Obituary: Canon G. B. Bentley

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The Independent Online
G. B. Bentley was an outstanding priest of the Church of England and a remarkable person.

I got to know Bentley well during the last 11 years of his life, as his next-door neighbour in the Cloisters at Windsor Castle, where he was a Canon of St George's Chapel from 1957 (and an Honorary Canon from 1982), and as a friend and confidant up to the hour of his death. Although he was in considerable discomfort and distress towards the end, his mind remained acutely sharp, his last dispute being with God, who had called him, whilst still at school at Uppingham, in Rutland, to the priestly vocation.

He recalled very clearly how he tried to resist that call but he succumbed and was firm in his conviction and vocation all his life. He went on to King's College, Cambridge, from where he emerged as a distinguished scholar with a double First in Classics and Theology.

During an active and vigorous ministry which spanned close on 50 years, Bryan Bentley served as priest, pastor and scholar, as husband to Nina and father to two sons and two daughters. It was not possible to get all those things right all the time, but he left a remarkable legacy in each of those spheres of his life.

His intellectual abilities were recognised early in his ministry through his work at Lincoln, in college and cathedral, and his pastoral gifts in hospital and parish. He devoted much of his intellectual energy to moral theology and as one of the leading moral theologians of his day was a prime mover in the Church's efforts to establish a fruitful relationship between church and state law with regard to marriage and the family, not least through his work under that title for the 1958 Lambeth Conference. The report Putting Asunder (1966) was very much his work and proved to be a forerunner of the recent divorce law reform. He was in correspondence with the Lord Chancellor almost to the end of his life, in support of the no-fault divorce recommendations.

He worked hard and conscientiously without the ambition and self-interest that can mar many a vocation. This, coupled with a scrupulously critical mind, was doubtless why his writing was not more extensive, although between 1940 and 1965 he was the author of some half a dozen books.

Bryan Bentley exploded the silly myth that one is either good with one's head or one's hands. He was extremely good with both, having a dextrous touch for making things and an acute understanding of how things worked - he serviced his own car. Not only was he an innovative Precentor for many of the 25 years of his Windsor canonry but also an effective Steward of the buildings and the works which abound in the place.

With regard to his long tenure as Canon of Windsor, followed by the unprecedented 14 years as Honorary Residentiary Canon, he devoted considerable energy to the maintenance and understanding of the college and chapel traditions. What appeared to some as an over- zealous regard for the ancient statutes that bind the College of St George derived from a deep love and concern for the place and its continuing part in the life of the wider Church.

It has been said that he was in some ways a difficult person at times, but such is often the judgement of those who do not distinguish between the argument and the man. He was, above all, a seeker after truth for its own sake.

His life and work spanned a good deal of the 20th century; he was a living link with an earlier generation and a reminder of an age when men of ability and distinction responded more readily to the Church's call to ministry.

How one dies is largely dependent on how one has lived. Bentley's was no easy vocation. He was prepared to argue it out with his maker as he did with his friends. And through all this he increasingly displayed a warm and generous heart.

Geoffrey Bryan Bentley, priest: born 16 July 1909; ordained deacon 1933, priest 1934; Assistant Curate, St Cuthbert's, Copnor 1933-35; Tutor of Scholae Cancellarii, Lincoln 1935-38, Lecturer 1938-52; Priest Vicar, Lincoln Cathedral 1938-52; Proctor in Convocation 1945-55; Rector, Milton Abbot with Dunteron 1952-57; Examining Chaplain to Bishop of Exeter 1952-74; Canon of Windsor 1957-82, Honorary Residentiary Canon 1982-96; married 1938 Nina Coombe (two sons, two daughters); died 12 September 1996.