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Obituary: The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson

by
01 March 2024

Steve Buckley

The Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth writes:

DR ALAN WILSON, who has died suddenly and unexpectedly, was, for 20 years, a passionate and compassionate Area Bishop of Buckingham in the diocese of Oxford. His loss has been widely felt across the county.

As Guy Elsmore, the Archdeacon of Buckingham, put it (News, 23 February): “We have lost a courageous, wise, and exceptional pastoral leader and teacher. Alan’s ministry was centred in people, in valuing every person he met and in the quest to expand the circle of the Church’s love to embrace all.”

Steven Croft, the Bishop of Oxford, has said that, since Alan’s death, “almost everyone has an anecdote to tell about him”, and “those who disagreed with him have nevertheless paid tribute to his kindness and pastoral skills and the fact that he was there for them”.

Working closely with three successive Bishops of Oxford, Alan was devoted to the parishes and people of Buckinghamshire; but he also made a great contribution to the diocese as a whole and the wider Church in a number of spheres. On women’s ordination, same-sex relationships, and victims of abuse in a church context, he led from the front.

Ordained deacon in 1979, after reading history at Cambridge and training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, he later completed a doctorate in church history at Oxford. He served all his ministry in the diocese, being Rector of Sandhurst for 11 years before his appointment as a bishop in 2003.

Alan had a mind that was well fed from his wide range of interests, especially modern history, photography, art and design, and France. It was a mind fizzing and overflowing with ideas. This, combined with his vivid prose style, resulted in one of the early highly readable blogs. He was adept at social media and was a regular consumer and producer of Twitter posts and more. As an “early adopter” of new technology, he could also be misunderstood. John Pritchard, the former Bishop of Oxford, who worked with Alan for eight years, received a letter of complaint from someone who had been at a service that Alan was taking and thought he saw the bishop reading his emails; in fact, he was following the Bible readings on an app.

Andrew Brown (Press, 23 February) wrote: “Lots of journalists liked him, even without the bond of a shared sense of humour”; this was because “journalists felt that he liked us rather than used us.”

Alan’s capacious mind, retentive memory, and personality meant that he was always a lively contributor to any meeting. His style was always relaxed, informal, and friendly, and he could come in from a run, which he did to keep fit, in singlet and shorts, and quickly change to meeting mode. As John Pritchard said, “He was a constant source of delight and good humour.”

Alan Wilson was a strong supporter of both the ordination of women and committed same-sex relationships, and was always prepared to speak out on their behalf. In 2017, when the House of Bishops produced a report recommending no change in the traditional position, he was the only serving bishop to sign an open letter in opposition to this. In 2023, he was one of the bishops supporting blessings for same-sex couples. Alan wrote a well-argued, honest, sometimes angry, account of the sexuality debate in the Anglican Churches, More Perfect Union? (Books, 12 December 2014).

He was also a strong supporter of survivors of abuse in a church context, and, in relation to this, criticised the “unhealthy and excessive” centralisation of power in Bishops in the Church of England. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, Alan “was never afraid to stand up for those on the margins, those that felt they were being ignored by the Church. He was a man of prophetic spirit, reaching out where he saw injustice and speaking up where he witnessed the abuse of power.”

Another area in which Alan excelled was education. He chaired the diocesan board of education for more than ten years and led the diocesan engagement with multi-academy trusts and the development of several new church secondary schools. He was absolutely passionate about both good education and the values of good church schools, and he never missed an opportunity to commend heads, teachers, governors, and schools to the wider diocese.

He also served the wider community in various ways as a governor of Wycombe Abbey and Cressex Community School and as a visiting professor in the University of Buckingham.

Alan’s rich and committed ministry was rooted in a strong family life; he leaves his wife, Lucy, and their five grown-up children. There is a particular poignancy about his death, as he had just started a sabbatical in order to think about retirement.

The Rt Revd Dr Alan Wilson died on 17 February, aged 68.

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