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Nicholas Reade on Bishop Bell – Extracts from “Rarely Ordinary Time – Some Memoirs” [Rother 2019]

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Bishop George Bell

Nicholas Reade on Bishop Bell – Extracts from “Rarely Ordinary Time – Some Memoirs” [Rother 2019]

Page 30-33

As well as being Chairman of the Liturgical Commission, Dr. Jasper was an historian, and, a few years previously, had written the life of Arthur Cayley Headlam of Gloucester. At that time, we were all awaiting the publication of his biography of George Bell, Bishop of Chichester [1929-58], one of the greatest bishops ever produced by the Church of England, who many expected to become the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1943, when William Temple died suddenly.

Bishop Bell was a courageous church leader, who had helped Jews and others to escape from Nazi Germany, and spoken out in the House of Lords against the indiscriminate bombing of German cities in the Second World War. He was a great ecumenist, theologian, and patron of the arts and a much-loved pastor. Christine had spent her previous summer holidays working on the index of this long-awaited biography.

Dr. Jasper was always very humble and modest about his work and scholarship, and would seldom initiate conversation about what he had achieved. As I became more involved with the family, I sensed that Bishop Bell had almost become part of the household, so the revelation fifty-seven years after his death that the Church had made an apology to one complainant, on the grounds that the Bishop had abused her between sixty-five and seventy-five years ago, seemed utterly unbelievable. 

While the Church has been careful not to say that the Bishop is guilty, it has ruined his reputation. Originally, no information was given as to the process by which the Church had come to this conclusion, other than the statement that ‘experts’ had been involved. Such secrecy was hard to countenance in an age of ‘transparency’. As a family, and in common many others, we expressed our concern in the church press, and have continued to do so. In 2017, the Core Group Report was seriously criticised by Lord Carlile QC in his review into the Church’s handling of the complaint.

Of course, it is right and proper that the Church investigates thoroughly every complaint made against every person and however famous and respected – and however ancient. Given, from the beginning, how shaky and questionable the allegation against Bishop Bell appeared to be, what has greatly concerned me is that the bishops of the Church of England, who, certainly in the past, had a fine reputation for standing against injustice and for being unafraid of making themselves unpopular, have expressed not one word of concern at the destruction of Bishop Bell – with the exception of the Bishop of Peterborough, in a speech in the House of Lords, and, more recently, the Bishop of Chester. A couple of retired bishops have voiced our concerns and given support to the George Bell Group, but our view carries little weight.

An allegation is made against him around sixty-five years later; he is tried by, frankly, what looks like a kangaroo court – with nobody to speak up for him, as Lord Carlile pointed out. Not a single bishop was prepared to query publicly what was being said, and how it was being dealt with. The left-leaning newspapers, always eager to campaign on miscarriages of justice, have given scant support to those of us concerned concerned at the traducing of Bell’s reputation.

It has been left to The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday to write powerfully about the basic principles of justice being ignored by the Church. The Church is the Sacrament of the Kingdom, and becomes what she is meant to be in the celebration of the Eucharist – this keeps me going. It is the institutional church that gets so much wrong (as I know, also, from my own mistakes). I can therefore understand the anger and the real disappointment of the person who told me that ‘the whole episode’ of the church’s handling of the Bishop Bell situation ‘puts you off church-going’.

My first concern as a bishop has always been for the survivor (even though I am aware of falling short some twenty-two years ago, when measured alongside today’s strict and excellent standards); but until it can be proven beyond all reasonable doubt that Bishop Bell abused a child, I will continue to call upon George Bell within the Communion of Saints to pray with me and for me. Meanwhile, I continue to treasure on my bookshelves Bishop Bell’s copy of The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, given to himon 7 October 1957.

Much has changed concerning Bishop Bell’s reputation following further enquiries, and the long awaited report of the Right Worshipful Timothy Briden, Vicar-General of Canterbury. What will not change, is the inadequate original investigation, and that George Bell, one of the ‘saints’ of the Church of England, who is commemorated every year (3rd Oct) in our liturgical calendar as bishop, ecumenist, and peacemaker (1958), should for the last four years have been cast into the wilderness by the Church he served with love and the greatest distinction.

