Page 3, 16th February 1996

16th February 1996
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Page 3, 16th February 1996 — The Most Rev Derek Worlock 1920-1996
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The Most Rev Derek Worlock 1920-1996

DEREK WORLOCK spanned several generations as priest and bishop. As a person he had a capacity for faithful friendship with people of all ages.

Throughout his years as Archbishop of Liverpool (1976-95) he was the bishop who regularly spent the whole week with the National Conference of Priests. He remained close to many younger priests and bishops. .Ar 25 years of age he had become private secretary to Archbishop Bernard Griffin at Westminster: he was to serve three Cardinals in that capacity for nearly 19 years. He was in effect in those years press officer for the Roman Catholic Church in England. The English Catholic establishment regarded him as "one of us". Some of them were later to see him as a traitor, thinking him too open in ecumenical partnership, too ready for change in the Church, too challenging of the status quo in Government.

What brought about the change? There is a clear answer: the Second Vatican Council was a conversion experience for Derek Worlock. He remained consistently loyal to the movement and changes which Vatican II set in train.

He began his well-worn path of journeys to Rome in two years of preparatory meetings, served as secretary to the English-speaking bishops and as an expert consultant on the laity's role. He was present at the Council when he received Pope Paul VI's nomination as Bishop of Portsmouth.

He described his short years as parish priest in Stepney which followed his time at Westminster as the happiest period of his life. He experienced at first hand the resilience and the God-given gifts of Inner City people, often trampled on; he never forgot that potential. He was determined that the people of God should be given the space to develop the confidence to be evangelisers, shedding the light of the Gospel on everyday life.

Beneath the surface, new insights taught this disciplined and devoted priest to pray to the Father and to delight every day in expounding the Scriptures at Mass. Close friends, among those who shared with him in the ferment of thought following the Council, left the priesthood. He remained clear that it was loyal Catholicism to stay and to work out the changes for which the Council had opened the doors.

When he came to Liverpool, Derek Warlock soon introduced a Pastoral Plan, calling on every parish to call "12 apostles". He disagreed with the appointment by other Churches of Industrial Chaplains, fearing that priests might get in the way of authentic lay witness.

In Westminster he had been allowed to take time to be involved with Young Christian Workers: he often returned to the YCW method of See, Judge, Act, when there needed to be Christian reflection on the world of Work, Family or Community. That might be with trade unionists or with the senior

management figures in Merseyside whom he and I brought together over breakfast every month in the Michaelmas Group. The National Pastoral Congress, held in Liverpool in 1980, was the outworking of this vision for an active laity. Its report, The Easter People, worked out the vision, at least in Liverpool, with Diocesan and Parish Councils energised by a strong Pastoral Formation team. The setting free of the Laity remained a priority: following the Synod on the laity, he was recalled to Rome to help draft the papal statement which responded to the Synod.

The Archdiocese to which he came had 700 priests, seriously top-heavy with elderly priests: it took 25 years in the priesthood to become a parish priest.

He was determined to depend on home-grown vocations: nothing gave him greater pleasure than to take time with those in training at Ushaw, or to spend a day with a group of priests ordained in the same year, entering into the stresses and the joys of which they told him. The numbers of active priests in the Archdiocese have dropped considerably, but vigorous new priestly life has developed through vocations from within.

The bitter sectarianism of past years in Liverpool presented a special challenge: the new Methodist Chairman, Norwyn Denny, Derek and I all arrived within nine months of each other. We said, "Our predecessors were good friends privately. Let's hope we'll be that. But let's look for imaginative public ways in which we can push forward ecumenical partnership."

He often spoke of Social Ecumenism, Spiritual Ecumenism and Doctrinal Ecumenism. In the foreground of Merseyside's social history has been unemployment: in the decade of factory closures from 1975 we lost a net 10,000 jobs a year. It was clear to us that faithful evangelisation must have something to say about poor housing, unemployment and racial disadvantage. There was not an Anglican nor a Roman Catholic insight into such issues, but a united Christian one.

Expressing such insights was not always popular: Derek and I addressed a dinner party attended by some notable Catholic laymen. One of them said, "We like what you do for Church unity, but we think you're rather lefty!"

Derek Worlock made the firm distinction between politics, into which love of neighbour insists that we enter, and party politics. Because we acted together and refused to let people divide us, no-one ever accused us of supporting one section of Liverpool life.

We sought to follow the Old Testament prophets, who spoke up for those who were voiceless or powerless. If we criticised the government of the day more than other political parties, it was because we believed we should call to account those who wielded power, when the most vulnerable suffered.

These have been dark years for many people in Liverpool: the four years of authoritarian Militant leadership and confrontation with a doctrinaire national government were the darkest. The people of Liverpool felt they were used to prove politicians' theories.

Almost the last letter he wrote from his sick bed was in response to Harry Rinuner, the leader of Liverpool City Council, who had written with appreciation and care for him. Derek admired and supported the way in which Harry Rirruner had brought a cooperative style of leadership to the city.

Derek Worlock was very proud that as a Southerner he felt himself adopted as an "Honorary Scouser": the granting of the Freedom of the City of Liverpool last year was for him the most special of honours.

He was deeply moved to receive the rare distinction of being made a Companion of Honour in the New Year's Honours list. He insisted that this was an honour for all the Churches on Merseyside.

Social Ecumenism, Spiritual Ecumenism and Doctrinal Ecumenism overlap at many points; being taken out of our depth in complex human and social matters forces us back upon our spiritual resources. Going through fire together, for example following the Toxteth riots, led us to trust one another deeply. That brought us back to the disagreements between our Churches with deeper trust, concern and attentiveness. It matters more to us than that we find theological ways forward, though we have never pretended that all barriers have been removed.

