Canon Wilfrid Robert Francis Browning


A MEMORIAL service for Canon Wilfrid Browning, who sadly died on 23rd February, aged 98, will take place at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford on Saturday 27th May at 3pm.

Obituary by the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

Many of post-war generation believed that it was axiomatic that at the heart of English life was the parochial system of the Church of England, and the only way to safeguard it, was the provision of a sufficient number of full-time priests.

Canon Wilfrid Browning during a visit on his bike to what used to be Diocesan Church House in North Hinksey.

Wilfrid Browning was in formation during this period, and with a keen mind and strong sense of mission, brought this insight with him when he was appointed Diocesan Director of Education and tutor at Cuddesdon Theological College in 1965.

Here, he became strongly influenced by Professor Owen Chadwick, one of the distinguished brothers Professor Henry Chadwick, who was made Dean of Christ Church in 1969. Owen Chadwick argued that one of the failures of the parochial system was that it did not penetrate the place of work.

‘The church must accept the factory as a new source of community, and use its sense of fellowship in creating a Christian fellowship. Therefore we must have priests who are factory workers; who do not in the first instance make any attempt to associate the workers with the parish church, but who gather round them a Christian fellowship within the working community.  We must have our altar in the house of one of the workmen, and let that be the first centre of the new Christian community.’ (A paper by Owen Chadwick re-printed in ‘Tentmaking’ Perspectives on Self -Supporting Ministry, edited by M. M. Francis and L. J Francis, Gracewing, 1998: pp. 81-90).

Wilfrid Browning was convinced by this approach, and visited Pontigny, the seminary of the French worker-priest movement, to explore how they went about training such priests. He set up a course for men experienced in the world of work, who would meet one evening each week at St Stephen’s House, supplemented by a number of residential weekends each term, to prepare them for ministry in the place of work, as auxiliaries to the parochial clergy.

As this ‘NSM Scheme’ (as it was titled) developed, Browning established a link with the Oxford University Department for Continuing Education, which advised on the structure of the course, and offered accreditation.

In the 1980’s with commendable foresight, he recruited women as well, some of whom eventually were among the first to be ordained to the diaconate and then priesthood.  The numbers at any one time were restricted to thirty.

He was a formidable presence in the Diocese and during Sir Henry Chadwick’s time as Dean, a proposal was considered that a new residential Canonry be established to increase links between the Diocese and its Cathedral Church, which in its unique dual role was not able properly to serve the needs of the post-war generation. Wilfrid Browning was the obvious person for the post; and the governing body approved his nomination. It was the beginning of a fruitful development in the attempt by the House to combine its roles as College Chapel, while being a focus and resource for the people of the Diocese; a project that continues to this day.

In 2008 Rowan Williams, who had been appointed Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Christ Church in 1986 at the end of Wilfrid’s ministry, honoured him with the Cross of St Augustine, which was in his gift as Archbishop of Canterbury.  It was given in recognition of his ‘outstanding service to the Church of England.’

In his retirement Wilfrid continued to minister and preach, offering friendship to his successor, as the old NSM course transformed into the Oxford Ministry Course and then the St Albans and Oxford Ministry Course, becoming an alternative to residential training rather than a supplement. It was a development of which he never really approved, and he was delighted when in the new millennium, responsibility for the course was located at Cuddesdon.

It was a mark of his modesty that for the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood, he invited his friends and former students to the church in Botley where he was currently assisting.  He presided and preached to the affectionate delight of the large congregation.

It is fitting that his contribution to the Church should now be recognised by the House which provided the setting for such an important part of his significant ministry.

A Requiem Eucharist and thanksgiving for Canon Wilfred’s life took place in Bexhill-on-Sea on March 15.

A new era for Cuddesdon

Lord Blair and Lord Bragg. Photo Mike Nelson.

Lord Blair and Lord Bragg. Photo Mike Nelson.

New Principal Humphrey Southern talks to Sarah Meyrick

Ripon College, Cuddesdon, entered a new era last month with the arrival of its new Principal, the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern. Bishop Humphrey, who was until recently Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, takes up office after the departure of the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy who was installed as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in October.

The Rt Revd Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

The Rt Revd Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

Bishop Humphrey was a student at Cuddesdon himself in the 1980s, and professes himself mildly surprised to be back after 30 years. “I’ve never moved back anywhere,” he says. “Someone suggested to me the other day that it was all ‘chaps in tweed coats with pipes’ when I was here. That’s not quite right, but certainly there are changes. Cuddesdon today is a place of parity between genders in a way that seems quite relaxed. There’s real inclusion: people are seriously received and welcomed for who they are, as created by God, and I’m excited by that.”