Page 88 & 89

I was sorry, also, to say farewell to Bishop Kenneth Skelton, the Diocesan Bishop. I admired him in many ways; he took time to get to know his clergy and was generous with the time and encouragement he gave to me as a young incumbent. Although he came across as shy initially, I found him very easy – and it helped that he could always see the humour in situations. He had the gift of drawing out the best in people. He was a truly pastoral bishop, who worked collaboratively and strategically. This remarkably gifted man, whose leadership was prophetic, appears to have been forgotten about in the Church of Rngland – possibly because he was a very humble person.

Kenneth had served as Bishop of Matabeleland from 1962 to 1970 in western Rhodesia, where he was deeply respected as a pastor and theologian, and where he championed the cause of the black majority, inevitably clashing with many politicians. he wrote a gripping account of his ministry in Matabeleland, ‘Bishop in Smith’s Rhodesia’ (Mambo Press, 1985). The Law and Order Minister called him ‘The Devil’s Advocate’, and stated that the government was watching him.

He was also dubbed ‘Red Skelton’, after the American comedian. Some commented that Kenneth could best be compared in the Church of England with Bishop George Bell, for both worked tirelessly for social justice and were fearless in speaking out.

Page 111

As with the four other parishes I had worked in, I lost no time in getting down to work – but this was a somewhat larger area and responsibility than I had experienced before; there was a huge in-tray demanding my attention. Every day new issues would hit my desk.

On my first day, I visited Bishop Bell School – now called St. Catherine’s College – the large Church of England secondary school in the Langney area of Eastbourne, opened by H.R.H. Princess Margaret in 1958 and dedicated by Bishop Bell. This was his last act after twenty-nine years as bishop, and he was to die shortly afterwards. He had specifically requested that the school be built in a less affluent and expanding area of Eastbourne. Whenever I entered that building, which also housed his mitre and crozier. I never felt that this courageous and truly great bishop was far away.

Page 261

17. You have a great respect for Bishop George Bell and have expressed concerns about how the allegation made against him has been handled by the Church of England.

Yes indeed – and I am joined in this by many from around the world. Others much better qualified than me to make a judgement have taken the view, from the earliest stages of the allegation, that the evidence was not compelling. I have yet to meet anyone, anywhere, who has looked at the facts available and believes that the handling of this allegation reflects credit on the Church. One comment was ‘what a circus’ – which would be amusing if the case were not so serious. It has of course been extremely difficult to find out much about it, because of the lack of transparency.

To be fair to those who have dealt with this, and in the light of the public reaction, Lord Carlile QC was invited to review how the Church handled the whole matter. His report leaves the Church with the very difficult task of ensuring that we will never again allow such an injustice to occur. I am surprised the Church did not understand that any institution seeking to act as investigator, accuser, judge and jury cannot deliver justice.

I came across a memo, and I cannot remember where it came from, of what Lord Woolton said to Bishop George Bell on 9 February 1944, just before he made his courageous speech against the indiscriminate bombing of German cities: ‘George, there isn’t a soul in this House who doesn’t wish you wouldn’t make the speech you are going to make…you must know that. But I also want to tell you that there isn’t a soul who doesn’t know that the only reason why you make it, is because you believe it is your duty to make it as a Christian priest’.

That is the Bishop Bell we will all remember, along with his many other heroic deeds. It is tragic, as the Bell Group Press Release of 15 December 2017 argued, that the institutional church today deprived this bishop, who has been dead for over sixty years, of the presumption of innocence or of due process…

The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Chichester have faced severe criticism for the way in which this whole matter has been handled, and tendered their apologies for it.

