Thinking Anglicans

Death of John Habgood, former Archbishop of York

The death has been announced of John Habgood, who served as Archbishop of York between 1983 and 1995, and before that as Bishop of Durham for 10 years. He was 91, and died on Wednesday, 6 March.

There is a statement from Archbishop John Sentamu here:

The sad news of the death yesterday of former Archbishop of York, John Stapylton Habgood, comes as northern bishops gather for a Diocesan mission in Liverpool. As a hugely distinguished scientist, theologian and philosopher, Archbishop Habgood’s faith in Christ gave him a particular perspective and a persuasive witness both to church and nation for his time. His many books simplified big and complex questions, revealing an incredibly perceptive intellect. I’m very glad to have confirmed his grandchildren and dedicated a room in his honour at Bishopthorpe Palace.

His towering presence, physical, intellectual, and spiritual, was a gift to all who knew him. My prayers are with his family at this time. May he Rest in Peace, and rise in glory.

Further coverage at the Church Times and the BBC.

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Susannah Clark
Susannah Clark
2 years ago

John Habgood: “to understand the Bible we must try to enter into the belief patterns of the period.” Correct, I think. The narratives of the scriptures were written in the context of their authors’ culture, assumptions, traditions, specific communities, and the parameters of the scientific knowledge of their day. They were written by fallible humans, trying tentatively to understand and communicate their experiences of encounter with the holy and divine. It is salutary to reflect on the scientific mind-sets of people like John Habgood, and remind ourselves that the route to understanding the bible runs through de-construction (what is the… Read more »

Steve
Steve
2 years ago
Reply to  Susannah Clark

If John Habgood had become Archbishop of Canterbury, it would have set back the cause of women priests by 20 years. This doubtless sounds paradoxical to the point of being fatuous, so let me explain why I say this. I know for a fact that the Evangelical suspicion of Habgood ran very deep; never mind whether or not it should have done, the point is that it did – mainly over his insistence on going ahead with the consecration of David Jenkins and simply dismissing the objections to it (why, I wonder, did he not act as Randall Davidson did… Read more »

Michael Mulhern
Michael Mulhern
2 years ago

This sad news only serves to highlight how the Church of England has become less of key player in national public life, and reminds us of a time when bishops and archbishops were people of intellectual stature. I doubt that Mrs Thatcher would ever get rattled by the current episcopal cohort, as she did whenever John Habgood, Robert Runcie, David Sheppard and David Jenkins spoke out against government policy and its effects on the most disadvantaged. Habgood, in particular, was a trenchant critic of economic policies which blindly insisted that the poor would rise with the tide of prosperity. Not… Read more »

FrDavidH
FrDavidH
2 years ago

I was ordained by him at his first ordination service after he became a Bishop. Although he was somewhat aloof, he was loved and respected and had a caring pastoral heart. They don’t make bishops like him anymore. He ministered at a time when people listened to what bishops like him had to say – unlike today when none has anything to say worth hearing. RIP dear Bishop.

Father Ron Smith
2 years ago

A Mighty Totara (tree) has fallen! May this holy man now rest in peace and rise with Christ!

Father David
Father David
2 years ago

Just as Churchill wouldn’t hear of George Bell going to Canterbury so too Thatcher blocked John Habgood’s obvious and sensible passage to the throne of Saint Augustine. I remember being present in York Minster when, against much opposition, Archbishop Habgood bravely consecrated David Jenkins to the See of Durham. One of his books was entitled “Confessions of a Conservative Liberal” and another was called “Making Sense”. Alas, no one of Habgood’s intellect, wisdom and stature now sits on the Bench. A great loss to the Established Church.

Will Richards
Will Richards
2 years ago

John Habgood may have appeared aloof @FrDavidH, but I think it is was more likely that he was shy. He also had the endearing quality of engaging brain before opening mouth, which is why, perhaps, he was less at ease in a parish bun fight than his successors. What he gave us in other ways was immeasurably rich and enduring. His sermons were a model of how to combine clarity with economy. Now that we no longer have Rowan Williams in Canterbury (not to say the faux-democracy of the current CNC where dioceses are allowed, effectively, choose their bishops on… Read more »

Richard W. Symonds
2 years ago
Reply to  Will Richards

“He [John Habgood] also had the endearing quality of engaging brain before opening mouth”…and pressing keys.

Fr John Emlyn Harris-White
Fr John Emlyn Harris-White
2 years ago

My generation were Blessed to live, and be in active ministry when as Fr Ron has said, ‘giant trees’ were leading the church OF England . May they all rest in peace, and rise in glory.

We pray today for our Church of England , apart from York, led by ‘frail saplings’ with no roots , or stability.

