Mervyn Stockwood

[Bishop of Southwark]

Biography of Mervyn Stockwood

Arthur Mervyn Stockwood (27 May 1913 – 13 January 1995) was the Anglican Bishop of Southwark from 1959 to 1980.

Mervyn Stockwood was born in Bridgend, Wales. His solicitor father was killed during the First World War. He was introduced to Anglo-Catholic worship at All Saints' Church, Clifton[disambiguation needed], which reinforced his love of ritual and sense of the dramatic. He was educated at The Downs School and Kelly College; in 1931 he entered Christ's College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1934. Having studied for the Anglican ministry at Westcott House theological college in Cambridge, he was ordained deacon in 1936, priest in 1937. First curate, then Vicar of St Matthew's, Moorfields for nineteen years, he was also missioner to Blundell's School. In 1955 he was appointed Vicar of Great St Mary's, Cambridge where his preaching drew large congregations of undergraduates, gaining him a national reputation. A flamboyant figure, he was for a time a Labour councillor, having converted to socialism while at theological college.

In 1959, at the suggestion of Geoffrey Fisher, Harold Macmillan appointed Stockwood to the see of Southwark. Under him, Southwark became one of the best known dioceses in the Church of England. Stockwood encouraged both the radical and conservative wings of the church. On the one hand he encouraged priests wearing jeans in public, marches against racism and the training of "worker priests" in the Southwark Ordination Course, yet he was also the first Church of England diocesan bishop to preach at the National Pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, of which he later became an honorary guardian. A legal case however, when a police constable was sent to enforce the closure of an Anglo-Catholic church at Carshalton, indicated limits of accepted ritual practice. A consistory court hearing (under diocesan chancellor Garth Moore) in another sphere of behaviour[clarification needed] was followed by a formal service of deposition from orders.

During the 1960s the term 'South Bank religion' became synonymous with radical theology and public controversy. Its most famous expression was the book Honest to God (1963) by John Robinson, whom Stockwood had appointed as his suffragan at Woolwich in 1959. Another controversial work was No New Morality (1964) by Douglas Rhymes, a gay priest on the staff of Southwark Cathedral, which questioned the traditional view that Christian morality was based upon absolute laws.

Stockwood was adept at making unusual and radical, but usually highly successful, appointments. Chief among these were David Sheppard as Bishop of Woolwich in 1969 (after John Robinson's return to Cambridge), Hugh Montefiore as Bishop of Kingston in 1970, Michael Marshall to Woolwich in 1975 and Keith Sutton to Kingston in 1978.

Stockwood is remembered for his appearance on the BBC chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning, with Christian broadcaster Malcolm Muggeridge, arguing that the film Monty Python's Life of Brian was blasphemous. He memorably told John Cleese and Michael Palin at the end of the discussion that they would "get (their) thirty pieces of silver".

Within the Church of England Stockwood was liberal in his view of the morality of homosexual behaviour (although a Cambridge sermon alluded unfavourably to English historical monarchs with that reputation). He spoke in favour of homosexual law reform, included homosexual couples among the guests at his dinner parties, and on at least one occasion blessed a homosexual relationship.

In his autobiography, Chanctonbury Ring, Stockwood claimed to have had numerous paranormal experiences. A supporter of the Churches' Fellowship for Psychical and Spiritual Study, he said of the matter, "Our job is to examine the evidence without presupposition or jumping to conclusions. The weakness of the Church has been its refusal to consider the evidence and discuss it."

Michael De-la-Noy's biography, Mervyn Stockwood: A Lonely Life, paints him as a socialist who loved the trappings of wealth, privilege and royalty.

In 1980 he retired and went to live in Bath. Shortly before his death he was one of ten Church of England bishops 'outed' (i.e. alleged to be a closet homosexual) by the radical gay organisation OutRage!.

[Report Error]