Kenneth Woollcombe

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Kenneth John Woollcombe (Ken; 2 January 1924 2 March 2008) [1] was an Anglican academic [2] who was Bishop of Oxford [3] in the middle part of his career, from 1971 to 1978.


Early years

Woollcombe was born in Sutton, where his father, the Reverend Edward Woollcombe, was rector. He was educated at Sandroyd School before heading to 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. [4] He served on several minesweepers. [5] He read theology at St John's College, Oxford, from 1948. [6] 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. [5] He studied for ordination at Westcott House in Cambridge; was made a deacon on Trinity Sunday 1951 (20 May) [7] and priested the next Trinity Sunday (8 June 1952) — both times by Maurice Harland, Bishop of Lincoln, at Lincoln Cathedral; [8] and spent two years as a curate at St James, Grimsby, [9] before returning to St John's College in 1955, combining the roles of Fellow, Chaplain and Lecturer. [10] He contributed to a book, The Historic Episcopate, in 1954 and published Essays on Typology with Geoffrey Lampe, his predecessor as chaplain, in 1957.

Scholar and bishop

Woollcombe was Professor of Dogmatic Theology at the 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 Harry Carpenter; [11] Woollcombe was consecrated a bishop by Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 16 March 1971 at Westminster Abbey. [12] 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. [13] 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. [14] [15] He moved to London to become an Assistant Bishop (1978–1981) [16] to the Bishop of London, Gerald Ellison; he was given responsibility for the City of Westminster. [17] He remarried in 1980, to Juliet Dearmer (granddaughter of Canon Percy Dearmer) who had become 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 was installed into on 1 November 1981 [18] and 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 Peter Palumbo, Baron Palumbo for St Stephen Walbrook. [10] [19]

Final years and death

He retired to Worcestershire in 1989 where he served as an Assistant Bishop of Worcester. [17] In 1991 he took over four parishes with his wife, who was ordained as a priest in 1994. He retired again, to Pershore, in 1998; he died in Worcester. He is survived by his second wife and their daughter and his three daughters from his first marriage. His memorial service – attended by (among 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. [20]

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  1. Daily Telegraph, Thursday, 6 March 2008; p. 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" [ dead link ]
  2. The Times, Tuesday, 17 March 1953; p. 10; Issue 52572; col B "Election of Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford"
  3. The Times, Saturday, 12 September 1970; p. 14; Issue 57969; col D "New Bishop of Oxford"
  4. "No. 37632". The London Gazette . 28 June 1946. p. 3296.
  5. 1 2 "The Right Rev Kenneth Woollcombe: Scholarly Bishop of Oxford". The Independent. 14 April 2008. Retrieved 3 April 2022.
  6. "Who’s Who": London, A & C Black, 1992 ISBN   0-7136-3514-2
  7. "Trinity ordinations" . Church Times . No. 4607. 25 May 1951. p. 357. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 9 October 2019 via UK Press Online archives.
  8. "Trinity ordinations" . Church Times . No. 4662. 13 June 1952. p. 438. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 9 October 2019 via UK Press Online archives.
  9. "Church web site". Archived from the original on 9 October 2007. Retrieved 7 March 2008.
  10. 1 2 Obituary, The Times , 6 March 2007
  11. "No. 45285". The London Gazette . 21 January 1971. p. 777.
  12. "picture caption" . Church Times . No. 5640. 19 March 1971. p. 1. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 9 October 2019 via UK Press Online archives.
  13. The Times, Friday, 4 July 1965; p. 1; Issue 53439; col D, Anglicans debate the ordination of women
  14. Crockford's Clerical Directory 1975-76 London: Oxford University Press, 1976 ISBN   0-19-200008-X
  15. "No. 47563". The London Gazette . 8 June 1978. p. 6911.
  16. "Woollcombe, Kenneth John" . Who's Who . A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  17. 1 2 "Woollcombes to leave London" . Church Times . No. 6584. 21 April 1989. p. 3. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 15 February 2021 via UK Press Online archives.
  18. "ad: St Paul's cathedral" . Church Times . No. 6194. 30 October 1981. p. 15. ISSN   0009-658X . Retrieved 15 February 2021 via UK Press Online archives.
  19. [1987] Fam 146, [1987] 2 All ER 578
  20. Daily Telegraph , Court and Social (p28) Issue no 47,584, 30 May 2008
Church of England titles
Preceded by Bishop of Oxford
Succeeded by