Roger Greenacre remembers the late Bishop of Chichester

Whoever accepts the challenging task of writing Bishop Eric Kemp’s biography will also need to address the history of the Church of England over a period of more than 50 years.

Eric Kemp was born in 1915, ordained deacon in 1939 and priest in 1940, and spent 28 years at Oxford (first at Pushy House, then at Exeter College); he was then Dean of Worcester from 1969 to 1974.

After a remarkable period of 27 years as Bishop of Chichester he retired at the age of 85 and died in Chichester at the age of 94.

Eric Kemp was deeply involved in a wide range of aspects of the Church’s life from Canon Law reform and the refashioning of synodical government to matters ecumenical and, increasingly, in a number of Catholic institutions such as the Church Union, Walsingham, Pusey House and the theological colleges of St Stephen’s House and Chichester. Though he and Graham Leonard were on opposite sides in the debate on Anglican–Methodist unity, they were totally at one in their opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood in the CofE.

Ecclesiological convictions

Eric Kemp’s opposition was based on firm theological and ecclesiological convictions; that there can be no change of this nature in the practice of a Church which claims to have inherited the

historical threefold ministry without a Catholic consensus involving those with whom we share this heritage. He sets out his position clearly and concisely on pages 277–278 of his memoirs, Shy but not Retiring (2006).

I had met Eric Kemp before I went to St George’s Paris, in 1965, but it was during my ten years there that acquaintance ripened into friendship. He was often in Paris to study at the Bibliothèque nationale and after a time I suggested that on these visits he should stay with me in my rather ramshackle presbytère.

Little did I guess that I was entertaining angels unaware; that he would become a bishop, that he would come and stay with me soon after his nomination so that I could take him to Chartres (twinned with Chichester) to meet the bishop, and that not long afterwards he would invite me to move to Chichester to be Chancellor of his cathedral. He had a high doctrine of friendship, of which the support he showed to Brian Brindley after his fall (sending a stinging letter to two members of General Synod who had circulated articles from The News of the World to all their colleagues) was only one example.

It was a joy and a privilege to work with Bishop Eric. Something of a workaholic – he had three desks in his study for three different kinds of work – he was not only a disciplined man of prayer, a scholar and a theologian and, in celebrating the liturgy, every inch a pontiff, but also a sensitive pastor with a genuine thirst for the Church’s missionary outreach.

Meat and no sauce

His imperturbable, unexcitable style (one of his chaplains said that he only saw him `lose his cool’ twice during 3 years) and a rather flat, sombre voice could lead many, mistakenly, to find him dull. His sermons and addresses were full of solid meat but with little sauce, when those of so many others to which one had to listen were all sauce and no meat. He also had a strong, if dry, sense of humour.

Eric Kemp had long been a convinced European, both politically and ecumenically. As a successor of George Bell he became particularly involved in Germany (in the Meissen Conversations, for example, and in forging links with Catholics and Protestants in Bamberg and Bayreuth) but he had a special love of France, and few things gave him greater pleasure than being made a chanoine d’honneur of Chartres Cathedral.

In his memoirs he wrote that if he really did find it necessary to leave the Church of England he would look to the Orthodox Churches since he could not become a Roman Catholic [p. 260]. One of his great heroes, whose portrait adorned his study, was Ignaz von Dellinger, the German opponent of the First Vatican Council.

For myself, 15 years younger than Bishop Eric, the texts of ARCIC I and ARCIC II and close collaboration with such French Catholic theologians as Jean-Marie Tillard and Herve Legrand would lead me to a different conclusion. But with that exception I can only say that I loved that man and would have followed him anywhere. ND