Obitaury: The Right Rev Douglas Feaver
Tuesday 11 November 1997
Douglas Feaver was one of the Church of England's more colourful characters, about whom innumerable anecdotes are related. Indeed, some years ago, there was published, under the title Purple Feaver (1985), a collection of his bons mots which, even if some had become embroidered in the telling, are undoubtedly ben trovato.
Feaver was a man of firm and well-grounded views, and a hearty range of prejudices, which he was never afraid to express. When one met him, one was likely to be greeted not with the usual platitudes, but with a sharp, challenging, even outrageous, comment about oneself or one's opinions: his tall figure, shambling gait and piercing glance often made him seem like a bird of prey waiting to pounce.
So he could be distinctly formidable, striking fear into bishops' meetings and college high tables, where his quick mind and acerbic tongue would devastate any evidence of shoddy or half-baked thinking, with which he had no patience. But he never minded people standing up to him and he relished the cut and thrust of debate. And beneath it all, there was always a kind, warm and humorous person, who never took either himself or life in general over seriously, and could be great fun.
As a scholar of Keble College, Oxford, he took a double First in History and Theology. He always retained his scholarly interests and much enjoyed intellectual company. He then spent 20 years at St Albans Cathedral, first as curate and then as Canon and Sub-Dean, only interrupted by war-time service as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
Perhaps a key step in his career was his appointment to the living of St Mary's, Nottingham, the central church of the city. The setting of a beautiful building and the particular demands of such a parish admirably suited Feaver's interests and talents and his successful 14-year ministry there marked him out for the preferment which came with his nomination to the see of Peterborough.
Feaver used to say that he considered the diocese of Peterborough to be the best in England, and, if it is true that the prime requirement of a good bishop is that he should enjoy the job, this was certainly the case with him. He knew and loved the whole area, from its deeply rural parts to the great industrial developments which mushroomed during his tenure. Earlier he had been a Proctor in Convocation and, as a bishop, he was automatically a member of the General Synod, but he did not play a great part in the latter body and had scant sympathy with the central administration of the Church and its increasing bureaucracy.
It was his diocese which absorbed his energies, and he never felt the need of a suffragan. He was a firm traditionalist, with a strong sense of history, wedded to the Book of Common Prayer, which he always insisted on using when he conducted public worship. Sometimes he could frighten timid clergymen and, unsurprisingly, not all his clergy agreed with him but they soon came to realise that he was no blinkered autocrat but someone very approachable and deeply concerned with them.
Feaver had a special interest in the younger clergy, using his examining chaplains, in a way that no longer happens, to ensure that they did some solid theological reading and himself carefully reviewing their progress every year. Many were indebted to his pastoral ministry, not least the then Duke of Gloucester and his family who lived in the diocese, and in the lovely Palace at Peterborough he and his wife were always most generous and open in their hospitality. Under him, business was despatched briskly, in the pulpit he was pungent, witty and brief and, although he did no major writing, his contributions to diocesan publications were models of wisdom and insight.
With some reluctance, Feaver felt he should resign after some 12 years in harness and settled first in Cambridge and finally at Bruton in Somerset. His first wife, by whom he had three children, was a Stubbs, a member of a famous clerical and academic family: when he remarried after her death, his second wife, who survives him, had been a distinguished headmistress. Both marriages were very happy, not least, one suspects, because both ladies were a match for him.
Feaver became a bishop before the establishment of the Crown Appointments Commission and one wonders whether his pronounced individuality would have found favour under the present system. In many ways, he embodied a kind of Anglican churchmanship and understanding of the episcopal office which is now virtually extinct.
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