Sunday, 29 March 2015

Memories of a remarkable Bishop

From "The Pilot" in 1987.

By Edward J. Bastin

Forty-five years ago (I believe on St Swithin's Day) Bishop Mervyn George Haigh was Enthroned Bishop of Winchester. Among others who attended that Service was my intrepid wife.

Dr Mervyn Haigh had been Bishop of Coventry since 1931. At the time of his coming to this See he was forty three years of age but brought with him his gifts and remarkable experience. Of those I would mention his apparent desire to seek and promote for the Church of England, mature Wisdom. If called upon to speak, he would so with brevity, clarity, and charity. Add to that he had dignity and graciousness reflecting as it seems to me, the life of the Precincts of Canterbury. He would have been 100 years old this September, but he died at Dolgellau on May 20th 1962, having retired there ten years earlier.

Mervyn Haigh was ordained in the London Diocese in 1911. He was in various parishes doing parochial work until he became an Army Chaplain in World War I. On returning in 1919 he joined Canon F. R. Barry at the Test School Knutsford as Tutor. His unique experience was to follow later by his being asked by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, to be his principal Chaplain in 1924. This post might be compared to being "A Chief of Staff." He continued in this responsible office until 1931 with Archbishop Cosmo G. Lang.

Concern for the Channel Islands

The years 1924-1931 were years of many changes and difficulties in our country. They were also years of development in the church's life at home and abroad. I mention a few of the developments. Church Assembly and Parochial Church Councils were fairly new. There were abortive attempts to provide an Alternative Book of Common prayer in 1927 and 1928. Then it fell to Mervyn Haigh to prepare for the Lambeth Conference of 1930 of which he was the Non-Episcopal Secretary. In addition there was the continuing work in the big Canterbury Diocese including the setting-up of the first Diocesan Board of Finance.

At the time of his Enthronement in Winchester Cathedral 1942, Dr Mervyn Haigh could not have been unmindful of that part of his Diocese from which Britain was cut off. However, it is recorded by F. R. Barry (Mervyn Haigh SPLK 1964) that the Bishop did manage to keep in touch with the Channel Islands by `devious routes' and some-times through prison camps in Germany.

Though Mervyn Haigh was by nature rather reserved he was extremely sensitive to `situations' which were poignant. It troubled him much that it took so long after your liberation for permission for him to visit the Islands as their Bishop. He had considerable mental anxiety about what he would find - it might well be clergy and people in a starvation plight needing every kind of help while facing the most unlikely problems. He almost dreaded the visit but steeled himself to do what he regarded as his honourable duty for Christ and His Gospel'. He wrote about his visit afterwards in his Diocesan leaflet but most of that is gone and now forgotten.

He was rich within in charity for others. He was inclined to be `distant' but not indifferent. As a Bishop we found him firm but always trying to understand, especially those who in Church Assembly differed from him. From time to time he was unwell, yet did not allow that to prevent him doing his work if that were possible.

I close this article by relating a simple incident I remember of Bishop Haigh. It was in May 1939 and he was preaching at a Sunday School Festival in the Mission Church of the Mining Village being a part of the parish north west of Coventry, to which parish he had appointed me in 1936.

To follow this incident II Kings 2 verses 19-22 should be read. It is about Elisha `healing' the waters. As the Bishop was relating the story to the adults and children, he `lost' the word he wanted for `a new cruse' and he turned to me saying "What is the word I want?" fortunately I had followed his reasoning (and, I may add I had married a Nursing Ward Sister) I said it, `Sterile.' I leave you with that thought and the memory of a remarkable man.

(Our thanks to the Rev. Edward J. Bastin, incidentally a reader of 'The PILOT; for providing this article. Mr Bastin has himself written a personal history, of the Diocese of Coventry: "Seen in a Sec."

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