Obituary: The Right Rev Cyril Bowles

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The Independent Culture
WHEN CYRIL Bowles, as Bishop of Derby, spoke in favour of the ordination of women at the 1978 Lambeth Conference, one member reported that "he wove a golden cord round the Anglican Communion, binding all the Bishops together". That was typical of the man whose gift it was to reconcile opposing views by his measured, temperate eloquence.

Bowles was well prepared for the episcopate which crowned his ministry. Born in Glasgow in 1916, and educated at Brentwood School and Cambridge University, where he obtained a First Class in the theological tripos, he trained for the ministry at Ridley Hall. After ordination, he served his title in the populous parish of Barking where Thomas Bloomer (later Bishop of Carlisle) was the incumbent.

From there, he returned to Cambridge in 1942 where he became successively the Chaplain, Vice- Principal and Principal of his former theological college. During his time there, Ridley Hall prospered under his ability to weld happily together students from a wide variety of backgrounds. After 21 years at Cambridge, he was made Archdeacon of Swindon in the diocese of Bristol. It was there that he met Joan Eastaugh, the Matron of Swindon Hospital. His marriage to her brought a sustained happiness into his life.

In 1969 he became the fourth Bishop of Derby. His 18 years as Bishop brought to fruition all his previous ministerial experience - pastoral in parish work, theological in the training of the clergy, administrative in the running of a diocese. As a bishop, the care and development of his clergy became a dominant concern. A system of training in human relationships through 10-day long encounter groups (from which many emerged liberated, but some a little bruised), and the annual well-attended Clergy School at Swanwick, ensured over the years a diocese whose clergy were well motivated in their work. He also set about raising the stipend level to an equality with that of more prosperous dioceses. His pastoral style was always firmly gentle. He had a listening ear. This could occasionally be rather alarming when a clergyman on the telephone would sometimes fill a silence and thus reveal rather more than he had intended.

Bowles believed in the clergy making their own decisions in any difficult situation; he helped them to clarify the issues involved so that they could decide wisely, and then he supported them. Derby soon became known as "a happy diocese". Towards the end of his episcopate, Bowles introduced a scheme for the regular review of each individual ministry. The aim of this was to uphold and encourage rather than to criticise or admonish.

When Cyril Bowles came to Derby, synodical government was in its infancy. He developed it throughout the diocese with a confident hand. He saw the Bishop's Council as an excellent forum for the open discussion of ideas and proposals. He brought from his previous diocese Bishop Oliver Tomkins's initiative in having the Council meet frequently, and residentially. Often, what had seemed a problem at 10pm on Friday night was resolved on Saturday morning after the Eucharist and breakfast together in Morley Retreat House. His sermons on these occasions, and at the meetings of rural deans and lay chairmen, were models of clarity and precision.

His theology was in the Anglican liberal evangelical tradition. He was happy to explore new ideas and to subject them to rigorous scrutiny. In debate, he was ever gracious. The Scriptures, especially the Epistles of St Paul, profoundly influenced his thinking. Many of his sermons at Institutions and Licensings began with a Pauline text. In planning the Christians Respond programme by which he and his senior staff, accompanied by specially trained laypeople, visited all the parishes in the diocese, some of which were experiencing great difficulty because of unemployment, he turned to Romans 4 v17. This expressed his expectant belief in God "who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist". As a result of these visits, many parishes were able to define their objectives with hopefulness, and move forward with renewed confidence.

His service in the General Synod was notable. His were reckoned to be a safe pair of hands when dealing with contentious or controversial issues. His skill in dealing with the numerous resolutions and amendments in the drafting of the Rite A Eucharist for the Alternative Service Book won the admiration of all the varied protagonists. He exercised this same eirenic skill in seeing through Synod the legislation for the establishment of local ecumenical projects. In his diocese, he was tireless in promoting ecumenism in the parishes, and also in forging a close link between Derby and the Church of North India.

Cyril Bowles will be remembered by those who knew him for his unfussy Christian faith, his clarity of mind, and his unfailing courtesy, patience and subtle sense of humour. There was frequently a smile on his lips and a twinkle behind his glasses. He and his wife (known affectionately in their diocese as "Derby and Joan") spent a happy retirement at Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire where he continued to exercise a welcome ministry as an Assistant Bishop.

Cyril William Johnston Bowles, priest: born Glasgow 9 May 1916; ordained deacon 1939, priest 1940; Curate, Barking Parish Church 1939-41; Chaplain, Ridley Hall, Cambridge 1942-44, Vice-Principal 1944-51, Principal 1951- 63; Honorary Canon of Ely Cathedral 1959-63; Archdeacon of Swindon 1963- 69; Bishop of Derby 1969-87; married 1965 Joan Eastaugh; died 14 September 1999.