Fr John Emlyn

Tim Chesterton
2 years ago

My father was a working class boy, ordained in his 30s in 1965, and in active ministry until the mid 1990s. He served in the days when most bishops had been theological college principals with little or no parish experience. He told me once that in 30 years of active ministry he had rarely found a bishop who understood what it was like to be a parish priest and could offer him the support he needed. Plus, he found their utterances largely unintelligible to anything other than the Oxbridge crowd. That’s why I’m skeptical about the good old days. Not… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Kershaw

Well said, Simon. Criticism is so often all we have to offer, it seems.

RosalindR
RosalindR
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Kershaw

The Guardian’s obituary today is slightly less of a euology.

Perry Butler
Perry Butler
2 years ago
Reply to  RosalindR

It was written over 10 yrs ago by Alan Webster..and was rather dominated by his distress at Hapgoods plan for flying bishops.

Susannah Clark
Susannah Clark
2 years ago
Reply to  Simon Kershaw

I agree. Many of our bishops are decent, pastorally-minded, faithful people. I’m more or less a nobody but lots of them have engaged with me and demonstrated thoughtfulness, kindness, care.

Tim Chesterton
2 years ago

It’s too bad that we don’t seem to be able to praise dead bishops without dissing living ones. Being a bishop is an impossible job, and I’m grateful to all who answer the call. I’m only personally acquainted with one C of E bishop, but (being the age that I am) I know several here in Canada (where, God forbid, Will Richards, dioceses choose their own bishops!!!), and I’m grateful for their faith, hard work, and in many cases courageous leadership. Sometimes it seems to me as if ‘Thinking Anglicans’ should be renamed ‘Negative Thinking Anglicans’. Criticism is so often… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Chesterton

Agreed. I find it personally painful, and I hope I am not especially thin-skinned. I have had several rude rebuffs which I felt wholly unwarranted (not to say unChristian) in response to what I thought were carefully-reasoned and rational comments. Really a Christian blog or website should be the last place to encounter such discourtesy. Having said this, I salute the liberal stance of the TA Moderators in allowing vigorous debate. It’s just such a pity that people sometimes resort to using extreme language without a lot of thought about even the possibilities of “the other side of the coin”.

Tim Chesterton
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Chesterton

Rod, I’ve already read it. I’m not talking about whether or not we should reform structures. I’m talking about the blanket judgement and condemnation of hard working bishops because they don’t fit the ‘saintly’ profile of people who lived years ago in an entirely different world. Statements like ‘they don’t make bishops like him any more’ and ‘we are unlikely to have a bishop of Habgood’s stature in the Church of England again. Ever.’ are profoundly unfair to modern bishops who deal with entirely different challenges.

Father David
Father David
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Chesterton

I look forward to the great day when the deceased Bishop George Bell’s name is praised rather than dissed. Who can be compared to such a great and holy man among the present Bench of bishops? None, I fear.

Richard W. Symonds
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

There is one Bishop who sits in the House of Lords who has courageously praised Bishop Bell without ceasing: Peter Forster, Bishop of Chester.

Tim Cnesterton
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

See, there you go again! Why not stop after praising George Bell? Why go on to condemn his modern successors? Whose right is it to make the comparison? Who gets to be the judge?

Richard W. Symonds
2 years ago
Reply to  Tim Cnesterton

Grab a coffee, go somewhere quiet, and read this about Bishop Bell – by the late Bishop of Ely Peter Walker in 1985/6. Draw your own conclusions:

richardwsymonds.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/march-2-2019-power-unlimited-and-exclusive-nuclear-arms-and-the-vision-of-george-bell-by-peter-walker-bishop-of-ely/

Father David
Father David
2 years ago

The death of John Habgood has caused me to take down from the bookshelves a number of his volumes. In his “Confessions of a Conservative Liberal” in an essay on “The Crockfords Preface” (page 90) I read the following – “A parish in my own diocese has, as I write, advertised a Mass for “the maintenance of Catholic Faith and Order in the Church of England” complete with a “procession to the crowned statue of our Lady Queen of Heaven” and “veneration of the relic of Saint Pius V”. I do not wish to carp at what is doubtless a… Read more »

Robin Ward
Robin Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

No doubt St Stephen’s Hull under Fr Francis Bown

peter kettle
peter kettle
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

I suspect it was St Stephen’s Hull, where the parish priest was the flamboyant and rabidly anti-women-priests Francis Bown. Ironically the church was closed down after a final service led by the Bishop of Hull, Alison White, in 2017. Francis Bown is still flamboyantly active in the secular world – google Bown’s Best and Bown’s Bespoke

Will Richards
Will Richards
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

May be where Frankie Bown once held sway?

