OBITUARY: Canon Douglas Rhymes

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The Independent Online
Douglas Rhymes was one of the unsung heroes of the turbulent years when Mervyn Stockwood was Bishop of Southwark, and South Bank Religion was all the rage. Although not recruited to the chapter at Southwark by Stockwood, Rhymes spent almost his entire ministry in the diocese, and was proud of having been appointed a minor canon, a residentiary canon and an honorary canon, ending up in 1984 as canon emeritus.

Rhymes was born in 1914. He was educated at King Edward VI School, Birmingham, and at Birmingham University, and trained for the priesthood at Ripon Hall. He served as assistant curate at Dovercourt in Essex, and in 1943 enlisted as an army chaplain. It was in 1950 that he was appointed sacrist at Southwark by Stockwood's predecessor, Bertram Simpson, "a charming person and a very good bishop in his way" as Rhymes used to recall. "But he would get his mitre all skew-whiff and sit any old how on his throne, showing his suspenders." When contributing reminiscences last summer for a forthcoming biography of Mervyn Stockwood, Douglas Rhymes described Southwark, in Simpson's day, as "a perfectly ordinary, normal diocese". He was one of those who made sure it did not long remain so.

In 1962 Mervyn Stockwood put Douglas Rhymes in charge of lay training, made him canon librarian and invited him to teach ethics to the newly created Southwark Ordination Course, a bold appointment at the time, for although Rhymes had yet to make public his own sexual orientation, neither Stockwood nor the chairman of the Ordination Course's college council, the Bishop of Woolwich, John Robinson, would have been in any doubt that he was homosexual. In 1964 Rhymes made his own considerable contribution to that unprecedented period of theological and sexual exploration with probably his most important book, No New Morality. And when, in an article in the London Evening Standard in 1963, Stockwood came to delineate the term South Bank Religion he made specific reference to sexual ethics, with the sermons of Douglas Rhymes in mind.

Having served faithfully a radical cathedral chapter he referred to as "the most difficult you could ever have, a bit like the Ministry of all the Talents", in 1968 Rhymes surprised those who did not know him better by gently withdrawing from the ecclesiastical fray. He was inducted first as vicar of St Giles, Camberwell, and in 1976 moved to Woldingham as parish priest. Eventually he retired to Fontwell, West Sussex.

Much to Mervyn Stockwood's astonishment, for he abhorred all church assemblies, Douglas Rhymes was a member of the General Synod for a decade from 1975. In debate he always spoke pastorally, for he was at heart a parish priest and a loving and lovable man, with a streak of Anglican eccentricity that endeared him to many of his friends, but not necessarily those whose briefcases he absent-mindedly wandered off with after Synod sessions. He was, generally, accident-prone. Returning once from a holiday in Cornwall he stopped off to have a bathe, only to have his car, and all the clothes he had left inside it, stolen. Decently kitted out again, he returned to Cornwall to retrieve his car, the police having found it - and promptly drove it into a wall.

Among the recreations he listed in Who's Who was conversation, an art in which he excelled. He was much more interested in other people than himself and had the perfect manners of a born listener.

Michael De-la-Noy

Douglas Alfred Rhymes, priest: born 26 March 1914; ordained deacon 1940, priest 1941; Sacrist, Southwark Cathedral 1950-54, Canon Residentiary and Librarian 1962-69 (Honorary Canon 1969, Canon Emeritus 1984); Vicar, All Saints, New Eltham 1954-62; Director of Lay Training, Diocese of Southwark 1962-68; Vicar, St Giles, Camberwell 1968-76; Parish Priest, Woldingham 1976-84; died Chichester 1 January 1996.