Kenneth John Woollcombe

Kenneth John Woollcombe

The Right Reverend Kenneth John Woollcombe (2 January 1924 - 2 March 2008 [Daily Telegraph, Thursday, Mar 6, 2008; pg. 25; Issue 47511; col B [ "Obituary: The Rt Rev Kenneth Woollcombe: Bishop of Oxford who brought a refreshing style to the diocese and encouraged ecumenism"] ] ) was a distinguished Anglican academic [,The Times, Tuesday, Mar 17, 1953; pg. 10; Issue 52572; col B "Election of Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford"] who was Bishop of Oxford [The Times, Saturday, Sep 12, 1970; pg. 14; Issue 57969; col D "New Bishop of Oxford"] in the middle part of his career, from 1971 to 1978.

Early years

Woollcombe was born in at Sutton, where his father, Reverend Edward Woollcombe, was rector. He was educated at Haileybury, and served in the RNVR in the Second World War, being commissioned in the engineering branch in 1945 and confirmed in the rank of sub-lieutenant in 1946. [LondonGazette|issue=37632|startpage=3296|date=28 June 1946|accessdate=2008-03-18] He served on several minesweepers. [ Obituary, "The Independent", 15 April 2008] ] He read theology at St John's College, Oxford from 1948. [“Who’s Who”: London, A & C Black, 1992 ISBN 0713635142] He won an exhibition, a scholarship, and the Ellerton Prize, but only achieved a 2:1. He married Gwendolyn Hodges in 1950. They had three daughters.

He studied for ordination at Westcott House in Cambridge, and spent two years as a curate at St James, Grimsby, [ [ Church web site] ] before returning to St John's College in 1955, combining the roles of Fellow, Chaplain and Lecturer. [ Obituary] , "The Times", 6 March 2007] He contributed to a book, "The Historic Episcopate" in 1954, and published "Essays on Typology" with Dr Geoffrey Lampe, his predecessor as chaplain, in 1957.

cholar and bishop

He was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in New York from 1960 to 1963, and then became principal of Coates Hall, the theological college of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, and a canon of Edinburgh Cathedral. He became Bishop of Oxford in 1971, succeeding Bishop Harry Carpenter. [LondonGazette|issue=45285|startpage=777|date=21 January 1971|accessdate=2008-03-18] He supported rapprochement with the Methodist church, and became well known as a committed advocate of the ordination of women as full priests within the Church. [The Times, Friday, July 04, 1965; pg. 1; Issue 53439; col D, Anglicans debate the ordination of women] He was chairman of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK) from 1973 to 1979, and a delegate to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Nairobi, later joining the central committee of the WCC. He was mentioned as a possible Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, he found his position a strain, and suffered from poor health. His first wife died of cancer in 1976, and he resigned as Bishop of Oxford in 1978. [”Crockford's clerical directory” London, Church House 1975 ISBN 0108153674] [LondonGazette|issue=47563|startpage=6911|date=8 June 1978|accessdate=2008-03-18] He moved to London to become an assistant bishop to the Bishop of London, Gerald Ellison. He remarried in 1980, to the Reverend Juliet Dearmer, granddaughter of Canon Percy Dearmer, who had been ordained as a deaconess in 1977. They had one daughter.

He declined the positions of Provost of Coventry Cathedral and Bishop of Worcester, deciding to serve as canon precentor at St Paul's Cathedral instead, an office that he held until he retired in 1989.

He was committed to ecumenism, serving as a member of the Churches Council for Covenanting for Unity, and as chairman of the English Anglican-Roman Catholic Conversations. He sat as one of the five judges of the Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved which granted a retrospective faculty for Henry Moore's controversial new altar commissioned by Chad Varah and Lord Palumbo for St Stephen Walbrook. [ [legal citation| [1987] Fam 146, [1987] 2 All ER 578] ]

Final years and death

He retired to Worcestershire in 1991, taking over four parishes with his wife, who was ordained as a priest in 1994, and also served as an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Worcester from 1989. He retired again, to Pershore, in 1998. He died in Worcester. He was survived by three daughters from his first marriage, and his second wife and their daughter.

His memorial service, attended by (amongst others) Alan Wilson (Bishop of Buckingham) and Michael Scholar (President of St John's College, Oxford), took place at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford on 28 May 2008. ["Daily Telegraph" Court and Social (p28) Issue no 47,584, 30 May 2008]


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