It’s also time of great challenge and change in theological education. A recent report from the Archbishop’s Council, Resourcing Ministerial Education, has raised a number of questions about the future of ordination training, and, specifically, has called for a 50 per cent increase in ordinations. Cuddesdon has a long and distinguished history as a theological college – it lays claim to having trained a third of current bishops, deans and archdeacons in the Church of England – and is the largest provider of ordination training in the UK. There are currently over 150 students training for ordained ministry, and a growing number preparing for LLM, Pioneer and other lay ministries.

“It’s a time when our core business is up for grabs,” says Bishop Humphrey. “But there’s nothing in that report that frightens us. We already provide a range of different training pathways. That’s one of our strengths. We have students in a residential and non-residential mould, and we have a close engagement with Oxford University.

“But if that 50 per cent figure is realistic, the Holy Spirit will call people from an even broader diversity. The core of what we offer isn’t different: it’s about that shared journey into understanding who we are before God. Each of us makes that as an individual, but in community. As you walk along that journey, which is frightening, puzzling, uncomfortable, and full of joy, you encounter the people who walk alongside you, and there’s a richness.”

So what of Bishop Humphrey’s own journey to ordination? After reading History at Christ Church College, Oxford, he went to what was then called ACCM (the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry, now the Bishops’ Advisory Panel) and was told to go and do something else before beginning his training. Through the Diocese of Salisbury’s link with the Church in Sudan, he found a placement in Africa.

“I was sent against my will to a culture that couldn’t be more different from Christ Church,” he says. “There was no electricity, no water, nothing but a church full of vibrancy, excitement and danger. It was a rich and colourful experience that was life changing. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Thank God for the Diocese of Salisbury and ACCM and Sudan.”

It was, he says, one of the most formative times of his life. As well as furnishing him with a store of after dinner stories, he learned “something about the Gospel and culture”, he says.

“I was 22 and had never been outside Europe. I arrived in Khartoum and had to climb through a hole in the wall to get my luggage because the conveyer belt was broken. It was a fragile, delightful, completely alien world, quite extraordinary. I began to learn something about hospitality, about being entirely dependent on complete strangers. I couldn’t communicate with home – there were no phones, and letters would take three or four weeks.”

Cuddesdon seemed luxurious after Sudan, though he has particularly strong memories of the cold in the parish church. He was ordained in 1986, and served curacies at St Margaret’s Rainham in Kent, a very busy commuter parish (“I took 100 funerals in my deacon’s year”) and St Mary’s, Walton, in inner-city Liverpool. Between the two, he was seconded to a township parish in Harare in Zimbabwe following the unexpected death of the priest there.

This was followed by a first incumbency at Hale in Guildford Diocese, where he was also Diocesan Ecumenical Officer. During this time he met (at a baptism) his wife Emma, a district nurse, and their two daughters were born. Seven years later the family moved to Wiltshire, where he had grown up, and became Rector of Tisbury. To begin with, he had oversight of seven villages, but by the time he left the benefice encompassed 16 villages, with populations varying from 36 to around 1,500.

From Wiltshire, he was appointed Bishop of Repton. “It’s been interesting being the sole suffragan in a small and quite varied diocese, just one county, and a mix between the comfortable rural idyll of places like Chatsworth but also the ordinary everyday reality of post-industrial, post-mining Derby.

“My role there included a lot of responsibility around vocations and ministry, the formation of the clergy and their learning as curates. There was also quite a lot of seeing in the new ways in which clergy are supported, such as Ministry Development Reviews and Common Tenure, which is a change of culture for the clergy.”

This, he says, brings him a useful perspective on the world the clergy are being trained for. “I don’t come from the theoretical, academic side, so I’m pleased to have such distinguished colleagues, but I think I know what the Church is looking for and wanting.” He says he is excited about the Edward King Chapel, which opened in 2013 after the sisters moved to the College. “It’s not just the Chapel but what it represents – the resource the sisters offer. The decision to do something as powerful and bold as that says something about our seriousness, and what, at our heart of hearts, this place is about. It’s a place that is confident about its purpose, as we wait on God.”

Growth inspires modern facilities

CUDDESDON has seen a period of strong growth and development over the last 10 years. Student numbers are at their maximum, the research centre is thriving and the College is sharing its resources more widely through new courses, guided retreats and lectures. However, the current single student accommodation has changed little since the College was built in 1854.

“In order to remain an outstanding provider of theological education, we now need to upgrade our study bedrooms to offer more comfortable and modern accommodation to our students and visitors,” says Sophie Farrant, Development Director.

The College has therefore begun a project to refurbish two floors of two wings in the original buildings. As a result of the refurbishment – which will take place over the two summers of 2016 and 2017 to minimise disruption – 24 rooms will gain en-suite facilities, an extra study bedroom will be created, and each floor will gain a kitchenette/utility room.

The project will cost almost £1 million, but thanks to an extremely generous donation of £500,000 by an anonymous donor, and further grants and donations, the campaign is in search of the slightly less daunting figure of £390,000.

