Rosalind Goodfellow: First woman Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church

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The Independent Online

Rosalind Goodfellow was an outstanding lay member of the United Reformed Church, at the forefront of the att-empts of the churches of Britain and Ireland to move towards unity in the last quarter of the 20th century. She was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church for 1982-3, becoming not only the first lay Moderator but also the first woman to hold the position.

Rosalind Erica Griffith-Jones was born in 1927 to the Rev William Griffith-Jones, a Welsh Congregational minister, who had been Chairman of the Congregational Union of England and Wales in 1958-9, and his wife Kathleen. She attended Milton Mount College, which was where I first encountered her. In 1945 I arrived at the college – which was usually located in Three Bridges, Sussex, but was at the time evacuated to north Devon – as a new pupil, while Goodfellow was head girl. Her vote of thanks at Speech Day made a great impression, and her poise, charm and assurance on that occasion suggested a future in public life.

After leaving Milton Mount she read history at Royal Holloway College, and in 1949 she married Keith Goodfellow, a barrister and later QC. She taught history at South Hampstead High School until her children were born, and her career in public life began with her appointment as a JP in 1960.

Her husband died tragically young in 1977, and Goodfellow now devoted her considerable skills in chairmanship to the service of the churches and the wider community. After her election as Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church in 1982-3, she presided over the assembly's debate on the proposed Covenant for Unity between certain churches in England. It was largely due to her skill and impartiality in the chair that the assembly was able to reach a clear decision in favour of the covenant. Two months later, however, the Synod of the Church of England failed to support the proposals by sufficient majorities. Events of her year of office propelled her into unprecedented prominence as a woman church leader in the chancel of Canterbury Cathedral at the time of the visit of Pope John Paul II, and reading the lesson at the national service in St Paul's Cathedral following the Falklands conflict.

Goodfellow continued to support attempts by the churches to work more closely together. She served on the Board of the Division of Community Affairs of the British Council of Churches. From 1997 until 2001 she was chairman of the Free Church Federal Council, at a time when its name and constitution was changed to that of the Free Churches' Group at Churches Together in England. She also served as moderator of the Churches Commission on Inter-Faith Relations in that period when their significance was being increasingly recognised.

She was active in other spheres, too. In the 1990s she was chair of the governors of Wentworth Milton Mount School in Bournemouth, and a member of the Council of Brunel University. In her local area, she chaired the Citizens' Advice Bureau in Surrey and West Sussex, and served on the Council of Age Concern. She served as a magistrate until retirement age. She was always an asset to every committee on which she served, fair, kind, charming and good company.

Elaine Kaye

Rosalind Erica Griffith-Jones, church leader: born Southampton 3 April 1927; Moderator of the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church 1982-83; married 1949 Keith Goodfellow (died 1977; two sons, one daughter); died Bramley, Hampshire 25 August 2008.