The Right Rev David Say

Popular Bishop of Rochester


Richard David Say, priest: born 4 October 1914; ordained deacon 1939, priest 1940; Curate, Croydon Parish Church 1939-43; Curate, St Martin-in-the-Fields 1943-50; Assistant Secretary, Church of England Youth Council 1942-44, General Secretary 1944-47; General Secretary, British Council of Churches 1947-55; Church of England delegate to World Council of Churches 1948, 1954, 1961; Rector, Hatfield 1955-61; Honorary Canon of St Albans 1957-61; Bishop of Rochester 1961-88; Church Commissioner 1961-88; High Almoner to the Queen 1970-88; Chairman, Age Concern, England 1986-89; KCVO 1988; Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Canterbury 1988-2006; married 1943 Irene Rayner (died 2003; one son, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Wye, Kent 15 September 2006.

David Say, for 27 years Bishop of Rochester and for 19 from 1969 a member of the House of Lords, kept the Church of England going through difficult times. He persuaded the Lords to admit women to Holy Orders and welcomed the women warmly when he ordained 25 in his cathedral in 1987.

His only publication, Kent Pilgrim (2001), reveals the width of his enthusiasms. Here was a bishop over six feet tall but so approachable that he could tell you what you did with a cigar given you while working for Sir Winston Churchill at Chartwell (put it under a cheese cover). He was happy with the Establishment but never lost touch with workaday curates and parish priests or with lay people in the pew. He was, for good reasons, a popular bishop and both laity and clergy wanted to belong to his diocese.

Say was born in 1914 into a naval family and educated at University College School, London, and at Cambridge at Christ's College and Ridley Hall. Devoted to London, he served as curate at Croydon and St Martin-in-the-Fields and at administrative tasks at the Church Youth Council and as General Secretary of the British Council of Churches.

His enthusiastic energy led him one day to escape from Croydon to hear William Temple at St Paul's preach on the theme of the people of God going forward, bracing their wills, especially in 1942 in the middle of the Second World War. Say was inspired by Temple, whom he saw as a representative man, standing for the life of the Spirit, fully earthed in the contemporary world. Say shared Temple's energy, though not his intellect, and lay people were delighted at Say's habit of bounding up the pulpit steps at St Martin's to preach the Kingdom.

Similarly, Say was attracted by George Bell, the bishop rejected by Churchill for Archbishop, because his sympathies for humanity were so open-ended. Thanks to Temple and Bell, Say, for all his love of the Establishment, insisted, in Bell's words: "The Church . . . is not the State's spiritual auxiliary with exactly the same ends as the State." Say was to proclaim these truths at some cost to himself during the 1991 Gulf war. He represented the Church of England at three World Council of Churches conferences, and was seen as a trusted public spokesman.

As Rector of Hatfield (1955-61) and Bishop of Rochester (1961-88), he was a confidant both in church and state of several archbishops and of the Marquess of Salisbury, to whom he was chaplain. As Almoner to the Queen he assisted at many Maundy ceremonies, becoming well-known in the country's cathedrals; benign, efficient, with his large figure draped in a symbolic towel. He humanised occasions. His message concentrated on the hope and the inevitability of change, ending with the prayer "Order what we shall be".

More than most church leaders, he recognised the place of women. He pleaded for a common gender language and felt that masculine language in the liturgy ("Brethren", "Almighty Father") was beginning to jar. To those who dreaded the loss of male leadership he urged the words of Julian of Norwich, "Love and dread are brothers, rooted in us by nature and grace." He admitted that where both partners in a marriage are ordained "there is a new dimension in the life of a bishop".

He publicly rejected the "boss" concept of bishop and priest for a friendly partnership of faith and ministry and was brave enough to urge (inconsistently) the need to relax. He questioned concepts of "conversion" and "evangelism" which do not include a relaxed, trusting relationship in ministry between women and men. That such an authoritative figure could be so sensitive on this issue was impressive. He did not feel that this was "to fish according to our own personal preconceptions" but was the slow guidance of Scripture, Tradition and Reason.

David Say experienced disappointments with resilient good temper. He was saddened by the over-cautious who rejected reunion with Methodists. No doubt his warm-hearted tolerance led him to be passed over in appointments. But his spiritual strength grew in his long life and his motto, increasingly repeated as it was at his retirement service in his cathedral nave, alongside his wife, Irene, and surrounded by children with balloons, was "Alleluia - On we go".

Alan Webster

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