1980s, and hosted the first conference on church-planting.

Together with Archbishop Williams, Chris worked from Lambeth to ensure that the new initiative, Fresh Expressions, had the financial resources that it needed to flourish. From 2005 to 2013, Chris served as a trustee of Fresh Expressions; by 2012, a Church Army estimate suggested that ten per cent of worshipping Anglicans were part of a fresh expression of church.

He stepped down from Lambeth, after the transition to the new Archbishop, who thanked him for his faithful service, noting that “our debt to him is more than we can imagine.”

Chris continued to serve a range of charities in subsequent years, sitting on the board of the Abbeyfield Society, the St Martin-in-the-Fields Charity, and chairing the board of St John’s, Nottingham, as it, sadly, closed.

Chris and his wife, Nina, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year. They had two daughters, and doted on their four grandchildren. Chris, who had cancer, slipped away quietly in his sleep, while surrounded by his family, on 30 October.

When a situation reached a satisfactory conclusion, he would tell us that things were now “in the right place” — a phrase that seems apt, although he will be very much missed.

Chris Smith died on 30 October, aged 74.

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