Canon Arthur Gribble

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The Independent Online

Arthur Stanley Gribble, priest and theologian: born Ulverston, Lancashire 18 August 1904; ordained deacon 1930, priest 1931; Curate, St Mary Windermere 1930-33; Curate, Almondbury 1933-36; Chaplain, Sarum Theological College 1936-38; Rector of Shepton Mallet 1938-54, Rural Dean 1959-54; Prebendary of Wiveliscombe in Wells Cathedral 1949-54; Principal, Queen's College, Birmingham 1954-67; Recognised Lecturer, Birmingham University 1954-67; Honorary Canon, Birmingham Cathedral 1954-67; Chancellor, Peterborough Cathedral 1967-79, Canon Residentiary 1967-79 (Emeritus); married 1938 Edith Bailey (one son); died Wincanton, Somerset 9 March 2002.

Arthur Gribble was one of the last of a generation of churchmen rooted in the Prayer Book who combined an openness to new theological thinking with a strongly traditional piety.

As Principal of the Queen's College, Birmingham, from 1954 to 1967 Gribble ran the institution with strict discipline on the semi-monastic lines which were fairly common at the time, but he was innovative in including a study of contemporary society in the curriculum, with speakers from industry, the trade unions, the health service and social services. His deep spirituality was infectious, and he imbued all his students with a strong pastoral sense and a recognition of the seriousness of preaching.

Outwardly a shy and quiet man, with a rather thin, dry voice, he would suddenly put the fear of God into any student who overslept for Matins by a display of rage which was as overwhelming as it was unexpected. Yet at the same time he was kind and generous-hearted, and gained not only the respect but the genuine affection of his students, many of whom became his friends in later life.

As a young man he had spent a year studying at Heidelberg, so he was ahead of many of his contemporaries in appreciating the profundity of German theological scholarship. He never became a partisan of either Bultmann or Barth, but he clearly recognised the importance of the issues they raised. His theological skills brought him a lectureship at Birmingham University, where he engaged in dialogue with Geoffrey Lampe and J.G. Davies.

For his ordinands in training, it was his pastoralia lectures which were the most memorable. He advocated the traditional pattern of parish ministry: study in the morning, visiting in the afternoon, meetings in the evening, all framed by the Prayer Book offices.

He had been for 16 years Rector of Shepton Mallet in Somerset, where there was a large military prison, and it was remarkable to see how this shy and in many ways other-worldly man had been able to get through to many of the disturbed and deeply troubled men to whom he had ministered. Some of his pastoral advice seemed to belong to another age, but it was always immensely practical. He recommended the possession of a handkerchief soaked in lavender for use when ostensibly wiping your nose in a filthy house. But his prize remark was the advice to do parish visiting on a bicycle; in that way you could easily stop to talk to a parishioner in the street, but you could just as easily wave and cycle on past a parishioner to whom you did not wish to speak.

Born at Ulverston (like Stan Laurel) in what was then the Furness district of Lancashire in 1904, he attended the local grammar school and went on to Queens' College, Cambridge, where he took a first in the Theology Tripos Part II and was made Burney Student. After his year in Heidelberg, he trained for the ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge, and was ordained deacon in 1930 by H. H. Williams, Bishop of Carlisle.

At his priesting the following year, the only other candidate was Alan Ecclestone, a remarkable conjunction of two strong-minded thinkers, both catholic in doctrine but at opposite poles in their social theology. Whereas Ecclestone went to a poor parish in Barrow-in-Furness, Gribble became curate of Windermere, though his second curacy took him to the industrial West Riding at Almondbury, Huddersfield. A short spell as Chaplain of Sarum Theological College was followed by his long incumbency at Shepton Mallet from 1938 to 1954.

Towards the end of his time at Queen's, Gribble began to find himself out of step with the new radical theology of the Sixties and the shift in methods of theological training. He had no stomach for the proposal to merge his college with the Methodist institution at nearby Handsworth. He was therefore happy to accept the offer of Cyril Eastaugh to become Canon Chancellor and Librarian of Peterborough Cathedral. While at Westcott as a young man he and his three closest friends had formed the "Gaiter Club" which continued to meet annually to celebrate their progress towards gaiters, meaning high office. Of the four, Gribble was the only one not to become a bishop or a dean, but characteristically he was content with the station to which he had been called.

At Peterborough he was generally an eirenical voice on the chapter, with a shrewd judgement which gained the respect of his colleagues. A major task which he confronted was the unsatisfactory condition in which the books in the library had been kept. This problem was not unique to Peterborough, but, whereas other cathedrals pursued grants and trusts to conserve their precious libraries, Gribble chose the easier route of transferring 5,000 early printed volumes to Cambridge University Library, a move which caused considerable controversy. The University Librarian acknowledged that the books

will increase the usefulness of this library so far as early English books are concerned, to an extent not paralleled by any single event in its history since 1715, when George I gave us the private library of John Moore, Bishop of Ely.

A fair number of the items, chiefly polemical religious pamphlets of the 16th and 17th centuries, are unique copies.

Arthur Gribble stayed on at Peterborough to the age of 75, developing the eccentricities of elderly canons; he is remembered there for wearing a hot water bottle under his cassock throughout the winter months. He continued to teach for the WEA, but his lectures on I Corinthians were so detailed that he never got to the end.

His retirement was first at Stamford and latterly at Wincanton, where he continued to read and to travel.

Jack Higham