Obituary: The Right Rev Stanley Booth-Clibborn
Friday 08 March 1996
His diocese had the largest group of run-down Urban Priority parishes and this impelled him to constant public pleas for a social order which would redress the balance in favour of the marginalised. In 1991 he published Taxes - Burden or Blessing?, which urged "a radical change in our attitudes towards what we do in common and how we pay for it". He was an Anglican rarity - a bishop who was known to belong to the Labour Party - whether speaking in a downtown pulpit in Salford or in the House of Lords.
This least pontifical of bishops came from the Booth family, which had founded the Salvation Army, and he married Anne Forrester, member of a family distinguished for service in the Church of Scotland. Again he was unusual among Anglican bishops in feeling at home in radical and reformed circles, both political and ecclesiastical.
But he was not a "party man". He was scrupulous in his policy of appointing conservatives and catholics to posts in his diocese. His natural sympathies were with radical causes: inner-city parishes, support for the developing world, and the ordination of women as priests. Through his wife, a deputy chairman of Christian Aid, he had wide international contacts.
Brisk, hard-working, likeable, Booth-Clibborn was born in London, educated at Highgate School, and then spent five years' commissioned service in the Royal Artillery, including two years in India. At Oriel College, Oxford, many of his friends were destined for politics but he decided to offer for ordination. After four years in east-end parishes in Sheffield he served in Kenya for 11 years in ecumenical posts.
He was appointed Editor- in-Chief of East African Venture Newspapers, a project which was designed to draw together the Churches and the developing African leadership. I once heard him speaking in a shop-front church in Nairobi, challenging his African congregation to prepare for political struggles when independence came. When a worshipper rebuked him that this was politics, not religion, he insisted that God was calling the congregation to be responsible for their own nation, adding, "Politics is not a dirty business Africans can leave to the British." He also advocated the freeing of Jomo Kenyatta from prison, basing this on his conviction that, despite the horrors of Mau Mau, Kenya would soon need Kenyatta as India had needed Gandhi. After independence, he had an hon-oured place in East Africa.
The Booth-Clibborns returned to inner-city parishes in Lincoln. Their unusual expertise was welcomed by the British Council of Churches, Christian Aid and Lincoln Theological College. Stanley was next appointed Vicar of the University Church, Great St Mary's, Cambridge. It was typical of his good-humour and modesty that he would tell against himself the story of Bishop John Robinson's letter on behalf of Trinity College Patronage Committee, which pressed him to accept with the words, "We are scraping the bottom of the barrel."
Booth-Clibborn was 55 when appointed to the demanding diocese of Manchester. There were overwhelming problems such as huge Victorian churches for tiny congregations, under-funded church schools and a boundary which meant that large numbers of those who drew their wealth from the city, lived in and supported a neighbouring diocese. However he was determined to "get on with things". He liked and admired Manchester, and its civic aspects. He and Anne were endlessly kind to clergy and their families when they were in trouble, whether from vandalism, illness or a breakdown in family life.
Stanley Booth-Clibborn gave high profile and courageous leadership wherever he was, in Kenya, Cambridge or Manchester. Speaking about the ordination of women, he said: "Some people have interpreted episcopal leadership as meaning that the Bishop should not take strong stands on controversial issues, but I think that that path simply enfeebles episcopal leadership. People respect more the kind of leadership where it is quite clear where the bishop stands." This enabled him to agree, shortly after his appointment to Manchester, to be the first Moderator of the Movement for the Ordination of Women. His stature was recognised well beyond the diocese.
His way of working revealed his debt to his army background, both British and Salvation. He was more conservative in his faith than in his politics. Manchester felt that they had a bishop who resonated with much that was best in the community. A pressurised vicar put it like this: "The Bishop says his prayers and carries the burdens of his people." In place of the old complaint "The Church is not for the likes of us" there came the frequent comment "The Bishop is on our side".
Stanley Booth-Clibborn's episcopate was devoted to the diocese with its serving clergy, writes Canon F. W. Dillistone. Never tiring in his relation to the needs and problems of each individual parish, he manifested a steadfast leadership which inspired those with whom he was in contact.
After London and Birmingham, Manchester stands out as the metropolis of the North. With its famous football teams, its important airport and its flourishing university, Manchester holds a world-wide reputation. Moreover, it has undoubtedly been the centre in the north of England for other religious enthusiasms - not only non-Anglican but also Jewish, Muslim and Far Eastern. It has had a long Anglican tradition, the diocese having been formed in the early 19th century. In consequence a bishop has to assume leadership within his own diocese as well as maintaining relations with the other religious bodies within his area. It was not surprising that William Temple was chosen more than 50 years ago to take charge of enterprises ranging from the great Conference on Politics, Economics and Citizenship to the stirring evangelistic efforts on the Blackpool Sands.
In philosophy, history and economics, Manchester became a stage from which distinguished scholars went on to Chairs in other universities: leading industrialists witnessed the great change-over from the mills and factories to a much more diversified pattern (with the enormous influence of the growing radio and television industries, together with the long tradition of the Manchester Guardian), culminating in a pattern of communication today which is far more central in its general outreach.
Stanley Booth-Clibborn and his wife Anne went on steadily relating themselves to the many problems which a vast diocese brings. He did not forget missionary responsibilities and when time allowed found out conditions at first hand. He did not forget the wonderful heritage which was his and the way in which General Booth transformed the ranks of the down-and-outs everywhere. He did not hesitate to speak out when a public issue demonstrated rights and wrongs.
I well remember Stanley Booth-Clibborn's enthronement on a day full of snow and ice: he laboured thereafter amid all the demands of the diocese to set forward the cause of Christ in the teeming diocese of Manchester.
Stanley Eric Francis Booth-Clibborn, priest: born London 20 October 1924; ordained deacon 1952, priest 1953; Training Secretary, Christian Council of Kenya 1956-63; Editor-in-Chief, East African Venture Newspapers 1963-67; Leader, Lincoln City Centre Team Ministry 1967-70; Vicar, St Mary the Great, Cambridge 1970-79; Bishop of Manchester 1979-92; married 1958 Anne Forrester (two sons, two daughters); died Edinburgh 6 March 1996.
Canon F. W. Dillistone died 5 October 1993
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