Media Watch

Warriors and shepherds: 
George Austin reflects on David Hope's retirement as Archbishop


Although a prize of Galaxy Caramel Swirls might have been a greater temptation than the ‘fair-trade chocolate’ offered in the Church Times caption competition, it was still too much to resist. The photo was of Archbishop David Hope holding a suitcase in the hallway of Bishopthorpe Palace, a relieved smile on his face and by him a cope and mitre hanging on the wall. I tried ‘It’s goodbye from me – and it’s goodbye from him.’ Quite good, I thought, but alas with no success.

My wife went to get her hair done to attend the bit-of-a-do at Bishopthorpe Palace and the hairdresser asked her if she was going anywhere special. ‘To David Hope’s farewell dinner,’ she replied, and came the response, ‘Who is David Hope?’ It is perhaps a sign of the times, not that the hairdresser did not know the archbishop’s name – why should she? – but that his departure from office received so little public notice.

Not that he would care; he needed some persuading both for the dinner and for the great service in York Minster to be held.

The real story

It was the day of his induction that rightly received the greater attention, as he left the splendour for the simplicity of life as a parish priest, so giving the parochial and pastoral ministry a timely boost – sorely needed in a Church that sometimes seems to know little and care less about it. A recent report by the Ecumenical Research Committee complained bitterly that the falling attendance in our churches was down to the decline of home visiting and reduced pastoral care by the clergy. It will not be like that at St Margaret’s Ilkley.

Of course, people will always find the downside of any story, and it has been suggested that Hope simply found that he did not like the heat in the kitchen and sensibly got out of it. To some extent that is a fair comment, even though he had said he would return to parish life well before the kitchen became too hot for him to bear.

But David Hope is a quiet man, not given to confrontation, and certainly he hated the no-win situation that inevitably goes hand in hand with an archbishop’s life in a Church of England so sorely – and perhaps so irrevocably – divided as it is now. He knew only too well that whatever position he took publicly, he would have criticism, sometimes hurtful and often unjustified.

Whether deliberate or simply fortuitous, resigning from York before the February 2005 General Synod meant that he would avoid taking any part in the contentious debates on women bishops and the Windsor Report on homosexuality. With the cruel and dismissive attitude of the feminist fundamentalists – male and female, episcopal and lay – bound as it was to be expressed by the usual contributors on the first issue, and the danger of personal and totally unjustified attacks on the second, it was no doubt a great relief not to have to do more than pop in briefly to say goodbye.

Hope – the book

Rob Marshall’s account of David Hope’s life, Hope, the Archbishop – A Portrait, appeared (by chance?) at the same time. It is not so much a biography as an edited collection of his own records as press officer to Hope for more than twenty years. Even so, there are some glaring mistakes. He gives the date of the ‘momentous’ decision to ordain women to the priesthood as 1995, rather than the correct date of 1992.

Maybe this is why in his account of the London Diocesan Synod debate on women’s ordination in 1991 he records both Hope and his predecessor, Graham Leonard, taking part in the vote, Hope abstaining and Leonard voting against.

But he does give an excellent portrait of David Hope as pastor and man of prayer. As with Archbishop Habgood, at staff retreats in York, we all knew that however early we were in the chapel before Mass, Hope would be there before anyone else.

Surprisingly, there are many other similarities between the two men. John Habgood is portrayed by Marshall as aloof and distant with David Hope the man of the people, and certainly the one finds it much harder to relate to people than the other. Yet Habgood’s aloofness is more a shyness that makes it difficult for him to open a conversation, especially when folk have a hesitation to speak before they are spoken to by so senior a figure in the Church. On a personal level, he too is a warm and caring pastor.

A sense of humour

It is true that David Hope is able to meet folk with a greater ease, yet the man with the sometimes outrageous sense of humour is in fact John Habgood, often laughing at himself – and not least at his own outward reserve. On one occasion, in a farewell speech at the retirement of a suffragan bishop, he commented on how easy the man found it to wander from group to group at a gathering and to have something to say to all of them. Then he paused, smiled, and added innocently, ‘Not a gift every bishop has!’

Both men find it hard to cope with confrontation, and some feel that Hope did not do enough for the Catholic constituency in these days of covert persecution by a liberal hierarchy. Nevertheless, though Habgood was the guiding force behind the Act of Synod, David Hope’s influence and support helped greatly in bringing a successful outcome to the proposals.

Given the almost universal pattern of broken episcopal promises on the equality of treatment and acceptance of those for and against the priesting of women, it needs little imagination to realize how untenable would have been the position of opponents had the Act of Synod not been brought into being.

Men of integrity

With the coming of women bishops, we again need men of the same integrity – just one or two, contra mundum like Athanasius – who will lead an unwilling Synod towards a legal provision for those who in all conscience reject the liberal agenda.

David Hope simply could not have coped with the aggravation and what he has done in taking on, not a quiet country parish in the Yorkshire Dales, but St Margaret’s, Ilkley, a large, thriving, town parish with a highly intelligent, articulate and committed congregation, shows the orthodox remnant who remain what is the real work of the Gospel.

‘Ilkley Moor bah’t ’at’ – or rather ‘Ilkley Moor without a mitre’ – may prove in the end be the most significant contribution of his life.


George Austin is a writer, broadcaster

and journalist

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