The Bible and the Bard

One of the first events attended by the new Principal was The Bible and The Bard, a special gala dinner at the Globe Theatre in London. Those attending the event were treated to a tour of the unique theatre and a conversation between Lord Bragg and Lord Blair on their shared interests in Shakespeare and the Bible.

Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is a Trustee of the Globe. (He is also well known in the Diocese of Oxford as a member of the Bishop’s Council.) Before the dinner he interviewed Melvyn Bragg on his career as a broadcaster and writer, his love of the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and the role of religion in today’s society. The event was the launch of the new Refurbishment Campaign.


Appointment of new principal

THE Rt Rd Humphrey Southern, suffragan Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, has been appointed Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon. Subject to legal formalities, Bishop Humphrey will take up the post on 1 April 2015.

 Bishop Humphrey was born in London and brought up in Wiltshire. He was a student at Christ Church, Oxford, and trained for ordination at Ripon College Cuddesdon in the 1980s. He was a curate in Kent and Liverpool, and served as a parish priest in the dioceses of Guildford and Salisbury. In Guildford he served as Diocesan Ecumenical Officer and Tutor for training of curates, a role he continued in Salisbury, where he was also a Rural Dean and Chair of the Diocesan House of Clergy.

In 2007 Humphrey became Bishop of Repton and has developed a particular interest in ministry and ministerial development, both of ordinands and curates, and of longer established clergy and readers. He serves as Chair of the Diocesan Board of Education and has taken a leading role in developing the diocese’s response to new opportunities and challenges in the world of schools. In addition to his involvement in the 110 Church Primary Schools in the diocese, he has had a particular ministry of engagement with sixth-formers across Derbyshire on issues of faith and faithfulness.

Bishop Humphrey has a strong interest in the wider Anglican Communion. He has served in Anglican Churches in South Sudan and Zimbabwe, and has studied Anglican mission in Australia and the United States. He chairs the Ecumenical Partnership of Churches in Derbyshire with the Church of North India and has recently been developing personal links with the Church of Pakistan. He has led pilgrimages to the Holy Land and is passionate about the plight of Palestinian Christians. Humphrey is married to Emma and they have two daughters at secondary school. The family also currently includes two ex-racing greyhounds, a horse and two goldfish.

Bishop Humphrey says: “I am both honoured and humbled to be invited to be Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon at such a pivotal moment in the history of the College and the Church. This is a time of great opportunity for the Church of England as we are challenged to grow in faithfulness, service and witness to our nation and communities, in numbers and confidence, and above all in the life of prayer and worship.

“Ripon College Cuddesdon has grown and developed so that it is uniquely well placed by the grace of God to rise to this challenge and to serve this vision for the Church. I look forward to being part of this and to the exciting times that are to come.”

The Right Reverend Christopher Foster, Bishop of Portsmouth and incoming Chair of the Board of Governors, says: “We are delighted that Bishop Humphrey has accepted our invitation to lead Ripon College Cuddesdon as it continues to serve the mission of the Gospel by training and forming ordained and lay ministers for the Church of England. His vision and experience will enhance the breadth and diversity of what the College offers as we respond to the need for confident and committed disciples, sensitive to God’s leading.”


New Cuddesdon chapel up for award


02-BishopEdwardKingChapelThe Edward King Chapel at Ripon College Cuddesdon, is one of the six buildings shortlisted for this year’s most important architectural award, the RIBA Stirling Prize.  RIBA says “the judges look for original, imaginative and well executed designs which excellently meet the needs of their users”.

The College’s brief for a new chapel on its historic site in Oxfordshire, asked for it to be “foremost a place for the cultivation of personal prayer as well as of public worship. What is needed is not just a building but a work of art that will touch the spirit.”

Architect Niall McLaughlin won the commission through his deep understanding and interpretation of the brief.  Niall says “We have two important architectural ideas. The first is a gentle hollow in the ground as a meeting place for the community. The second is a delicate ship-like timber structure that rises into the treetops to gather the light from the leaves.

“The first idea speaks of ground, of meeting in the still centre. The second idea suggests an uplifting buoyancy, rising towards the light. The way in which these two opposite forces work off each other is what gives the building its particular character.”

Ripon College Cuddesdon has around 150 students training for ordained ministry in the Anglican Church and a growing number preparing for Reader, Pioneer and a variety of lay ministries.  It is the largest provider of ordination training in the UK, and has trained a third of current Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons in the Church of England.

The College Principal, Revd Canon Prof. Martyn Percy added: “The Chapel is the heart of any worshipping community. This vision for a new place of worship – with its use of light, space, glass, wood and stone – really captures our hope for the church and the world, and for the shaping of religious and spiritual life.  We are absolutely delighted that it has been shortlisted for the Stirling Prize.”

The winner will be announced on 26 September.