Remembering Simon Barrington-Ward, former CMS general secretary

Remembering Simon Barrington-Ward, former CMS general secretary

Photo: Deryck Chan / CC BY-SA

The Church Mission Society community joins with people all over the country and all over the world in mourning the death of former CMS general secretary Simon Barrington-Ward.

Below are some words of tribute from the CMS community’s Episcopal Visitor, The Rt Rev Christopher Cocksworth as well as from other members of the CMS family.

The Right Reverend Simon Barrington-Ward, former Bishop of Coventry, has died at the age of 89.

The current Bishop of Coventry, the Right Rev Christopher Cocksworth said:

Today, Holy Saturday, Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward died. Simon was Bishop of Coventry from 1985 to 1997, and was dearly loved. Indeed, he remains in people’s hearts across the Diocese. Many people across the Diocese of Coventry were ordained or first licensed or confirmed by him. Bishop John worked closely with Simon during his curacy and, like many of us, has many stories to tell of Bishop Simon’s faithful and loving ministry. 

Before coming to Coventry, Bishop Simon was my Spiritual Director and, throughout my time as one of his successors, Simon’s example has been an inspiration. I learnt so much from him and I join with the Diocese of Coventry as a whole in being indebted to this kind and holy Father-in-God. 

Bishop Simon taught me to pray a very simple prayer, called “The Jesus Prayer”. He told me that, like him, I would need to use it during the day as bishop “to come up for air”. We give thanks for this person of prayer who knew how to dwell in the presence of God, and who will now breathe the sweet and pure air of the new creation. And we pray for his dear wife Jean, for their daughters, Helen and Mary and for the whole family.

First published on the Diocese of Coventry’s website. 

Simon Barrington-Ward studied at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and Westcott House, before being ordained in 1956.

He served as chaplain at Magdalene College; then spent three years lecturing at Ibadan University (Nigeria), before returning to Magdalene in 1963, this time as a Fellow and Dean.

He was the General Secretary of Church Missionary Society (CMS) from 1975 to 1985, and was also Chaplain to the Queen from 1984 to 1985.

“I am living with a lot of questions. But it is only by asking the ‘impossible’ questions, and facing them, that real growth comes.” Simon Barrington-Ward, captured at Partnership House, Waterloo, the former offices of CMS, in a series of pictures for a 1980 article in Yes magazine. Wallace Boulton, who wrote the article, described him thus: “He has none of the detached aloofness often associated with academics. He is ‘Simon’ to everyone at headquarters and is easily approachable – that is if he has not already made the first approach himself in his relaxed, outgoing way.”

From 1985 to 1997, he served as the seventh Bishop of Coventry. He was consecrated a bishop by Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury, on All Saints’ Day 1985 (1 November) at Westminster Abbey.

After his retirement from Coventry, he continued as a bishop with pastoral care of the University of Cambridge, and an honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Ely,

Bishop Simon returned as an honorary assistant chaplain of Magdalene College, where he was an honorary fellow since 1987, and a chaplain to the staff of Ridley Hall, Cambridge.

He was knighted as a Knight Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 2001.

I first met Simon in 1973 when he was on his first visit to Iran and I was being considered to take on the publishing work of an Iranian inter-church publishing house – Iran and his friendship with Bishop Hassan Dehqani-Tafti meant a great deal to him and he was a valued adviser to Bishop Hassan when he was obliged to remain in Britain after the Islamic Revolution. I was at Crowther Hall for his last term as Principal – and then worked with him when I joined the CMS 157 staff and became Regional Secretary for the Middle East and Pakistan. We had memorable Secretaries meetings each week and the two long weekends each year away at St Julian’s under Simon’s leadership were inspiring and invigorating times. It was at one of those summer weekends that the term ‘mission partner’ first emerged in a discussion that wanted to hold together the  missionary calling but to emphasise that it was carried out  in partnership with local churches.

One of Simon’s great themes was the Interchange of gifts, experience, spirituality and resources, deriving from the exchange of the gifts of God with those who follow Jesus. Consequently it was under his leadership that mission in Britain, particularly through the bringing of Christians from the global south to minister in Britain was established and developed.

I recall his depth of spirituality (the Jesus Prayer was so important to him), his brightness of thought and devotion, great sense of fun and humour (his singing (and acting out) of Burlington Bertie for example at Crowther Hall) and that sense when speaking to him that you had his full attention. He was a man without guile who inspired so many.

John Clark, former CMS communications director

We remember Simon well from our time at Crowther Hall when he was General Secretary of CMS. He used to spend long evenings with us and others who were there at the time, sharing with us and telling stories and giving us so much in depth teaching…. We are so grateful to God for all that we learnt from and through Simon, for his life and the depth of his ministry. May he know Christ’s love surrounding him…. We pray for Jean and the family at this time.

David and Jane Fulford, part of the CMS Asia forum

When I joined the staff of CMS in 2001 the Society was undertaking a mission spirituality review which was chaired by +Simon Barrington-Ward, a former CMS general secretary. He brought both a rich mission understanding and a very deep spirituality to bear on our prayerful discussions. Furthermore, his delight and wonder on the transformative nature of the Jesus Prayer when applied personally and sincerely made a real impression on me and led me to adopting it as part of my prayer life.

Along with Max Warren and John V Taylor he steered CMS into new forms of mission in the worldwide church. Bishop Simon was also a great advocate for interchange of Christians from everywhere to everywhere and developed pioneering programmes that enabled many Christian leaders from elsewhere in the world to serve in mission in Britain in his time as General Secretary (1975-85). He wrote a prayer that has now become the CMS Community Prayer. This prayer has been of much help to me and to our many partners around the world whom I have shared it with recently as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bishop Simon had so much gentle spiritual gravitas and wisdom. He has been a wonderful gift to CMS and the wider church.  We remain truly indebted to his Christian life of service.

Paul Thaxter, CMS director of international mission

I have known Simon for 54 years (!) from my undergraduate days studying Pt II Theology. He was for many years a kind of spiritual father to me, whom I loved, and from whom I learnt so much, not least early on concerning the Holy Spirit. One of the greatest culminating privileges of my life was to spend three weeks in pilgrimage on Mt Athos with him in 2011, and then to help write a Grove Booklet on our visit. 

After being Chaplain, then Dean of Magdalene College, he was made Principal of Crowther Hall in the Selly Oak Colleges, where I met him again, then General Secretary of CMS, then Bishop of Coventry. In retirement he returned to Cambridge to become an honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Ely, and honorary assistant chaplain of Magdalene College, where our Nicholas and Jess also got to know him. 

Fullness of joy and glory is now his. Tears of joy are now our sign of gratitude.

Philip Seddon

The CMS Community prayer, written by Simon Barrington-Ward

Lord, as you have entered into our life and death
and in all the world you call us into your death and risen life,
forgive us our sins;
and draw us we pray,
by the power and encouragement of your Spirit,
into an exchange of gifts and needs,
joys and sorrows,
strength and weakness
with your people everywhere;
that with them we may have grace to break through every barrier,
to make disciples of all peoples
and to share your love with everyone
for your glory’s sake.

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