John Smallwood was a devoted and influential layman within the inner councils of the Church of England. From 1966 to 1998 he was a Church Commissioner, bringing his dogged determination and the financial expertise gained from a career with the Bank of England to the management of the Church of England's assets. His contribution, as a lay person, to the well-being of the Church was unparalleled at the latter end of the 20th century.
Smallwood would say that his most significant and enjoyable work was as a Trustee of the City Parochial Foundation. This is a Victorian creation founded to consolidate the charitable funds of the City of London churches into one comprehensive portfolio and to make the resulting income available for churches and charities throughout the whole of Greater London. He was to serve the foundation for 30 years, 11 of these as chairman. During these years, no less than 55m was distributed to more than 3,000 charities. The official history of the foundation described Smallwood as "a chairman for change", and for his work there he was appointed CBE in 1991.
Born in Streatham, south London, in 1926, the son of a Battersea schoolmaster, he attended the City of London School. In the 1940s the school was evacuated to Marlborough and this move broadened Smallwood's horizons. Chapel worship he came from a Free Church background inculcated in him a love of Anglican liturgy. There, too, he was encouraged to set his sights on Cambridge. In 1944 he was awarded a scholarship to Peterhouse to read Classics.
Before Cambridge, National Service intervened. Not for Smallwood a desultory two-year stint with a constant eye on demobilisation; instead an RAF commission and a life-changing experience. He was recruited to learn Japanese, which he put to use in a variety of roles in the Far East: partly dealing with the repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war, partly on war-crimes identification work, partly at an RAF staging-post in Saigon. After four years in the RAF he did not shine academically at Cambridge; he did well enough, however, to be recruited by the Bank of England as one of that year's six graduate entrants.
At the Bank he made steady progress. Between 1959 and 1962 he was the Governor's Private Secretary, covering the transition from Lord Cobbold to Lord Cromer with Humphrey Mynors, Deputy Governor, as the sheet anchor to both. After a six-month secondment to the Midland Bank in 1962 and what he described as an "unhappy year overseas", he returned to the Bank in 1964.
At this time Smallwood's banking career and his external interests changed markedly. He was asked to go to Uganda as the first Deputy Governor of the new Central Bank, but he declined because of his wife Jean's health and their three children's education. Within months he was moved sideways to another department; the start of four unhappy years at the end of which his banking career seemed to have stalled.
However, other counsels within the Bank prevailed and in 1969 he was appointed Internal Auditor and in 1974 Deputy Chief Accountant (Registrar). A proper concern for his own health in the mid 1970s he had a near-fatal illness necessitating three months' leave and his growing involvement in church affairs led him to take early retirement in 1979 at the age of 53. The Bank of England bade farewell: the Church of England beckoned.
The fortunes of the Church of England sometimes correlate with the ability and dependability of its servants, be they consecrated or ordained, licensed or lay. In John Smallwood the Church had at its disposal a lay person of highest ability and utter dependability. His attention to detail and appetite for work became legendary.
As a dedicated layman Smallwood had already made his mark within the Diocese of Southwark. As far back as 1960 he had, with John Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, established and launched the pioneer Southwark Ordination Course on whose council he served until 1994. In 1962 this led him to being invited to be a member of the Diocesan Board of Finance. He never looked back. He was later the Board's chairman (1975-2000) and under his strong leadership the diocese became, financially, one of the most soundly based in the country.
There was a certain inevitability in the deployment of Smallwood's financial expertise from diocese to the upper echelons of church life and governance. He was elected to the Church Assembly in 1965, and from there to the Church Commissioners a year later. While he was still at the Bank there were certain restrictions on the role he could play within the Church but he served as a Commissioner for 32 years until 1998 the longest tenure on record.
As a Commissioner and as a member of the Central Board of Finance Smallwood was often an uncomfortable bed-fellow. Long telephone calls, long memos, long conversations were his stock-in trade. Many years before the era of the computer he would resort to page after page of statistics to validate a point he wished to make. He was seldom worsted in discussion and debate, so sure was he of the facts of the case. It is said that he was alone in spotting the imminent financial and property crisis which beleaguered the Church in 1992. But his was a voice in the wilderness.
He had a proliferation of responsibilities during the 28 years of his "retirement". He served on the Corporation of Church House Council (1986-96), the Churches Main Committee (1987-90), Lee Abbey Council (1969-74), British Council of Churches (1987-90), the Anglican Consultative Council (1975-87), the Overseas Bishoprics Fund (1977-99), to name but a few.
Lest John Smallwood be consigned to a box marked "number-cruncher", notice should be taken of his wider interests. In the early 1980s he was chairman in General Synod of the steering group for the Women Deacons' Measure. This came to fruition in 1987, leading, in due course, to the legislation for the ordination of women in 1992. He preached and conducted services as a Reader within the Church. This ministry was much appreciated in the parishes of the Mole Valley in Surrey where he and his family lived.
In 1993, at the suggestion of Archbishop George Carey, he began to research, and write up, the lives of all the diocesan and suffragan bishops of the Church of England from Augustine in 597 to date. This monumental task was completed just before he died and the 4.3 million words it involved are now lodged in Lambeth Palace for consultation and research. If the bishops themselves are forgotten, then "Smallwood on Bishops" will not be.
Those, of course, who knew John Smallwood personally will remember him for other reasons. He was essentially a kind and generous person sustained by a close family life and by his uncomplicated and undoubted Christian faith.
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