Obituary: The Right Rev Richard Wimbush
Thursday 27 January 1994
THERE WAS a rounded completeness about the life of Richard Wimbush, former Bishop of Argyll and the Isles and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church: he died in York, a city he loved; his faculties were unimpaired; he was still consulted by a devoted band who looked to him for spiritual guidance; and he retained a lively interest in the affairs of the small church north of the border where he had been a leader for nearly 30 years.
But Yorkshire was very much his natural habitat - his grandfather and father had held the benefice of Terrington and Dick Wimbush was born there; his own pastoral experience in the early years as both curate and incumbent was in Yorkshire. On his retirement in 1977 it was to York that he returned as assistant bishop and until 1983 as priest-in-charge of Etton with Dalton Home.
Wimbush's academic career was distinguished. He followed a family path to Haileybury and Oriel College, Oxford, where he gained a First in Theology and a Second in classical Mods. He trained for the priesthood at Cuddesdon College and on ordination in 1934 he remained there as chaplain. The Principal was Eric Graham, who subsequently became Bishop of Brechin, and it is likely that Graham urged the appointment of his former student and colleague as Principal of Edinburgh Theological College when a vacancy occurred in 1948. The college was one of the most venerable and respected Anglican seminaries and the position was much to Wimbush's taste. He and his family fitted readily into Edinburgh society, the college life was agreeable and throughout his 14 years of residence he enjoyed the support of singularly gifted colleagues. Perhaps more importantly, he enjoyed the support and confidence of the Bishops. Four of his former students are now Scottish bishops.
Wimbush's own unanimous election as Bishop of Argyll and the Isles in 1963 was as predictable as it was widely welcomed. As a countryman he relished the changing moods of the Argyll scene. He loved his elegant home set in thick woodland with superb views over mountains and water. The pastoral charge of the scattered diocese - numerically the smallest in Britain and with the largest coastline - involved him in much weary journeying. But he was an enthusiastic motorist and took to the island hopping; sea adventures from Stornoway to Arran, from the Outer Hebrides to the Clyde.
Wimbush ministered cheerfully to tiny remote congregations whose need for aid and comfort he seemed to understand. He sustained two hermits who established themselves in bleak conditions in the south of the diocese. Many years later they still live out their solitary existence. He especially loved Iona and Bishop's House, built by one of his predecessors, with its lovely chapel. Episcopalians in north-west Scotland were always a tiny minority. But the Bishop's relations with other churches were relaxed and he initiated a number of schemes to share buildings with both Presbyterians and Roman Catholics.
Inevitably as the years passed he became increasingly involved in the affairs of the Province and of the wider Anglican Communion. A dedicated ecumenist, he took part in the formal Anglican-Presbyterian conversations and in many informal discussions which he often felt made more solid headway and certainly produced deeper friendships. Yet he confessed to disillusionment as what appeared to him to be reasonable and modest steps forward were rejected by both sides. He was saddened too by an apparent lack of tolerance in his own church as the theological and liturgical controversies overtook it. Wimbush invariably said a great deal less than he thought but the occasional entry in his episcopal diary indicates clearly enough that he was aware of the danger of division in an already diminished church. In English church circles he was a familiar figure. He participated in the Anglican-Methodist Commission and the Anglican Orthodox Commission on Intercommunion. He was a much sought-after preacher and counsellor and he travelled abroad on the business of the Anglican Communion.
In Scotland the election of Wimbush as Primus in 1974 added to an already heavy burden but he unflinchingly accepted the responsibilites of office. The Church as a whole ran into some very choppy waters during his years at the helm. The publication of a report which eventually led to a large- scale reorganisation caused much apprehension. There were the beginnings of significant liturgical change with the familiar attendant misunderstandings and miseries. There was a clerical revolt over a canon on compulsory retirement. The bishops too were at the centre of a hot controversy on their failure to confirm the election of a widely respected man as Bishop of Glasgow. The issue was subsequently resolved to the satisfaction of the diocese but it left much bad feeling. Throughout these local difficulties Wimbush was firm, tried to be conciliatory and displayed exceptional patience. If he failed to heal hurt and resentment he did at least still the strife of tongues. He resigned, perhaps not altogether unwillingly, from his diocesan responsibilities and from the office of Primus in 1977.
Dick Wimbush was well aware of his own limitations. He was naturally reserved and rather narrowly ecclesiastical. He confessed that he had no great interest in politics. This made him at times of political excitement either a soothing or an infuriating companion. His ideal of clerical life and duty often sounded strangely old-fashioned, coming from one who undoubtedly possessed a lively and questioning mind. But he remained to the last a cheerful Christian man who tried to see the changes and chances of this mortal life in the light of the eternal. His unostentatious but solid and unflinching piety, the hallmark of churchmen of his school, sustained and validated his confidence.
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