Obituary: The Right Rev Falkner Allison

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The Independent Online
Sherard Falkner Allison, priest: born 19 January 1907; ordained deacon 1931, priest 1932; Chaplain, Ridley Hall, Cambridge 1934-36; Vicar, Rodbourne Cheney 1936-40, Erith 1940-45; Principal, Ridley Hall 1945-50; Bishop of Chelmsford 1951-61; Bishop of Winchester 1961-74; Prelate of the Most Noble Order of the Garter 1961-74; married Ruth Hills (one son, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Ipswich 31 May 1993.

FALKNER ALLISON, former Principal of Ridley Hall, Cambridge, and Bishop successively of Chelmsford and of Winchester, was the eldest of four sons of an evangelical parson all of whom were ordained. The second son, Oliver, became Bishop in the Sudan. The third, Roger, also served overseas, chiefly in Israel, but the fourth, Gordon, has worked entirely in parishes in England. He happened to be rector of Springfield, where the Bishop's house was situated, when his oldest brother was made Bishop of Chelmsford. These family connections are not only a sign of solidarity in the evangelical tradition but of its pastoral and missionary concern both at home and overseas.

Dr Allison, as he came to be through several honorary degrees, always used his second Christian name, Falkner, but he and Ruth, his wife, called their elder son by the first, Sherard. She has been a great and lively character in her own right, while she steadily supported him in his ministry through their many years together. In the latter years of his retirement it was his turn to give devoted care to her through some of the afflictions of old age. They had a devastating experience when their young second son, Anthony, climbing on the heavy iron gates at the entrance to Ridley Hall, was killed by one which fell on him. At this time, they showed together great faith, courage and hope and Allison was able to speak ever afterwards out of deep experience of tragedy, suffering and death.

Falkner Allison's ministry, apart from a short spell as Chaplain of Ridley, was first exercised in fairly traditional evangelical parishes in Tunbridge Wells, Swindon and Erith. He joined with Douglas Harrison, later to become Dean of Bristol, in producing a small Confirmation manual, The Christian Life (1938). This was on fairly traditional lines, but times were changing and he had known the stresses of war in the south-eastern approaches to London so that, with his scholarship and varied parish work in his equipment, he was well-fitted to deal with the first generations of excellent demobilised warriors when he returned to Ridley as Principal.

His personal qualities were a great strength to his work. Invariably he showed warm interest and happy friendliness. There was much laughter. He had good sense and was alert to the need for the Church to adapt itself to the different nation which was then emerging. So he searched for fresh styles of ordination training. One step that he took was to lead the whole college out for 10 days of sustained work in what were mostly industrial parishes in the north. At the same time, he developed with vigour and application his own particular interests in watercolour painting and ornithology. It was a few years later that sailing became a great enthusiasm, which led partly to his retiring in due course to Aldeburgh.

He had been a mere five years at Ridley and was far from thinking of leaving, when the prime minister's Appointments Secretary 'dropped in' one day in the long vacation. 'I make a point,' he said, 'of consulting principals of theological colleges about their former students.' Falkner Allison was taken in by this and was genuinely surprised when a few weeks later he was invited to accept nomination to the See of Chelmsford.

Bishop Falkner caught the eye of Archbishop Fisher, who used him in many matters affecting the general life of the Church of England and chiefly in the area of inter-Church relationships. There was scarcely an important committee apart from those concerned with financial issues and administrative structures on which he was not asked to serve. His presence was welcomed not only because of his learning and his clarity of mind but also because he was thought to represent the evangelical outlook.

He was not theologically conservative and his views could be described as liberal in the proper sense of that word and not in its abusive modern application. Perhaps he was too liberal to understand the objections of evangelicals to the proposals for reconciling the Anglican and Methodist ministries.

He was always generous in heart and he showed a liberality of attitude, for example, towards church members who had been divorced, but he could scarcely be described as a radical in any matters of church policy. Canon Max Warren of the Church Missionary Society and Westminster Abbey was probably his most complete kindred spirit.

These fundamental qualities of mind and heart showed themselves in his episcopate in his two dioceses. Because he worked quickly and wrote succinct letters, his national and ecumenical responsibilities did not prevent him from being a pastoral bishop. He not only visited clergymen for whom he was responsible but lay people as well, with lasting individual care. He liked to relate himself to the secular life of the counties in which he worked and he gave such committed service as he could to institutions of higher education.

In his Winchester years he greatly enjoyed being Prelate of the Order of the Garter, but he and his wife shared a life of simplicity and modesty, joining in hospitality without ostentation. Not everyone agreed with him, but he was always widely respected and deeply trusted.

(Photograph omitted)

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