Bursaries and Opportunities for Study

Some of the older readers of New Directions, clergy now on the edge of retirement, may well remember Fr Bishop in his Chichester days from 1961–70. ‘Johnny B’, as he was affectionately known to his ordinands, raised a smile by his ultra-studious ways and his mishaps when driving his red Baby Fiat in places far from human habitation; but struck awe into such as were caught gossiping unprofitably instead of engaging with St Augustine; and surprised some who were lured by him into thinking, rather than serving up in their essays faintly disguised snippets from the lesser authors. ‘Read the big books’, he would say.

He was seldom seen without a book in his hand, to which he would immediately turn, should the visiting preacher prove not up to standard, or some small delay occur. He read prodigiously, not only in long stretches before dawn, or in hours taken from the night; but the odd moment here and there was used for reading, that no time be lost. He had learnt to use the snatched moment in this way from Dr Moorman, under whom he had trained at Chichester in the 1950s. The wide and deep knowledge he thus acquired equipped him to build up, over a period of some 40 years, a judiciously chosen theological library of close on 5,000 volumes.

In the spring of 1992, nearing the end of his earthly life, he expressed the wish that his library should not be sold piece-meal and dispersed, but kept as a unit and given to some worthy institution. A long and fruitless search was made for about three and a half years, but at last perseverance was crowned with success when, in December 1995, the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Bec, in Normandy, received the John Bishop Library on permanent loan, housing it with the Abbey’s own library of 90,000 volumes.

A Normandy home

The Olivettan community at Bec was pleased to acquire the nucleus of a library of Anglican theology because the Abbey had always valued its very early connection with England, in that it had sent first Lanfranc and then Anselm to be archbishops of Canterbury in the late eleventh century. In modern times it has been eager to promote Anglican/Roman Catholic relationships and ecumenical discussion. Hence it is an ideal place for continuing this dialogue between our Churches by the means of study and shared worship.

In 1994 it had seemed expedient to set up a charitable trust in memory of John Bishop, its first aim being (to quote from the trust deed) ‘to support theological learning by lending the Library’ to a suitable institution – Bec, as it turned out. Its second aim follows from the first: ‘to support expenses in connection with the aforesaid loan’. This meant, in the first place, professional cataloguing of the collection, which is being followed by a programme of annual accessions.

The trustees are currently building on the existing main strengths of the library, namely, English church history, ecclesiology and liturgy, theological and doctrinal works by Anglican authors, and ecumenism. In fact, the John Bishop Library is in many respects on parallel lines to the Abbey’s own fine collection which, from a Roman Catholic perspective, comprises works of theology and philosophy, biblical studies, patristic studies, spirituality, church history, ecumenism, Judaism and the history of religions.

The fourth and fifth objects of the Trust are concerned with making gifts of money to certain good causes, notably to the Hospice where John Bishop was cared for in his last weeks in this world. A sum of £3,000 has to date been given to the Hospice.

Study grants

The third aim of the John Bishop Charitable Trust is ‘to make grants of money for the benefit of students’, with certain provisos as set out in the trust deed. Briefly, students should belong to what we know as the traditionalist constituency in the Church of England, in accordance with Dr Bishop’s own position. Typically, students have been male ordinands and clergy, but the term ‘students’ embraces lay people of like traditionalist belief.

Students should intend to study at Bec, where they can conveniently consult works in both the Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions. They may make a private visit, if for example they have some book or thesis on which they are working. But, if they have no private agenda and would prefer some guidance with a structured programme, as well as some company (an added bonus if they are not all that at home in speaking French!), they may prefer to go as one of a conducted Reading Party, the first of which (organized by the Trust itself) was conducted just two years ago in June 2001.

Full details of these alternatives, and how to arrange a visit and apply for a bursary, are on our website. Go to www.jbct.org and click on Bursaries. It may be more convenient for ladies to stay (rather than at the Abbey Guest House) in one of the delightful ‘guest cottages’ scattered about the grounds of the neighbouring dependent community of Benedictine nuns. In any case, a warm Benedictine welcome awaits you.

The support of theological learning and the maintenance of the John Bishop Library have strengthened the bond between the Trust and the Abbey, and have necessarily put the spotlight on the ecumenical dimension of the Trust’s work. Visits to and from Bec have reinforced our friendship and our mutual understanding in Christ. Thus a good basis has been established for going forward on the path towards that unity for which Our Lord himself prayed.

The natural curiosity on the part of the Abbey to know more about the man whose books they had received led to the publication by the Trustees, in October 1998, of a volume of John Bishop’s addresses to ordinands, his sermons to his parishioners in rural Devon, and his theological reflections, The Ultimate Mystery, which includes a biographical essay by his friend, Tony Cross.

The Trustees’ object was to present a rounded portrait of John Bishop, academic and country parson, teacher and pastor of souls, friend and mentor, and giver of memorable parties – a man who looked forward happily to ‘the sociability of heaven’. This little book, and the Trust’s major work of carrying forward theological study in mutual friendship, are John Bishop’s memorial.

For full details of the Trust and its work, and how to get to Bec, here are all the contacts you need:

Website, with a link to the Abbey: www.jbct.org

Clerk of the Trustees, the Revd Charles Card-Reynolds: Clcardreynolds@btinternet.com

Abbey website: www.abbayedubec.com

Abbey Library: bibliotheque@abbayedubec.com

Accommodation: Frère Hotelier, Abbaye Notre-Dame, 27800 Le Bec-Hellouin, France, or e-mail: hotes@abbayedubec.com

The Guest Mistress, Monastère Ste Françoise Romaine, 27800 Le Bec-Hellouin, France, or e-mail: bec.stefrancoise@wanadoo.fr

In addition, the Trust is currently circulating an illustrated leaflet, freely available on request: contact the Clerk to ask for copies.