In 1948 Oswald Clark was elected to the House of Laity of the Church Assembly, forerunner of the General Synod, for Southwark Diocese. He served until his retirement in 1990. In that time he held many offices, including the chairmanship of the Standing Orders Committee from 1950 to 1990. He was a Church Commissioner for thirty years – serving for half that time on the Board of Governors – and was elected Vice-Chairman of the House of Laity in 1970, becoming Chairman in 1979. A year earlier he had been appointed CBE in the New Year’s Honours List for services to the Church of England; but he lost the Chairmanship to David McClean in 1985, following a bruising round of elections in which Catholics fared particularly badly.
Clark was educated at Rutlish School, Merton, and London University. In later life he was invited to be one of the first batch of students to study Canon Law at the University of Wales under Professor Norman Doe: he graduated with a Master of Laws degree in 1994, when he was 77. After his undergraduate degree he joined the London County Council and worked for the authority and its successor, the Greater London Council, from 1937 until 1979, with the exception of his war service. He retired with the rank of Assistant Director-General.
At the start of the Second World War he enlisted with the 2nd Derbyshire Yeomanry, and served as part of the Eighth Army in the Middle East and north-west Europe. His was the last intake to be trained to make a cavalry charge on horseback; but for most of the war he served in tanks. He left the army with the rank of Major, but not before he had sustained leg injuries on active service which would trouble him for the rest of his life
In his synodical career Clark was recognised as a forceful speaker who didn’t pull his punches. He was articulate and well-informed, always courteous, and had a wicked sense of humour. He was brought up as a Prayer Book Catholic, being of the generation which thought of the Roman Catholic Church as “the Italian Mission down the road”. He remained a staunch supporter of the Book of Common Prayer and never understood why some Anglo-Catholics might want to use the Roman Missal.
In Synod he opposed the Anglican/Methodist Reunion Scheme supported by Archbishop Michael Ramsey, because he saw the proposal concerning the conferring of Holy Orders on Methodist ministers as a fudge. His view prevailed, and the Scheme was defeated. He kept a keen eye on liturgical revision; but lost battles for the retention of the phrase “I believe” in the Creed, and for all services to have the Lord’s Prayer in traditional language.
He opposed women’s ordination on the ground that the Church of England did not have the ecclesiological authority to make such a change, even though it had power from Parliament to do so. His voice was to be heard in every major debate on the subject throughout the 1980s. However, always a man of principle, he took the decision not to seek re-election to the General Synod in 1990 (having reached the age of seventy) on the basis that clergy had to retire at that age. When he retired from Synod he was given a standing ovation following Archbishop Runcie’s words of thanks. Two years later, the final vote on women’s ordination was narrowly carried in the House of Laity by 169 votes to 82; it would have needed only two lay no-votes for the two-thirds majority to have been lost. It was said by members of the Catholic Group that if Clark had still been a member of the Synod, his oratory might have led to a different result.
Clark worshipped at the church of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe, in the City of London, where he was for many years Parish Clerk and a churchwarden. He was a Reader for 45 years, and served as Master of the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks in 1997/98. The City of London and its history was a great passion of his and, for his work as a City Guide, he was made a Life Fellow of the Guild of Guide Lecturers in 1982. In his later years, from time to time a forthright letter from his pen would appear in the Church Times: each had previously arrived in the newspaper’s office written by hand, and ending “your obedient servant”.
Although by his hundredth year he was physically frail, he kept his mental faculties to the end. The Catholic Movement owes a great deal to Oswald Clark’s political acumen, tenacity, and wisdom.
Oswald William Hugh Clark was born in 1917, the son of the Revd Hugh Clark and his wife Mabel. He married Diana Hine in 1966, with whom he had a daughter. He died on 19 December 2016, aged 99. Jesu mercy, Mary pray.