STUART BLANCH, vicar, college principal, bishop, archbishop and life peer, remained a layman at heart all his life. He was a countryman who never drove a car and he was happiest in his garden or walking his dog, wearing his oldest clothes. He always seemed surprised at finding himself where he was and concerned that other people's expectations of him were greater than he could deliver. He had little interest in ecclesiastical affairs, but he was a superb teacher and had the ability to make people feel cared for and loved. He was a most unlikely man to become a bishop, but he gave his own fresh meaning to the partnership which a diocesan bishop shares with his clergy in the care of souls.
After being a scholar of Alleyns School, Dulwich, he went to work in the City of London in 1936 as an employee in a fire insurance office, before enlisting in the Royal Air Force on the outbreak of the Second World War. He saw active service in Europe and the Far East as a navigator in Bomber Command.
It was whilst on guard duty over a dull Christmas holiday that a dramatic change took place in his life. Because he had nothing else to read, he accepted the gift of a Bible and started to read it in a more systematic way than he had ever done before. He was gripped by what he read and from that moment became a committed Christian. After the war he was accepted for training for the ordained ministry, notwithstanding that he was a non-graduate. During his time at Wycliffe Hall, however, he read Theology at Oxford University and acquired a First by the time he was ordained to a curacy at Highfield, an Oxford suburb. After three years he became vicar of Eynsham, a rapidly developing village. This was to be his only appointment as a parish priest. He was greatly loved by the whole community and he always looked back on his five years as an incumbent as a valuable 'front-line' experience.
In 1957 he became Vice-Principal of Wycliffe Hall, where the chairman of the council was the redoubtable Bishop of Rochester Dr Christopher Chavasse, who at the close of his 20-year-reign as Bishop was determined to found a theological college for older men alongside his cathedral. He persuaded Stuart Blanch to become the first full-time warden of the college and the Oriel Canon of Rochester Cathedral. It proved to be an admirable appointment and Blanch revelled in the opportunity of preparing for ordination a very mixed bunch of students all aged between 30 and 40. Few of them had an academic background and they were mostly men set fair in their careers as engineers, policemen, garage proprietors, farmers and in many other trades and professions. Blanch delighted in arousing their enthusiasm for the scriptures and enlarging their vision of world-wide Christianity.
In a year when the college was at its peak, Blanch suddenly found himself confronted with a call to become a bishop. The local tradition is that on first opening the letter from the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, inviting him to become Bishop of Liverpool, Blanch's reaction was: 'What will the students be up to next?' But he never hesitated to accept what he saw as a duty, although to leave the known world of academic teaching for the unknown complexities of a diocesan bishop's job was not easy for him.
The leaving present from the college was a bicycle which could be folded up and put in the boot of the episcopal car. Blanch used to cycle down into Liverpool for those meetings which he could not avoid, but whenever possible he kept his mornings free for Bible study and for preparing lectures and addresses. He became a most welcome visitor to his parishes as he was to the wide variety of organisations which made up Liverpool life. He played squash most Saturdays and he seldom missed watching Match of the Day.
After the Second Vatican Conference, Archbishop George Beck, the head of the Roman Catholic community in Liverpool, approached Blanch about developing ecumenical relations in the city. Together they laid the foundations on which their successors later built to good effect. Blanch was never dogmatic, nor did he impose his own views on others. He got people excited about the Bible and he was always more concerned about their enthusiasm than their orthodoxy. Because he did not acquire his faith from life in the Church but from the Bible in an RAF camp, he was uncoloured and uninfluenced by anything ecclesiastical and failed to see the relevance of much of it.
When, in 1975, he accepted translation to York after others had declined the Archbishopric, he found it more difficult to get away from ecclesiastical politics. After living in an ordinary businessman's house in Liverpool, Bishopthorpe, the historic home of the northern Primate, was somewhat alien to him, as were some of the new duties which he was called upon to share with the other Primate, Donald Coggan of Canterbury. But he welcomed the many opportunities of continuing his teaching and lecturing all over the country. None of the bishops who attended the 1978 Lambeth conference will ever forget Blanch's memorable series of devotional addresses based on Irenaeus, a bishop of a squalid little town in the days when the Church was young. With an inimitable fund of good-humour, he showed the relevance of the saint's priorities to the ministry of a 20th-century bishop.
Blanch's closing years at York were dogged by ill-health and sadly he lost his sparkle and seemed reluctant to embark on any fresh initiative in church affairs. He retired as soon as he reached the age of 65 and, relieved of the burdens of office, he found a new lease of life as a lecturer, broadcaster and author. This gave great delight to his friends, who knew that he was at his happiest when teaching or writing.
Both as Bishop of Liverpool and as Archbishop of York, he had been introduced into parliament as a Lord Spiritual. In 1983 he scored an unusual 'hat-trick' by also being introduced into the House of Lords as a Life Peer. In this new role he was more regular in his attendance than he had been on the Bishops' Benches. He spoke very rarely and his maiden speech, lasting only a few minutes, was one of the shortest on record. In 1991 he wrote a pamphlet on 'Future Patterns of Episcopacy' and in it confessed that his membership of the House of Lords was an obligation which he had barely fulfilled at all.
Stuart Blanch wrote eight or more books, the most important of which was probably The World Our Orphanage (1972). He wrote for those beginning their Christian pilgrimage and as in his lectures and preaching was concerned to make his readers excited about the scriptures.
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