Sam Philpott reveals that the answer is that he is a remarkable combination of both!

I have seen the Gruffalo side of Stephen deployed to great effect in conversation with opponents and I have been fascinated how quickly and easily he would become the mouse, charming in the extreme but quietly weaving his cunning in order to thwart the scheming of others.

An exemplary Director

Stephen has been an exemplary Director of Forward in Faith. Never simply a bureaucrat who did his master’s bidding, but wholeheartedly on side with the membership of the organization he served and in a very real sense one of its leaders. What follows can only be the tiniest of glimpses of what he has been and done for our cause.

When he came to the post of Director, Forward in Faith was an association of like-minded orthodox Christians who assembled together to contend for the Faith once delivered to the Saints. Under his influence, we became a membership organization with members paying an annual subscription. It gave us a real sense of being a coherent body of people, committed to one another in pursuit of a common cause. And, of course, we became a democratic body with our National Council comprising those who had been elected by the membership on a constituency basis. The Forward in Faith office became a place where serious records were kept and reliable information could be obtained. Even more than that, we had a Director who was in tune with the ‘state of play’ both within our organization and within the Church of England itself and who knew how the media worked. He relished being the Gruffalo voice that greeted phone enquiries with his familiar ‘A … a … a … lo!’ Stephen Parkinson, an office worker? No! He has been more than that.

A reliable companion

Geoffrey Kirk and I found him a reliable companion in so many different encounters with those in authority in our Church. He was both the Gruffalo and mouse who sat between the two of us when we went to meet the General Synod Group that produced the Rochester Report on Women Bishops. It was fascinating to hear Geoffrey Kirk decline to help the then Bishop of St Albans with his ‘school boy French’ and hear the audible grunts of approval from the Gruffalo sat between us. Stephen was with us again when we negotiated conversations with the then Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth and subsequently with his Chief of Staff over lunch at the National Liberal Club. The latter led to a meeting between Fr Kirk, Sr Anne and myself with Archbishop Carey at York at which his opening greeting was, ‘Tell me about your dea of a province.’

Bishop Llewellyn had told me not to mention the idea: ‘The ‘Archbishop has no time for it.’ Stephen is one of those who made the word and idea a concept to be taken seriously.

I am sure that he, as much as any, regrets that we moved on to other softer language to describe our needs.

Providing support

Stephen was present throughout the planning meetings for the Consecrated Women working party – a group established in response to Lord Carey’s encouragement that we shadowed Rochester. Throughout the period of our meetings Stephen was diligent in the provision of support, and often uttered the wisest word around the table.

Stephen simply knew when to talk tough, when to be utterly unmoveable and uncompromising and, as they say, ‘in your face’ in the promotion of orthodox Faith and Order. He also knew when to be polite, gentle, mild and understanding in the same cause.

A fearless fighter

Bishop Jonathan’s tribute to him –‘It is thanks to the tireless work of Stephen Parkinson that Forward in Faith has been able to make such an impact on the life of the Church of England. As its Director, he has played a pivotal role in building Forward in Faith into the distinctive and dynamic organisation that it is today. It is a tribute to Stephen’s achievement that we have been able to attract so distinguished a successor’ – has an authenticity that is undeniable. There is also a poverty about these words (and this piece bears the same mark) in that they only skim the surface of our debt to a fearless fighter for the Faith who we have been privileged to name among our number.

Hospitality was a kneejerk reaction as far as Stephen and Jo are concerned. It simply came naturally and many of us will be grateful for their generosity.

He and Jo are off to a well-deserved rest in Walsingham. They have our heartfelt thanks and we wish them well … but I doubt that we have heard the last roar of this Gruffalo or enjoyed the perfected scheming of this mouse, skills never used for personal advantage but always for the good of the Church. ND