Obituary: The Right Rev James Adams

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The Independent Culture
JAMES ADAMS was a gifted pastor and priest, who as Rector of Wan- stead, Archdeacon of West Ham and Bishop of Barking was a much-valued friend of many outside and inside the churches.

He had an unusual ability to relate and to remember. "He knew us better than we knew ourselves" was an Essex comment. At his farewell Eucharist in Chelmsford Cathedral he gave Communion to a congregation of several hundred, in almost every case using their personal names. For more than 30 years, he was chaplain to the Fruiterers' Company in the City of London; he was a polished speaker and a wise adviser. He was not soft or smooth and could be barbed in comments on those who put their trust in management and did not give time to individuals.

Adams was born at Rayleigh, Essex in 1915 and educated at Brentwood School and King's College London. He trained for the ministry at St Andrew's College, Whittlesford, Cambridge, where he was greatly influenced by Charles Raven. Like Raven, Adams had a strong personal devotion to the pattern of Christ's life and shared Raven's conviction that science and faith could be fused. He was not academic but widely read. His mind was stored with memorised poetry. He was good company and convivial. Again like Raven, he was able to convey his own experience of doubt and faith in conversation and in public speaking with an unusual gift for words. In Essex he knew a variety of leaders of disparate communities both social and political and was trusted by them.

Adams spent his ministerial life in such demanding areas as Sheffield, Bermondsey (where on one occasion he forgot to take his hands out of his pockets when talking to the Queen Mother in an allotment), Plymouth and Barking. He was ordained by Leslie Hunter, then Bishop of Sheffield, a religious strategist who became one of his heroes. Hunter strengthened Adams' dislike of pomposity and of those who emphasised status, believing the saying that those who stand on their dignity will be left standing.

Like Hunter, Adams was witty about those who thought that when they had found a formula they had solved a problem. Both in the Sheffield parish of Walkley and at Sheffield Cathedral, Adams faced alienation from the neighbourhood and inherited indifference - stern facts of life in south Yorkshire.

In 1943 he married Vena Jones; she was always at the heart of the teams they created wherever they went. In the lingo of those days Vena "did not work" but only brought up three sons, ran the vicarages and faced smilingly and effectively the remark, "Oh, there will be 35 to lunch tomorrow. Can you manage?"

At Wanstead in the Sixties, Mondays would begin with Matins and Holy Communion and an often hilarious breakfast for six. Then the clergy, after a brief staff meeting, would set off to visit a different street each week. They started singly from either end and on opposite sides, hopefully meeting in the middle by one o'clock. Adams' beaming warmth seemed to open doors and his colleagues caught his infectious warmth and skill. He was entertainingly observant, and prepared to protest at London follies. To the embarrassment of his family he once opened the windows of his car and sang "The Nightmare Song" from Iolanthe at the top of a falsetto voice when a Piccadilly traffic jam had become intolerable.

For Adams the church was classless and open. "Is he one of us?" was not a question he ever asked. His vision was of a ministry acceptable to the majority of those who do not go on Sundays and to the minority of those who do. His faith valued the gifts of tradition in religion as in literature and music, but was liberal.

His prodigious memory and warm humanity, always open to the younger generation, earned him an authority which was both spiritual and common sense. While others relied on tight control Adams had the courage to trust and to challenge. He could self-tease, especially in his story that Moss Bros had no top hat in stock to fit his massive episcopal head.

Jimmy Adams enabled many to find themselves in faith and in retirement returned for three years to be a parish priest (for the Ridgeway Team Ministry), the vocation in which he felt himself so blessed. His spirit was remarkable during his lengthy illness when largely paralysed by MS. A volunteer woman secretary enabled him to write and keep in touch. The bright colours of the paramedics' blankets in the ambulance led him to reflect on humanity's long journey towards the sunlight. He remained genial and positive about the church he laughed at and loved. His letters and phone calls came with the reiterated refrain "God is so good".

Alan Webster

Albert James Adams, priest: born Rayleigh, Essex 9 November 1915; ordained deacon 1942, priest 1943; Curate of Walkey, Sheffield 1942-44; Succentor, Sheffield Cathedral 1944, Precentor 1945-47; Rector of Bermondsey 1947- 55; Rector of Stoke Damerel, Devonport 1955-63; Rector of Wanstead 1963- 71; Sub-Dean, Wanstead and Woodford 1968-69; Assistant Rural Dean, Redbridge 1970-71; Archdeacon of West Ham 1970-75; Bishop Suffragan of Barking 1975- 83; married 1943 Vena Jones (three sons); died Chippenham, Wiltshire 11 May 1999.