Canon Eric James: Influential clergyman and theologian

James encouraged his great friend Robert Runcie to commission the important report ‘Faith in the City

Eric James was one of the most influential Church of England clergy of his generation. Possessing a strong understanding of the inter-connectedness which lies at the heart of Anglican spirituality combined with a prodigious gift for friendship and a phenomenal memory, James made an outstanding contribution to the life of the church in the world.

Eric Arthur James was born in Dagenham in 1925 into a lower middle-class household. He attended school locally, leaving at the age of 14 to work at a riverside wharf by the Thames in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, where he came under the influence of the Provost there, Cuthbert Bardsley, and Eric Abbott, who was later to play an influential role not only in preparing him for ordination but also his understanding of priesthood.

He went to study at King's College, London and was ordained in 1951 to a Title at St Stephen's Rochester Row under the flamboyant George Reindorp. There, in that socially mixed parish, James began to hone his gifts as a communicator, with sermons well larded with literary allusions, especially from Shakespeare, and as a pastor of rare deep care. In 1955 he became chaplain of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was loved and respected by fellows and students, his reverent informality and interesting sermons helping establish lasting friendships.

Cambridge then was a centre of tremendous creativity for the Church, of England with Mervyn Stockwood at Great St Mary's, Hugh Montefiore at Gonville and Caius, John Robinson at Clare. The post-war theological ferment of thinkers included Harry Williams, Dean of Trinity, who was among those who contributed to Soundings (1962), a collection of essays reflective of the rich melting pot of ideas that Cambridge theology represented at that time.

In 1957 he published The Double Cure, which was concerned with the value of sacramental confession. For many, confession was thought of as a largely Roman Catholic practice, but James took a more enlightened view and made the point that everybody needs to feel the liberating power of forgiveness.

In 1959 he went to the Diocese of Southwark, where he remained until 1973. An urban man, while vicar of St George's, Camberwell and warden of the Trinity College mission, James began to discover the prophetic and radical aspect of his ministry. This was further developed during his time in Southwark, as director of parish and people, and as director of Christian Action from 1973-83. As preacher to Gray's Inn from 1978-97 and in his Thought for the Day broadcasts on Radio 4, he sought to make the church think about her responsibilities in the world, and to persuade the wider world to take the church seriously.

Although it was Canon Anthony Harvey of Westminster Abbey who quite literally dreamed up the title Faith in the City it was James who encouraged his great friend Robert Runcie to establish the Commission on Urban Priority Areas. One of the most important church documents of the past 25 years or more, it continues to challenge not only the government of our day concerning the living conditions of many in our inner cities and outer council estates but also the church and her involvement in and commitment to these areas of great deprivation.

For James, the Church of England was a large room but he did not always feel comfortable in it. Being sent off as a young curate by Reindorp to have elocution lessons to rid him of his cockney accent did nothing to help him accept himself as he was and feel accepted by others. He always felt let down and perplexed by the row about church education in Southwark which led to him being rescued by Runcie and installed in St Albans, where he was allowed to flourish. Church life in the Southwark Diocese at the time was a firmament of starlets and perhaps James was one prima donna too many.

Like Stockwood, James wanted to be a voice for the poor and disadvantaged but enjoyed the company of the élite and their cultural pursuits. He made good use of his membership of the Reform Club. Always a bit of an outsider, paradoxically it was at Gray's Inn that James was enabled to be fully himself and break down all kinds of barriers.

He loved a gossip. Runcie, who was honest and unillusioned about Eric, said that if you wanted the diocese to know anything tomorrow, tell the clergy; if you wanted the clergy to know anything today, tell Eric. A great raconteur, he loved to tell the story of the disabled lady who, when the Lady Chatterley's Lover trial was at its height, welcomed Bishop John Robinson as he walked down the aisle at the church at Camberwell with the immortal words: "Well! If it ain't Lady Chatterley's Lover!"

It was because Eric was so human that he was so attractive to all kinds of people. Not containable by any ecclesiastical office, he needed to be free. He loved people and his books of sermons and addresses will survive the test of time. In 1993 George Carey awarded him a Lambeth Doctorate of Divinity. From 1995, he was a Queen's Chaplain. He spent his final years in the Charterhouse in London. Although cared for and visited by many friends, his time there gave him the opportunity to acknowledge the inner loneliness which he had known throughout his life.

Eric Arthur James, theologian: born London 14 April 1925; died London 1 May 2012.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
The Prostate Cancer Foundation is returning all donations made by Redditors 'in honour' of Jennifer Lawrence and her naked photos
news

Website users raised funds after Jennifer Lawrence nude photo leak

News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
advertising
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Randstad Education is looking for a Seco...

General Cover Teacher

£120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education are looking f...

Primary Year 5 Teacher - Lambeth - September 2014

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates based on experience: Randstad E...

C# Client-Side Developer (JMS, Integration, WCF, ASP.NET, SQL)

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Client-Side...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York