Bishop of Ripon pays tribute to Bishop David Jenkins, friend and colleague

The Bishop of Ripon, Rt Revd James Bell, has paid tribute to his friend and colleague, the former Bishop of Durham, Rt Revd David Jenkins, in his funeral address in Durham Cathedral (on Wednesday September 28th). 

The service for the 91 year old bishop, who in retirement was an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds, was attended by many former colleagues, including the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, and the Rt Revd Dr John Inge, Bishop of Worcester who gave the reading. During the service, the Durham Miners’ Association Band played Gresford, the traditional hymn played at the funeral of members of mining communities. The service was presided over by the Dean of Durham, the Very Revd Andrew Tremlett.
 
In his Address, Bishop James spoke of the controversies around Bishop Jenkins, and questions about his faith.  ““God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.” That one statement [by Bishop Jenkins] knocks on the head the nonsense of “the unbelieving Bishop.” I recall an article in Theology many years ago, in which the writer said (as I remember it): “one of the most disturbing features of our times is when someone so orthodox as David Jenkins is regarded as a dangerous liberal.” It wasn’t just a matter of orthodoxy; it was a matter of faith, a deep personal faith: “God is as he is in Jesus.”

As a friend and colleague who visited him frequently and took communion to him when he was in Beconsfield Court Care Home in Barnard Castle, Bishop James spoke movingly of David Jenkins’s last few months. “The care team - his "family of friends" - made a tremendous contribution to enabling him to be himself, allowing him to care for them, listening to their stories, as well as being cared for. Ann-Marie, Jane, Jennie, Gail and Bee deserve recognition for a quality of care that was remarkable. Thanks also to the staff of the Beconsfield Care home, for what they did for him and the way that they did it. 

“David longed for his rest. “This is going on too long,” was a theme repeated with variations in recent months. But even when he described his experience of feeling as if half his brain had been switched off, or that he was “fading away,” he would say, “But I am still me.” It was a moving declaration of holding on to his identity, testament in part to the determination and struggle of family and friends that he should preserve that sense of being who he was in himself, in relationship, in the love of God.”

Bishop James’ Address in full 

“God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope:”
one of David Jenkins’ great affirmations, often and justly quoted. Speak to anyone who heard him preach or lecture, read his books, had been in conversation or correspondence or with him and what you are given are these memorable phrases, encapsulations of Christian faith, that have provoked thought, challenged assumptions, stimulated reflection, deepened faith, informed prayer.

"God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope."
David, of course, would stress each part of that remarkable affirmation as having significance:
God is.
God is as he is.
God is as he is in Jesus.
Therefore there is hope.
“God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.”
That one statement knocks on the head the nonsense of “the unbelieving Bishop.” I recall an article in Theology many years ago, in which the writer said (as I remember it): “one of the most disturbing features of our times is when someone so orthodox as David Jenkins is regarded as a dangerous liberal.” It wasn’t just a matter of orthodoxy, however; it was a matter of faith, a deep personal faith: “God is as he is in Jesus.”

Dean John Dobson tells of a lecture David gave to a packed audience in his parish. At one point he leant forward, fist held out, saying with obvious passion, “I may feel that I have lost my grasp on God, but God has not lost his grasp on me.” That conviction remained with him to the end. 
“God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.”

David’s tireless concern was to make the reality of God and therefore the offer of hope, accessible to anyone and everyone. He was determined to interpret and apply the teaching of the New Testament – as he would say -  to “ordinary pilgrims today,” in a simple and down to earth way. He sought to communicate in such a way as to offer (in his words) “attractive invitations to throw in your lot with worshipping communities of Christians who are clearly grappling with day-to-day life now in the light of what they perceive and receive of the life and promise of God.” Hence all those pithy and profound statements, like: “We may not be up to it, but God is down to it.” My favourite is a great evocation of the Trinity:  “Greater than great, closer than close, more loving than love.”

Looking out over the Durham landscape in Eric Robson’s tribute at the end of the Durham years, David asks, “How do you bring the church alive to such people,” quickly amending that with, “not the church but God and hope and neighbourliness.” God and hope and neighbourliness clearly and closely associated in his mind.
Giving access to Christian truth – and making people think. It has been suggested that David, not least when he was bishop of Durham, was sometimes carried away with his facility for words. Becca comments, "My observation from behind the scenes was that he was very precise in his choice of words and used them knowingly. Whether it was about the nature of the resurrection or a call to pay attention to the material, human consequences of economic and political dogmas - he was determined to get people to think about spirituality as he experienced it: something real and vivid, with direct application to everyday lives."
“. . he was determined to get people to think about spirituality as he experienced it: something real and vivid, with direct application to everyday lives."
He wanted to let reason thrive, to provoke thought, to help people explore and make sense of faith. 
“When he said that the resurrection was more than a conjuring trick with bones, that made me think what I did believe about it,” said John King who came faith with his family and came to church where I was parish priest. I think John would speak for many others. Archdeacon Peter Townley records that David was particularly pleased with a late night ‘phone call from one man excitedly telling him that the people were talking about the resurrection in the pubs in Glasgow!
That’s not to speak of so many of us who were stimulated by a lecture or a seminar or a conversation with him to think about sacramentality, or the diaconate, or economic justice or human flourishing, and even bird-watching.

