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Angela Tilby: Keith Riglin was obedient to a developing vocation

06 October 2023

Diocese of London

THERE are some rare people who are so full of life that news of their death seems not only exaggerated, but absurd. One such, for me, was Dr Keith Riglin, Bishop of Argyll & The Isles (News, 29 September).

I met Keith in Cambridge in the 1990s, when he was Minister of St Columba’s URC Church. I knew that he had formerly been a Baptist minister, a university chaplain, and a lecturer in theology in the West Indies, but my first impression of him was of a very practical handyman. Having offered to help me move, he spent hours building shelves, hanging pictures, and helping to lay a carpet. Is it my imagination, or did he really wear dungarees and have a pencil balanced on one ear? Whatever he was doing, he always looked the part.

I remember a visit from him when I was recovering from an operation. He was very much in Reformed ministerial mode, conveying an awareness of God, along with empathy and humour. I remember feeling genuinely “edified” by his visit, encouraged and blessed, while smiling at a joke. His manner could be clownish, even camp. He kept a chasuble at St Columba’s, which he wore occasionally.

Keith could be downcast; the end of his first marriage brought him great pain. But he always knew that Christ was his friend, and that his frailties were forgiven. And that was what he communicated to all. He was instinctively appreciative of all kinds of human diversity.

For him, established religion enabled this, enriching individuals and helping to form community: the ecclesial instincts of a High Church Tory. What drew him to Anglicanism was consistency. As he put it to me recently, the Prayer Book shows you how to worship, how to pray, and how to live — all in one volume.

After a few sessions discussing theology and drinking gin with me at Westcott House, he was confirmed by Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward on a weekday morning in St Bene’t’s, Cambridge, where I was the Vicar.

Our friendship continued after his move to London, Keith contributing to the theology summer school that I directed at Christ Church, Oxford. He cheerfully taught across a wide spectrum, from Reformation studies and sexuality to liturgy. His ecumenism extended to his very happy second marriage to the Revd Dr Jen Smith, Superintendent Minister of Wesley’s Chapel, in London.

Although Keith’s denominational allegiance changed more than once, he always conveyed a sense of obedience to a developing vocation. He loved being a minister, priest, and bishop, and, ultimately, saw no contradiction. In the unique way that was his, he reconciled the issues of Reformed Christianity in himself.

By sheer chance, we happened to speak on the phone a few hours before his condition deteriorated. I shall miss him more than I can say, even as I know that he now looks towards the glory and rests under the mercy.

Read an obituary of the Rt Revd Dr Keith Riglin here

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