Obituary: The Most Rev Frank Woods

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Frank Woods, priest, born Davos Switzerland 6 April 1907, ordained deacon 1931, priest 1932, Curate St Mary's Portsea 1932-33, Chaplain Trinity College Cambridge 1933-36, Vice-Principal Wells Theological College 1936-39, Chaplain to the Forces 1939-45, Vicar of Huddersfield 1945-52, Chaplain to the King 1951-52, Suffragan Bishop of Middleton 1952-57, Archbishop of Melbourne 1957-77, Primate of Australia 1971-77, KBE 1972, married 1936 Jean Sprules (two sons, two daughters), died Melbourne 29 November 1992.

FRANK WOODS's appointment to Melbourne was unexpected. A majority of the Board of Electors was committed to the appointment of an Australian. But, when agreement could not be reached on a local candidate, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher was asked to suggest some English possibilities. Fisher had made an extended tour of the Australian Church in 1950 and knew its shortcomings. He made only one recommendation, that of the Bishop of Middleton, and this to their eternal credit the board accepted.

The diocese to which Frank Woods succeeded in 1957 was well served by its clergy and specialised agencies. Though lacking the massive endowments of its Sydney sister, its resource had been well husbanded. If it had a fault it was complacency and this Woods soon dissipated.

A survey of the diocese indicated potential growth areas, and a diocesan-wide 'Forward Move' was launched. A good response was achieved, which allowed expenditure to be increased on clergy training, new area parishes and hospital and institutional chaplaincies. In tandem with this went a four-year study programme, Forward-in-Depth. Woods's episcopate was also marked by growth in ecumenical understanding. It saw increased participation in the Australian Council of Churches, and new ventures in industrial mission and in theological education through the United Faculty of Theology and in personal and theological dialogue with Roman Catholics.

In 1971, following a far-reaching review of diocesan life by a series of broadly based and representative committees, the Synod approved the establishment of three Regions of Episcopal Care. Beginning in 1971, the three Bishops Coadjutor each took responsibility for a 'geographical area' comprising one-third of the parishes of the diocese together with 'functional areas' for the diocese as a whole.

In 1955 the General Synod adopted what proved to be the final draft Constitution for the Church of England in Australia. This required acceptance at diocesan level, and it took until 1962 before the first General Synod under the new constitution was convened in Sydney. From the outset Melbourne representatives assumed national leadership in a number of key areas. The election of Woods as Primate was recognition not only of his personal standing, but of Melbourne's role in the wider national Church.

Woods's episcopate saw the Church move from its traditional role of 'hallowing the Establishment' and providing care and carers through its institutions, to one of offering a more radical critique of society. On issues such as capital punishment, poverty and Australian involvement in the Vietnam war, the Church in Melbourne, officially at least, was in the vanguard of public opinion.

Ecumenically, overseas influences were apparent as the impact of Vatican II was felt. Theologically, John Robinson's questionings in Honest to God were echoed in Melbourne. Parochially, the Parish and People Movement influenced the course of liturgical change and the development of new pastoral strategies, especially in Christian initiation. The 1970s saw a decline in Sunday School enrolments, in formal youth work and in nominal adherents. But this was paralleled by a greater commitment at every level by those who continued to identify themselves as Anglicans.

Intellectually, theologically, ecumenically, pastorally and spiritually he contended for an 'open' position. He encouraged a similar stance among his clergy through his Ordination and Retreat addresses, through a series of notable Synod Charges, and through sponsoring visits by leading contemporary theologians. And despite his essential Englishness he won and held the affection and trust of his diocese and community.

Woods retired in 1977 but continued an active ministry, in demand as a preacher and retreat conductor. Always a forward thinker, he was a great encourager, especially of the younger clergy, and supported strongly the ordination of women to the priesthood. He will be remembered within the Australian Church for his ecumenical initiatives, his national outlook and his modelling of a relevant contemporary episcopacy - pastoral, collegiate and community-orientated.

(Photograph omitted)