There was, of course, a risk in seeking to provoke thought, including that of being misquoted, misunderstood, misrepresented. At least God was on the agenda, David would say. And writing to Peter Townley in 2006, he said, “Surely the issue about God nowadays is not our religious quarrellings but how we can humbly and courageously witness to his very [great and moving!] existence.”

Well, as we all know, it was David’s delight that “You can’t keep a good God down.” He would sometimes add, “even the church can’t keep a good God down!” He was seriously concerned that those “religious quarrellings” were a disincentive to faith. But: “God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.”

This was a hope not simply for the individual for the future, but for communities for a future. So he was unafraid in his critique of economic and political dogmas and in his support of those denied hope, whom he described as “feeling flattened,” “having the stuffing knocked out of them.” He wanted people, policy makers, to think, even think again. Hence it was a message, in Eric Robson’s words, “sometimes blunt and always uncomfortable.” That message was born not of being for people in suffering the vagaries of the market but of being with them: engaging, conversing, listening, observing. That message was shaped by the faith articulated in the 1966 Bampton Lectures: “I am clear that Jesus Christ enables us humanly and hopefully to face evil.”
“God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.”

Courteous and critical; passionate and provocative; impatient and prophetic, full of warmth and wit and wisdom; abounding is humanity, honesty and integrity: we are gathered to honour his memory, to express our love for him as a father, a pastor and teacher, a friend, and – as he would say - a fellow disciple in Christ; to give thanks for the hope his ministry brought to so many people and communities, not least in this part of the world.
“God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.”

The life he lived, the ministry he exercised, the contribution he made, the thought he provoked and the hope he proclaimed would not have been possible without the love and companionship of Mollie. Becca writes that "I know that whatever he was in public, my father could not have been without my mother. Together they were a formidable pair until her death in 2008." Mollie was the strength and support that enabled David to sustain his ministry particularly in the ten years as bishop and the invaluable source of practical advice in the exercise of pastoral care.

David took delight in his family and their achievements. The family was hugely important to him throughout his life and not least in these latter days. Christopher, Tim, Debba and Becca, the grand-children and great grandchildren featured in his conversation and were fixed points in his navigation of the territory of diminishment and for retaining the sense of who he was.

The care team - his "family of friends" - made a tremendous contribution to enabling him to be himself, allowing him to care for them, listening to their stories, as well as being cared for. Ann-Marie, Jane, Jennie, Gail and Bee deserve recognition for a quality of care that was remarkable. Thanks also to the staff of the Beconsfield Care home, for what they did for him and the way that they did it. 

David longed for his rest. “This is going on too long,” was a theme repeated with variations in recent months. But even when he described his experience of feeling as if half his brain had been switched off, or that he was “fading away,” he would say, “But I am still me.” It was a moving declaration of holding on to his identity, testament in part to the determination and struggle of family and friends that he should preserve that sense of being who he was in himself, in relationship, in the love of God.

It seems not so long ago that we were encouraging him to write one more book. Papers full of illegible scribbles were being stockpiled, conversations recorded. The title was determined; he would call it “Into the Wilderness with Faith, Hope and Love.” It was to be lived out, rather than written down.
“God is as he is in Jesus, therefore there is hope.”

It is only right that I should give David the last word. I rather think he would relish that! It is a word for our times, encouraging the church to be a beacon of hope for all. It is the conclusion of Evangelisation and Culture, David’s major contribution to the 1988 Lambeth Conference:
“[This means that] primary evangelization must be local, ecumenical, social and human. The engagement of evangelization must be that of the local church. Assistance may be brought in from outside but words from strangers can rarely alert people, in at any rate most modern cultures, to the possibility of God. This requires local, daily and neighbourly living and sharing. Seeing that any evangelization which is consistent with the New Testament cannot be recruitment to our brand of religion but must be an alerting to the universal kingdom of the true and living God, evangelization must be ecumenical. Churches which compete to recruit are, in practice, destroying the message and credibility of the gospel. The engagement must be social for the wrath of God, which is an active sign and power of the holy love of the kingdom, is in conflict with all that we do in our social structures, political policies and economic exploitations which diminish persons in God’s image and abuse the created world which is God’s gift. Finally, evangelization must be human. The living God fights against all idols in the name and person and resurrection of Jesus in order that those human beings for whom Christ died might be caught up into the glory of his fulfilled creation as their best selves, fulfilled in the particularity of person, race, language and culture, to make their particular contribution to the kingdom and city of God. Therefore evangelization must cherish the particular humanity, gift, language and culture of each and every one of us. The glory of the gospel is that each and every one of us by name is invited to repent, to be saved from idols, distortion and death and to be part of God’s city and kingdom and eternity.
. . . . . . A pressing question which occurs to me and which I would wish to leave with us all in the context of the issue of evangelization is this. Do we not do wrong, both to the basic thrust of the universality of the New Testament gospel, and to what we are learning through the experiences of history and the diversities of culture, if we regard evangelization as some sort of competition for the recruitment of souls to exclusive and excluding conversions? Should we not rather work out the practical implications of evangelization as a confrontation in the name of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with everything that diminishes men and women in his image and with everything that abuses his world? This confrontation would itself be an invitation to be part of collaboration for the sake of the kingdom with all or any who will directly join with us and also a message of hope, support and encouragement to all who would collaborate with us from outside the church or even sympathise with us from afar.”
“God is as he is in Jesus: therefore there is hope.”

Scroll to Top