Lord Carlile QC, who conducted the 2017 independent investigation into the Bishop Bell allegations, forwarded a Statement to be read out at the Bell Society meeting on 4 February 2019, in the building that used to be called George Bell House, Chichester. It contained the following words:

“I hope that this event will add to the clamour for the Church to admit the awful mistakes it has made in dealing with unsubstantiated allegations against Bishop Bell. His name should never have been publicised before allegations were investigated. The Church should now accept that my recommendations should be accepted in full, and that after due process, however delayed, George Bell should be declared by the Church to be innocent of the allegations made against him”

With the dedication of the Bishop Bell statue in Canterbury Cathedral (where he served as Dean between 1924 and 1929), it is to be hoped that a line may be drawn under this sad episode, banishing any shadow over Bishop Bell’s good name – for surely, his character and all he achieved by the grace of God are conjoined.

 

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July 1945 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Service of Remembrance – Holy Trinity Church – Brompton Road – London

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“In July 1945, just three months after Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s execution, a service of remembrance in celebration of his life was held at the Holy Trinity church, just off the Brompton Road in London.

“To many who had suffered the trials and sacrifices of the war, holding a service in the British capital to remember a dead German was incomprehensible, distasteful and disturbing. The public prints were especially critical of the event. Nevertheless, the memorial service for Bonhoeffer’s life was full to overflowing.

“Speaking of his murdered friend, Bishop George Bell, who had tried so hard to make the voice of the German resistance heard by those who led the Western Allies, said: 

‘Dietrich has gone…our debt to [him] and to all others similarly murdered is immense. His death is a death for Germany – indeed for Europe too…He was inspired by his faith in the living God and his devotion to truth and honour. As one of a noble company of martyrs of different traditions, he represents the resistance to the living God to the assaults of evil, but also the moral and political revolt of the human conscience against injustice and cruelty’.

“In 1998, empty niches above the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey were filled with the statues of ten ‘modern martyrs’. One of them is Dietrich Bonhoeffer”.

~ Source: “Nein! Standing Up To Hitler 1935-1944” – Paddy Ashdown [in collaboration with Sylvie Young] – Collins 2018 – Page 310.

April 10 2019 -“Never forget: Recalling the Death of Bonhoeffer” – Deacon Greg Kandra

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2019/04/never-forget-recalling-the-death-of-bonhoeffer/

Never Forget: Recalling the Death of Bonhoeffer

German Federal Archives/Wikipedia

The great preacher, writer, theologian and witness to the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer,was executed on April 9, 1945, just days before the Nazi camp where he was held, Flossenbürg, was liberated. He was 39.

Here’s what happened: 

On 4 April 1945, the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr, were discovered, and in a rage upon reading them, Hitler ordered that the Abwehr conspirators [those who had plotted for Hitler’s assassination] be destroyed. 

Bonhoeffer was led away just as he concluded his final Sunday service and asked an English prisoner, Payne Best, to remember him to Bishop George Bell of Chichester if he should ever reach his home: “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.”

Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp.  He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp,  three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged, along with fellow conspirators Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Canaris’s deputy General Hans Oster, military jurist General Karl Sack, General Friedrich von Rabenau, businessman Theodor Strünck, and German resistance fighter Ludwig Gehre.

Eberhard Bethge, a student and friend of Bonhoeffer’s, writes of a man who saw the execution: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer…In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

His legacy has been profound:

Bonhoeffer’s life as a pastor and theologian of great intellect and spirituality who lived as he preached—and his being killed because of his opposition to Nazism—exerted great influence and inspiration for Christians across broad denominations and ideologies, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the anti-communist democratic movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War, and the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa.

Bonhoeffer is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of several Christian denominations on the anniversary of his death, 9 April. This includes many parts of the Anglican Communion, where he is sometimes identified as a martyr.

In our own troubled time, Bonhoeffer’s courage in the face of evil, and his suffering in the face of persecution, stand as a testament to true Christian witness — the very essence of what it means to be a “martyr.”

His likeness is preserved in Westminster Abbey, alongside other martyrs, including St. Oscar Romero and Martin Luther King, Jr.

He continues to teach and inspire Christians today.

“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them,” he wrote. “Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word but also lends us God’s ear. . . . We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.”

He also urged us to be open to God’s will in our lives, whatever that may be.

“We must be ready,” he said, “to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pray for us.

