Bulldog Bishop

Andy Hawes pays tribute to Edwin Barnes

I am sure that Bishop Edwin will not mind me describing him as having bulldog qualities. There is in him a directness and pugnaciousness that is known as the bulldog spirit. There is an energy that belies the size and an agility that belies the looks. There are in him traits that have evoked the deepest of affections from his friends, and traits that have aroused dread in those not certain of his look or bark. One could never doubt his loyalty or his capacity to bear the wounds of the occasional dogfight. It is all so very different from the more delicate breeds one might identify as an Anglican Bishop.

Bishop Edwin was just what we needed. Taking his lead and his tone from Bishop John Richards, his ministry began with his little legs hitting the ground at a run. There was a sense of urgency and purpose. Here was a sense of a person with a clear vocation and a will to see things done. It was at one and the same time encouraging and unnerving. The first time Bishop Edwin visited Lincolnshire was to the annual meeting of Forward in Faith. I remember two things clearly – his definite hope for the distant future, which could only be realized by taking up challenges in the present; and his insistence on taking lots of photographs! Over the years I received an album full of photographs. They illustrate Edwin’s ministry marking the rhythm of parish and community life by cherishing each person and each event as unique moments of meeting and celebration. All those smiling faces looking at the photographer. I have no doubt that Edwin’s copies will be treasured for a long time to come.

Edwin is not a comfortable man to have as a Father in God. He values the truth too much to be uncritical or ritually chummy. At the end of one confirmation service the congregation sang a chorus accompanied by a quite competent band. ‘It’s catchy, Father!’ I suggested. ‘So’s diphtheria’ he replied.

On one occasion the congregation ended up with the wrong service sheets. It took twenty minutes of unholy chaos to sort it out. Bishop Edwin stood in the vestry waiting and waiting. He never said a word – but then he didn’t have to! His sermons were always close to the mark and his rebukes and words of discipline were clear and to the point. He telephoned me one day to check if I was attending a meeting with the Bishop of Lincoln; when he found out I was he advised me to be courteous – ‘It won’t do to have you being rude and aggressive!’ I have never needed to ask the question – ‘I wonder what the Bishop really thinks?’ It was such a relief after many years of not quite knowing what was really happening in episcopal minds.

Integrity is a word seen often in this magazine. Edwin’s ministry had an integrity of heart and mind and spirit. Once another local priest and myself needed to make a Lenten confession. Edwin was there within a couple of days. Five years ago my wife suffered a breakdown. Edwin came almost immediately and spent over two hours with her before calling me in to talk with us both and pray for us with the laying on of hands. When we heard that he was retiring my wife cried. We did feel a little bereft. For myself I knew that his prayers had carried me through many a time of trial.

One thing is certain. Edwin cared more for us (that is his flock) than he did for himself. His episcopate saw two interregna ‘in’ Ebbsfleet, two periods of ill health, a severe back problem and coping with British Rail. Yet, still the flying Bishop refused to be grounded, his itinerary stitched together with peerless efficiency of administration and computer wizardry. Behind and beside him all the way was Jane. They made the perfect team for no one could be less like a bulldog than the bishop’s wife. Together they ministered with love and humour in many a clergy home.

Some might say that the bulldog is a comical and sad little beast. But our Bishop Bulldog, although full of fun, (remember the Richborough Heraldic sign and the post cards of Richborough Castle?), was always aware of the tragi-comedy that is the CofE. There were times of sadness, of course, but these were outweighed with the joy of the Catholic Faith. Edwin knows how to celebrate in every sense of the word! I had the great privilege to preach at his farewell Mass and he sent me a thank you in Odd-bins tokens!

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