Obituary: The Right Rev Brian Masters

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The Independent Culture
THE APPOINTMENT of Brian Masters as Bishop Suffragan of Fulham in 1982 was one of the boldest and, many thought, reckless decisions of Graham Leonard when he was Bishop of London.

The Anglo-Catholic cast of the diocese, notably in the central episcopal area, demanded a bishop who was in sympathy with the leading parishes. But Masters's preferment was also in recognition of his powers as a politician in the corridors of the General Synod and on its committees in which he worked unflaggingly for the Anglo-Catholic cause. His influence was enormous, yet he rarely spoke in the chamber and exercised sway behind the scenes. He was more influential there than anywhere else and in the course of his work he bridged the gap between Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals and united them against the Liberal Protestant ascendancy which they regarded as a common enemy.

He was born in Horsham, in Sussex, the only child of Stanley and Grace Masters; his father was a farm labourer and there was no religious influence in the home. His mother lived with him for the greater part of his ministerial life.

Educated at Collyers School, he went up to Queens' College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Law. It was at Cambridge that Masters came under the influence of Liberal Anglo-Catholicism, at Little St Mary's. He was captivated by cultural Anglicanism in an educated and aesthetically satisfying form and this remained the predominant religious persuasion of his life. After seven years as a Lloyd's broker he went up to Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford, to read for holy orders and was ordained in 1964. He served a curacy of five years in East London at St Dunstan's, Stepney, during the vigorous incumbency of Canon Edwin Young. There he entered fully into Prayer Book Catholicism and a disciplined sacramental life.

Masters's appointment to Holy Trinity, Hoxton, in 1969 was unexpected and moved him into a different level of churchmanship. Holy Trinity was in the vanguard of Anglo-Catholic extremism, a parish where the Book of Common Prayer was hardly known. He succeeded Kenneth Loveless, a flamboyant and idiosyncratic ultra-Romanist, who had left a flourishing parish with a large cockney congregation. Masters was not an extrovert. His character was marked by a genteel, Anglican reserve; he was shy and politically was a high Tory. It was his curates who put him on correct liturgical rails (from which he never subsequently deviated) and in his 13 years in Hoxton he was converted from moderate high churchmanship to a fuller understanding of Catholicism.

Masters was a good administrator, ran the parish with efficiency and was a hard-working visitor. The people of Hoxton took to him with respect rather than affection; but he loved them and many were startled by the success with which he got on with gangster elements in the parish.

His heart was in what he described as central work and that was the General Synod, to which he was elected in 1974. He was active in the Catholic Group, on diocesan committees, in the Church Union (of which he was chairman of the executive committee in 1984-88) and in the deanery of Hackney. He was a clergyman's clergyman and he had no significant life beyond the Church.

Masters was a member of the Vacancy and See Committee and his quick appointment as Bishop of Fulham soon after Bishop Leonard had been translated from Truro took many by surprise. His administrative skills led his friends to surmise that he might become an archdeacon, but nobody thought he would be promoted beyond his own expectations.

Masters came into his own as a bishop. Dressed by Gamarelli, the papal tailor, he revelled in the rubrics of the Ceremoniale Episcoporum and performed them with dignity in the noble sanctuaries of the West End of London. One of his pectoral crosses contained a relic of the True Cross. His translation to the Edmonton Episcopal Area in 1984 soon demonstrated that he was a good pastoral bishop who took a personal interest in the parishes and was closely involved with the priests who served them.

He made himself freely available and because he was a believer he happily fitted into Evangelical parishes. He ran the area as if it was an independent diocese. Like Bishop Leonard, he realised that, to be itself, the Anglo- Catholic party needed bishops to behave as bishops and Masters properly fulfilled that role.

The developments that led to the General Synod's vote for the ordination of women in 1992 gave him anxiety. He was a strong opponent of the campaign: his consecration removed him from being a member of the Synod and prevented him from exercising direct political influence. When the result was known a member telephoned him immediately afterwards. He said, "Oh well, the match is over. It is only a question of how long it takes to walk to the pavilion."

He was compelled to consider his position. He sought an interview with Cardinal Hume but was recommended to stay, for the time being, where he was in order to help those among his clergymen who wanted to become Roman Catholics. Many of his closest friends and colleagues did so but some stayed in their parishes and he did not want to abandon a flock that needed shepherding.

Masters never took part in the ordination of a woman and allied himself with the Forward in Faith movement; his premature loss as a leader will be acutely felt. He believed that the legislation for female ordination "destroyed the claim of the Church of England to be part of the universal Church, flouts biblical teaching and severely damages the prospect of unity with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches".

Despite his liking for extremes, Masters was quintessentially Anglican. It was not in his bones or nature to want to be a Roman Catholic and in that he allowed his heart to rule his head. He was broken by what he saw as the General Synod's destruction of the Church of England as he knew it.

Amongst Brian Masters's many and notable contributions to the life of the Diocese of London was his 14-year stint as Chairman of the London Diocesan Advisory Committee, writes Kenneth Powell.

With some 500 churches in its care, many of them, including Wren's City churches, nationally important monuments and the vast majority listed buildings, the London DAC meant long meetings - which Bishop Brian chaired with patience, good-humour and, on occasions, a barbed wit - a welter of correspondence, and inevitable involvement in controversial building and reordering schemes.

Graham Leonard's decision to appoint Brian Masters to the DAC was thought unwise by many, but Masters accepted it in the loyal spirit with which he served a diocesan whose methods, unlike his principles, he could not always endorse. The parishes of the London diocese reflect every variant of Anglicanism. Though predominantly Anglo-Catholic, the diocese contains a strong (and growing) Evangelical element. The DAC was (and continues to be) presented with schemes radically to recast historic churches in the interests of "mission" - typically, pews would be cast out, and chancels stripped of their traditional fittings to be made into platforms for new- style music groups.

It was hard for Masters, as a bishop, to take a lead in opposing such schemes. Indeed, in his work at the DAC as in his other activities, he went out of his way to be objective, non-partisan, and open-minded, leaving the heated arguments to others. As a result, perhaps, there were occasions when the pendulum swung too far towards mission at the expense of conservation. The heritage lobby, reasonably enough, perhaps, highlighted these as instances of the failure of the Anglican system.

At heart, Brian Masters was a traditionalist and a Catholic, deeply attached to the Church of England, for all its compromises and contradictions, and never a likely convert to Rome. He was an impressive figure who graced many an occasion, including the opening of a Liberal Jewish synagogue in north London, with his elegant episcopal garb - including skullcap.

He loved church buildings, believing them to be assets rather than burdens, and the beauty and variety of the Anglican liturgy. His death is a grievous blow to those who share his views.

Brian John Masters, priest: born Horsham, Sussex 17 October 1932; ordained deacon 1964, priest 1965; Vicar of Holy Trinity, Hoxton 1969-82; Suffragan Bishop of Fulham 1982-84; Area Bishop of Edmonton 1984-98; died London 23 September 1998.