Jane Thomas
Jane Thomas
2 years ago

To be fair to those who commented earlier in this thread, I don’t think anyone is saying that the current cohort of bishops is not hardworking and motivated by the highest good. A valid point was made that, collectively, they lack the intellectual calibre of previous generations. That’s hardly a controversial point. Similarly, I think there is strong evidence to say that bishops, on the whole, are less likely to challenge political policies that disadvantage the poor today; and certainly less willing to call the government to account. There are exceptions (e.g. Liverpool) but very much a minority. The silence… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Thomas

‘Unlike the Anglican Church in Canada, we do not have a congregationalist polity’.

The bishops and clergy of the Anglican Church of Canada would be astounded to discover that we have a congregationalist polity.

Tim Chesterton
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Thomas

‘A valid point was made that, collectively, they lack the intellectual calibre of previous generations.’

But it was on their watch that Christianity in England began to go into decline (I note that Alan Gilbert produced his influential book ‘The Making of Post-Christian Britain’ as long ago as 1980), so apparently their intellectual calibre wasn’t as effective as many here seem to think.

Father David
Father David
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Thomas

Precisely, in former times and not so very long ago, with controversial figures like John Robinson and David Jenkins the debate was all about theological issues. Then we had great debates about The Church and the Bomb under great bishops like John Austin Baker. During Robert Runcie’s tenure at Canterbury we had Faith in the City. Now it would seem all we ever get hot under the collar about is Issues in Human Sexuality and how to keep the C of E plc still rolling along.

CRS
CRS
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

Ah, yes, the good ol’ days.

Culture does not stand still. As Tim Chesterton notes above, all this soi-disant intellectual firepower went hand in glove with a declining CofE, and now a church on the verge of collapse, calling forth a different kind of bishop altogether. New occasions teach new duties. The duty now is survival, disestablishment, God alone knows what.

CRS
CRS
2 years ago
Reply to  CRS

I am sure this is very sage, and also that you will judge it so!

Each era has to face its own challenges. Looking back on “grand figures” who are to be contrasted with those contemporaneous will fail miserably if the respective challenges of the periods are not factored in.

John Webster has a good entry on retrievalism in an OUP volume recently appearing. Cautious and wise.

CRS
CRS
2 years ago
Reply to  CRS

“Obviously. However, institutions also have entrenched patterns of maladapative behaviour. Dismissing the insights of intellectuals from within and without is one.” Duh.

CRS
CRS
2 years ago
Reply to  CRS

One speaks of glorfiying a previous generation, and my response to that is as above.

Your comments about your individual heros then sound like lectures in your private salle d’enseignement.

Blessed Lent indeed. Quiet in the Lord’s wisdom.

Will Richards
Will Richards
2 years ago
Reply to  CRS

Careful, CRS, the Church of England’s decline under George Carey was more pronounced than under Habgood and Runcie (remember the so-called ‘Decade of Evangelism’?) and it’s not doing too well at the moment with Welby, HTB and Resource Churches, with several dioceses coming close to haemorrhaging. I think the point about the withdrawal of the C of E from public life is still a valid and significant one. Existing to survive is, surely, a sign of failure.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

Perhaps it is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you feel that the CofE is expiring through lack of numbers, then the safety needs of bums on seats will be prioritised. The self-actualisation needs of worrying about theology, and the bomb, will have to be deferred.

Northerner
Northerner
2 years ago
Reply to  Jane Thomas

I wonder if Jane means the distinction between the Church of England being an established church, whereas the Anglican Church of Canada is not, rather than the distinction between being episcopal compared with congregational? The Anglican Church of Canada is definitely episcopal and not congregational in structure.

Father David
Father David
2 years ago

Simon, when a Church stops “worrying about theology” surely it has then lost all sense of purpose and hope?
As for the Bomb – then I’ll leave that one to Presidents Trump and Kim to start “worrying” about!

Richard W. Symonds
2 years ago
Reply to  Father David

If Simon Dawson wishes to invoke Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ Theory, then he should do so more accurately. The Theory states if all the other Needs are threatened, we return to our basic Survival/Safety Needs. So, if a nuclear war threatens to wipe us out – because of our inability to deal with it – then our priority is unlikely to be putting “bums on seats” in church!

By the way, Maslow later improved on his ‘Hierachy of Needs’ Theory with his ‘Metamotivation’ Theory – a far more creative, hopeful and challenging theory for humanity.

Simon Dawson
Simon Dawson
2 years ago

Sadly this website does not do emojis, I needed the one for tongue firmly in cheek.

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