Obituary: The Right Rev Ronald Goodchild

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The Independent Culture
BISHOP RONALD Goodchild is remembered with smiling admiration by an unusual variety of those who shared their youth with him; in schools, in the RAF and in the immediate post- war church houses, especially St Michael's House, Hamburg. At the end of his career it was noted that, as bishop presiding at a major diocesan meeting, he ensured a full discussion when the administrative machine wished to deprive an enterprising and rather bolshy young curate of extra earnings. Goodchild was not one for sweeping things under the carpet to the disadvantage of the young.

Goodchild's sense of fun and delight in other people's good fortune made his determined work for the deprived through Christian Aid, of which he was chairman for 10 years, all the more effective. As Bishop of Kensington he never kowtowed to the smart or was too hurried to miss the deeper underlying problems. His 16 years as Bishop in west London saw a slow but creative introduction of new forms of worship, fresh parochial initiatives and warmer relationships between the churches. He would wander into houses or vicarages, wealthy or poor, with the assurance of an experienced family GP, sharing a Christianity whose hard core was shrewd practical kindness. He led happy and hard-working groups of parishes.

Goodchild was born in 1910 in Australia, the son of a former Bush Brother. He was educated at St John's School, Leatherhead, and Trinity College, Cambridge. After spending time in teaching he was ordained in 1935 to St Mary's, Ealing, and in 1937 became Chaplain of Oakham School. In 1942 he insisted on volunteering as an RAF Chaplain and was twice mentioned in Despatches in post-D-Day flights of Typhoon fighters in constant action. He remained a Chaplain after the war and was appointed to the imaginative, newly created St Michael's House in Hamburg from 1946 to 1949.

The post-war European church houses established personal contact with the young Nazis who had been selected by the Third Reich to rebuild Europe. These young Germans disillusioned in defeat were keen to learn the secret of their conquerors. Goodchild was a genius at conveying the essence of practical Christianity and convincing the young of the need for a new approach. The fact that he both became their friend and was an expert mimic of their eccentricities assisted the process - which was aided by the presence on the staff of a young Dutch resistance worker and other non-German Europeans.

Goodchild's experience of the crucial power of shared discovery was carried on by him later as General Secretary of the Student Christian Movement in Schools. He also served the Parish and People Movement which changed the pattern of life and worship all over England. As Vicar of Horsham, then Archdeacon of Northampton and finally Bishop in west London his temperamentally mild approach persuaded those he served that the time had come for the Church of England to change its ways.

He and his wife Jean, whom he married in 1947, always welcomed colleagues and neighbours into their homes whether in Sussex, Peterborough or London. He organised the transformation of his rectory at Ecton to become a valued retreat house for the Diocese of Peterborough after his departure. In London at their home in Campden Hill there was a stream of visitors and neighbours. Here were held many gatherings of all kinds - Anglicans, Free Church people and Roman Catholics all drawing closer together.

Ronnie Goodchild's experience was exceptionally wide. His inheritance of the Bush Brother tradition, his own harsh knowledge of intense post- D-Day fighting and his empathy with the young British and young Germans gave him insights rare amongst more prominent church leaders. Though he respected tradition, he was not doctrinaire. He never stopped searching for ways in which Christianity might be tried in everyday life and, if he was inarticulate about doctrinal complexities, those he served felt that here was a great man conscious of God's presence in life's diversity.

In the 1970s he became drawn to the ecumenical Focolare Movement, based in Rome, and he joined a group of bishops friendly to the movement, from seven different denominations, in regular meetings to the end of his life, in Rome, in Ottmaring in Germany, and at the Focolare Centre for Unity in Welwyn Garden City.

Towards the end of his 16 years as Bishop of Kensington, Goodchild became a serious craftsman; his creativity as a designer and maker of chairs and other furniture expressed the delight he had always found in the work of other artists. His humour and sense of fun allowed him to shock as well as to laugh, both to enjoy cricket and also the oddities of the modern world.

Ronald Cedric Osbourne Goodchild, priest: born Parrammatta, New South Wales 17 October 1910; ordained deacon 1934, priest 1935; Chaplain, Oakham School 1937-42; Warden, St Michael's House, Hamburg 1946-49; General Secretary, SCM in Schools 1949-53; Rector, St Helen's Bishopsgate with St Martin Outwich 1951-53; Vicar of Horsham 1953-59; Archdeacon of Northampton and Vicar of Ecton 1959-64; Bishop Suffragan of Kensington 1964-80; Chairman, Christian Aid Department, British Council of Churches 1964-74; Honorary Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Exeter 1983-98; married 1947 Jean Ross (one son, four daughters); died Hartland, Devon 28 December 1998.