“Has the 1662 Prayer Book become a subversive text? A Service in Memory of George Bell?” – Peter Hitchens – October 5 2016

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http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2016/10/has-the-1662-prayer-book-become-a-subversive-text-a-service-in-memory-of-george-bell.html

05 October 2016 1:15 PM

Has the 1662 Prayer Book become a subversive text? A service in memory of George Bell

I have long thought that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer (actually its first version was written in 1549)  would eventually become a subversive document.

Increasingly, its sentiments are revolutionary not only in the Christian sense (which calls for an uninterrupted lifelong revolution in the human soul) but in that they subvert to accepted beliefs of today. In almost every conceivable way, from its insistence upon lifelong marriage to its finely-carved but stony insistence on moral absolutes, confession and judgement, it rebls against the ad hoc, temporal ethics of the day.

To attend a service properly conducted according to its order in a building of the Anglican tradition, is to see an expression in architecture, music and poetry of Immanuel Kant’s conclusion from his ‘Critique of Practical Reason’, carved on his tombstone in Koenigsberg, which has somehow survived the storms of war and Communism even while that once-pagan city became first an outpost of Hitler’s evil empire and then, after 1945,  a fortress of Soviet Communism closed to the outside world:  ‘Two things fill the mind with ever-new and increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more seriously reflection concentrates upon them: the starry heave n above me and the moral law within me’.

Such a service took place late on Monday afternoon at the church of St Michael’s, Cornhill, in the heart of the old City of London.

It was to commemorate the day in the Church calendar in which the life of the late Bishop George Bell is supposed to be marked. Following accusations of child abuse against Bishop Bell, the Church has tended to draw back from commemorating him, removing his name from a guest house at Chichester Cathedral and from two Church schools, as well as acting in many other ways as if this accusation is proven, which it is not. Many who value George Bell’s reputation felt that there needed to be a firm answer to this, not just because his memory as man of principle is too valuable to be cast aside on the basis of a single, uncorroborated, untested allegation from many decades ago; but because his reputation as a courageous defender of truth requires that he himself is treated according to his own principles.

The order of service (attended by a congregation of about 50, including  some senior clergy, by relatives of Bishop Bell and by readers of this weblog) was almost entirely from the 1662 book and in its tradition. Bible lessons were read from the 1611 Authorised Version, which preserves the same poetic, mysterious form of language. The music included Purcell’s great anthem ‘Rejoice in the Lord Alway’ and the 27th Psalm with its searing lines ‘Though an host of men were laid against me, yet shall not my heart be afraid; and though there rose up war against me, yet will I put my trust in him…’

Perhaps more pointedly it contained the opening hymn ‘Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation’, written in the 17th century in German by Joachim Neander and brilliantly translated by the Victorian Catherine Winkworth, especially two rather fierce verses which are far too seldom sung by the modern Church of England:

‘Praise to the Lord, who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
biddeth them cease,
turneth their fury to peace,
whirlwinds and waters assuaging.

Praise to the Lord, who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
sheddeth his light,
chaseth the horrors of night,
saints with his mercy surrounding.’

This was one of many German references in the service, given the high reputation Bell has among German Christians because of his early and dedicated support for the Christian resistance to Hitler,  his advocacy for refugees from Hitler in Britain and his refusal to allow loathing for Nazism to become anti-German feeling, even at the height of war, epitomised by his opposition to the deliberate bombing of German civilians. (Bell’s own hymn (he was a poet as well as a great patron of the arts) ‘Christ is the King’  was sung to music from, Vulpius’s ‘Gesangbuch’, and the organ voluntary was of course by J.S.Bach. The Old Testament lesson from Isaiah Chapter 2, and its reference to swords into ploughshares, recalled Bell’s loathing of war (though he was by no means a pacifist and insisted instead that war must be waged justly).

 

The New Testament lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 25, , describes an attempt to condemn St Paul through a kangaroo court, and the response of the just Roman, Festus , to this: ‘It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him’.

Well, quite. Doesn’t everyone think that? Not, alas, in this case.