Obituary: The Right Rev David Porter

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The Independent Online
David Brownfield Porter, priest: born Blackheath 10 May 1906; ordained deacon 1929, priest 1930; Tutor, Wycliffe Hall, Oxford 1931-35, Chaplain 1933-35; Chaplain, Wadham College, Oxford 1934-35; Vicar, All Saints', Highfield, 1935-43, Darlington 1943-47; Rector, St John's, Princes Street, Edinburgh 1947- 61; Dean of Edinburgh, 1954-61; Bishop Suffragan of Aston, 1962-72; married 1936 Violet Eliot (died 1956; one son), 1961 Mrs Pamela McNeill (nee Lightfoot, died 1974); died 14 May 1993.

IF THERE is such a phenomenon as anima naturaliter Christiana, a naturally Christian character, then David Porter seemed to many what a Christian priest should be like. He had the unstudied gift of a natural goodness which people found easily attractive.

He had the advantage of a Christian home, successively in Blackheath, Malvern and Boulogne. At Hertford College, Oxford, he read French, being for him the simplest option, which gave him ample time for rugger and athletics. He missed his Blue by a whisker, but proudly wore a bent finger from the university scrum. He played later for Sussex and Oxfordshire, but by then was also battling with theology as a graduate student at Wycliffe Hall. After a curacy in Leeds, he was characteristically surprised to be asked back to Oxford as a tutor at Wycliffe and Chaplain at Wadham; everyone else knew it was his lively, gracious and amusing style and transparent goodness which were appreciated, more than any academic gifts.

Still in Oxfordshire, his first living was All Saints', Highfield, with the Chaplaincy to the Wingfield Hospital, a ministry in which he always excelled - the Hospital Prayer Book which he published then, in collaboration with a leading consultant, was widely used before and after the Second World War. His father took early retirement as an engineer and became his curate in 1937 - the pair led the parish through a great period of growth, an arrangement unusual enough to attract the attention of the national press.

He was disappointed to be refused permission by his Bishop to serve as a chaplain during the war - he would undoubtedly have been an outstanding one. Instead he became Vicar of Darlington, until, in 1947, he was invited by the lay vestry of St John's, Princes Street, Edinburgh, to be their rector. So began the happiest and most fruitful years of his life and ministry. It was a very large and active congregation - there were always queues to fill the chairs which had to be imported for the Festival, and in Porter's time the children's service on Sunday afternoons was packed. Over 100 people met every week in Bible study groups, and bankers, lawyers, doctors and professors mingled with the less exalted of all ages and nationalities of that cosmopolitan City.

Yet Porter had no tricks - his straightforward nature abhorred all insincerity. With engaging humility, he barely acknowledged his talent for conveying the essence of the Faith using simple words and images. His friendships were legion, and he shared his enthusiasm for fishing and golf with a choice circle, while cherishing a very happy home life with his wife Violet and their son. In 1959 he spent three months on an exchange with Archdeacon Wade of Durban (whose daughter Virginia was then only a promising tennis junior). He enjoyed and used this African experience when the Diocese of Birmingham sent him later on an extended tour of their 'link' Diocese of Malawi.

He was already Dean of Edinburgh (dean roughly equals 'archdeacon' in the Scottish Episcopal Church) when in 1962 he went to Birmingham as Bishop of Aston. He had suffered the painful loss of his wife from a brain tumour, and later remarried, and both he and his new wife were very reluctant to leave Edinburgh. Many friends thought it was the prospect of living on Edgbaston golf course and only a step from the Test Ground which made the move bearable. David Porter brought all his natural and given abilities to his new work as a Suffragan Bishop in a vast and unfamiliar city. Deprived of the warmth of his own congregation, he made a still wider fellowship of colleagues among the industrial, business and academic community. As chairman of 30 committees, including the Governing Body of the King Edward VI Foundation with its seven schools, he was fully stretched, often being left in charge by his diocesan bishop, Leonard Wilson, widely known for his heroism as a Japanese POW and much in demand beyond his diocese.

Somewhat hastened by his second wife's fatal illness, borne with great courage by both of them, he retired to Gloucestershire in 1972. His last years were enriched for himself and others who took advantage of his skill as a teacher of painting. A member of the Fosseway Artists, he developed a considerable late talent for portraits and landscape. His was truly a fulfilled and rounded life: he will be remembered with gratitude and joy by young and old, equally, as a man who made the Christian faith as attractive as it is challenging.

(Photograph omitted)

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