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News > Deaths & Obituaries > GRAHAM, The Right Reverend Alexander

GRAHAM, The Right Reverend Alexander

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The following obituary was published in The Telegraph on Friday 14 May 2021

The Right Reverend Alexander Graham, Bishop of Newcastle gifted with both theological and pastoral skills

The Right Reverend Alexander Graham, who has died aged 91, was Bishop of Newcastle from 1981-97 and before that spent four years as Suffragan Bishop of Bedford.


Alec Graham, Bishop of Newcastle, with the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey in 1996 - Brian Smith

Although he came to theology after studying Modern Languages and started with no more than the Oxford Diploma in Theology, Graham quickly made up for lost ground and on his retirement the Archbishop of Canterbury described him to the General Synod as “a theological polymath”.

He had by this time been chairman of the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission for eight years and very successfully held together a group of professional theologians of sharply differing viewpoints. He was rewarded for this by the award of a Lambeth DD.

It is also fair to say that without Graham’s theological and pastoral skills, and willingness to take risks, the Church of England might have been deprived of the ministry of Richard Chartres, who was Bishop of London from 1995 to 2017.

In 1969 Robert Runcie, at that time Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, accepted Chartres as a student but in the following year left to become Bishop of St Albans. Under the new regime Chartres became disillusioned and left for a teaching post in Spain.

The authorities at Cuddesdon now seriously doubted his suitability for ordination, but Runcie persuaded Graham, then Warden of Lincoln Theological College, to take him on and Chartres was ordained in St Albans Abbey in 1973. Just over two decades later he was Bishop of London and third in the Church of England’s hierarchy.

Andrew Alexander Kenny (Alec) Graham was born on August 7 1929, son of Andrew Harrison and Magdalene Graham. After Tonbridge School and National Service he went up to Oxford as a Scholar of St John’s College.

His Second in Modern Languages enabled him to study German theology, particularly that of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in some depth and he was awarded a distinction in the Diploma in Theology. He then prepared for Holy Orders at Ely Theological College and from 1955 to 1958 was a curate in Hove.

By the end of this time his theological learning had advanced to the point where he could be appointed Chaplain and Lecturer in Theology at Worcester College, Oxford, and two years later he became Fellow and Tutor of the College.

He proved to be an inspiring teacher and, although he valued the Catholic tradition of the Church of England, he was always open to new insights, provided they were sufficiently grounded intellectually.

From 1970-77 Graham was Warden of Lincoln Theological College and a Canon of Lincoln Cathedral. This was a period of sharp decline in the number of men preparing for ordination, but able women, hoping that the way to the priesthood for them would not be barred indefinitely, were training to be deaconesses.

Graham welcomed them into the college, strengthened its links with Nottingham University, and provided both men and women with a rigorous and stimulating theological education.

In 1977 Robert Runcie, requiring a Suffragan Bishop of Bedford, nominated Graham and for the next four years he exercised a much valued ministry in the less fashionable part of St Albans Diocese Small of stature, he none the less had a natural dignity and an authority derived from an acute mind. The dog which accompanied him on parish visits became equally popular.

A year after Runcie’s translation to Canterbury as Archbishop in 1980, Graham became Bishop of Newcastle. He moved North at a time when economic depression was taking a heavy toll of industry and community, and the morale of the clergy was sinking in the face of seemingly intractable parochial problems. Graham tackled this situation with great skill and commitment, and quickly won the confidence of all sections of the community.

He established a good working relationship with David Jenkins, the contentious Bishop of neighbouring Durham, whom he had known well when they were both teaching in Oxford. He also forged a “twinning” link with the more affluent Winchester diocese, which supplied funds for several parish development projects and itself benefited from exposure to the harsh realities of life in the North East.

Graham was someone to whom Archbishop Runcie often turned for advice, and in 1984 he became chairman of the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry – a key position for the selecting and training of future clergy. But after only three years in this post he was urgently needed for the chairmanship of the Doctrine Commission, he being one of the few diocesan bishops equipped for this role.

The most important task the Commission faced during the next eight years was liaison with the Liturgical Commission over the theological aspects of the revision of the Church of England’s worship, and Graham was ideally suited for this work – respected by the liturgists and at the same time not discouraging to those who were seeking to improved the quality of worship, especially its dignity.

Following his retirement in 1997 he became an Honorary Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of Carlisle where he gave much assistance in the parishes and indulged further his great love of fell walking. He was unmarried.

The Right Reverend Alexander Graham, born August 7 1929, died May 9 2021.

(WH/FH 43-47)    

 

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