After the Church of England General Synod voted to ordain women to the priesthood, Derek issued a statement; he regretted the additional obstacle this placed between our Churches, but understood the conscientious urgings which had led us to the decision: "Because of the continuing bond of baptism which we enjoy, we must all endeavour to work together to spread and exemplify the good news of the Gospel in our very secular world.

"'This will have the effect of drawing us closer to mutual understanding and to a solution of this problem of Orders, which for the time being defies us."

Another kind of overlap was shown during the papal visit: as they travelled in the Popemobile along Hope Street towards Liverpool's Metropolitan Cathedral, Pope John Paul H commented on the explosion of applause and cheering in the Anglican Cathedral. He said to Derek Worlock, "Ecumenism is a matter of the affections, as well as of the intellect."

He was endowed with remarkable gifts a phenomenal memory for people, Capacity for work, reading papers meticulously, always in the engine room of the Bishops' Conference when there was drafting to be done late at night; he would take great trouble over a press release, cautious of how a phrase might be heard.

He was a patient negotia tor, perhaps over schools, perhaps helping to establish a Law Centre. He was the prime Roman Catholic architect of Churches Together in England and the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland. His artistic sense of colour showed in his home and in the development of the chapels of the Metropolitan Cathedral.

Informed when young that he would never be able to do a full day's work, he never gave up until serious illness stopped him.

Infections picked up on visits to his Latin American Mission Priests (LAMP project) in the hills of Peru and Ecuador left him weak. Treatment with beta blockers slowed him up, but he doggedly walked on with us, whether to visit Merseyside Accommodation Project for homeless young people or to climb the hill in Assisi with an Ecumenical Youth pilgrimage. He could be very funny an excellent storyteller warming up an ecumenical occasion where some might be feeling ill at ease in unfamiliar surroundings.

The Free Churches in Merseyside and Region decided some 12 years ago to elect one of their Church leaders as Free Church Moderator, so that with Archbishop and Bishop there might be three Presidents of the Ecumenical Assembly

able to speak and appear in public for the "main line Churches". John Newton followed John Williamson as Free Church Moderator until his retirement this year, when he was followed by Keith Hobbs. There was plenty of work in the engine-room of the Church Leaders' group and the Assembly, as well as public moments when the three of us preached at ecumenical services or Decade of Evangelisation occasions.

Derek Worlock saw that the experience God had given us could be an encouragement more widely. We spoke at ecumenical occasions in many parts of the country, most frequently in Northern Ireland. They told us we were a small sign of hope there, encouraging courageous Christians who refuse to give up in the face of disappointments and tragedies.

We were asked to preach or lecture together during study days or when Church leaders signed covenants for unity: at one of those in Exeter we were welcomed as the Liverpool Three, sounding as though we had just been released from prison, following a long campaign.

In Liverpool we signed a covenant at a great service begun in one Cathedral, completed in the other, with the walk along Hope Street in between.

In the following years we witnessed more than 15 local covenants between Churches in Merseyside and Region We realised it was important to spell out what working together involved rather than simply working alongside each other. Time was needed to talk through sensitive issues, to understand each other at depth. Derek was explaining this to a Christian in South Africa, when we spent three weeks there together in 1989.

He said that the bottom line for the two of us was that, if we had not found unhurried time alone during a week, we needed an hour on the telephone on Sunday night to catch up with current issues. The South African saw the value of such consultation, but, he said, "You see, in South Africa our bishops are very busy people."

Beneath the public face of this immensely skilled and devoted bishop was a very sensitive human being. He was quick to notice when someone might be vulnerable. He became a secure enough person to own up to vulnerability. When he was facing long months of chemotherapy after his lung had been removed, my wife Grace, who had also been a cancer patient, was often able to help with the mutual understanding of what they had both experienced.

He was then able to talk about some very dark nights of the soul, when none of the consultations of the faith seemed able to lift him: it helped for him to know that it was the task of the rest of us rather than himself to bear him up in our prayers.

His secretary, John Furnival, cared so supportively for him, just as Derek had done for Griffin.

He made . a substantial recovery for three years, following the removal of the lung. His mind was as sharp as ever, and he was soon following a punishing routine again, re-elected as vice-chairman of the Bishops' Conference. Then secondaries of the cancer appeared, affecting the brain.

For a while there were times when his mind was confused. He said it was humiliating not to be able to remember names. However, the doctors were able to give him weeks when, though he was very weak in body, his mind was clear, and he was whole in spirit. He declared that one week was to be Reconciliation week, when he saw or made contact with any with whom he felt relations had not been right.

He kept a keen interest in Liverpool and in what we were doing in the Churches. There were still flashes of his sense of humour: one day Grace brought him some pears from our garden. She had wrapped them in fig leaves. he said "With all the treatment I've had this week, I could have done with one of those."

When he had to go for further radiotherapy at Clatterbridge Hospital in the Wirral, he refused to stay overnight: he insisted that he sleep in his room in Lourdes Hospital in Liverpool where his own priests could minister to him. He had always determined that he would finish his days in Liverpool.

He wrote about his dark night of the soul in our joint book, With Hope in our Hearts, last November. Sometimes friends attempted textual criticism of our joint writing, claiming to know which of us had written particular sections. There was a note of glee in his voice when he was able to tell them that they had guessed wrong.

Once we were guests of the Nikaean Club at a dinner at Lambeth Palace: Derek delighted in telling them how he had been ordered out by Archbishop Fisher with the charge of "Roman aggression". When people lamented slow progress towards unity, he would remind them of how far we had come in 30 years.

Derek Worlock was determined and he could be very determined that we were not going to slip backwards; and he knew that future progress lay in the hands of God.




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