Thursday, 11 March 2021

Remembering two key
people in USPG’s role
in challenging racism

The High Altar in Lichfield Cathedral … the Revd James Potts regularly presided at the mid-day weekday Eucharist (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I spent almost a full working day yesterday (10 March 2021) at a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). This is my final year in office as a trustee, and I missed the opportunity this meeting might have provided to meet friends and colleagues.

Zoom meetings are no substitute for face-to-face meetings, and the opportunities they offer for developing and deepening personal friendships.

As our meeting came to a close with prayer, we remembered in a traditional way people who died since the last meeting and who had been closely associated with the life of USPG. Those we recalled on Wednesday evening included the Revd James Potts from Lichfield, who had been a missionary in Tanzania, and Bishop Humphrey Taylor, a former USPG general secretary.

With the Revd James Potts at th Festal Eucharist in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, on the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, 224 June 2015

The Revd James Potts was a missionary in Tanzania for 12 years and later lived in retirement in Lichfield. I got to know him at Lichfield Cathedral, where he regularly presided at the mid-day Eucharist in the cathedral, in the Lady Chapel or at the High Altar.

He was in his late 20s when he went with USPG (then SPG) to the former Tanganyika in 1959 as a priest in the Diocese of Zanzibar. He became the Sub-Warden of Saint Cyprian’s Theological College, Ngala, in 1961, and Warden in 1966. He then became a member of the faculty of the Anglican Theological College in Dar es Salaam (1969-1971).

He returned to England in 1971 and was Curate-in-Charge of Saint Helen’s, Athersley, and New Lodge (1971-1973); Vicar of Athersley (1973-1977); Vicar of Madeley (1977-1985); Vicar of Baswich (Berkswich) (1985-1993); and Rural Dean of Stafford (1988-1995).

In retirement, he worshiped and assisted at Lichfield Cathedral, and in 2010 he was appointed the chaplain of Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street. Since 1948, the chaplain has usually been one of the two priest vicars in the cathedral.

James was one of four people from the Diocese Lichfield who were recipients of the Maundy Money from Queen Elizabeth on Maundy Thursday in 2016.

We last met at the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral many months ago. He died last month on 8 February at the age of 90.

Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield … the Revd James Potts was appointed chaplain in 2010 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Bishop Humphrey Vincent Taylor was a former USPG general secretary (1984-1991) and later the Suffragan Bishop of Selby in the Diocese of York.

He was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1938 and was educated at Harrow, where his schoolfriends included the future King Hussein of Jordan, and at Pembroke College, Cambridge. He trained for ordination at the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, and was ordained in Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London.

After time as a curate in Hammersmith, he went with SPG to Malawi, where he was the Rector of Saint Peter’s, Lilongwe. But President Hastings Banda expelled the Humphrey family from Malawi in 1971. Back in England, he was chaplain at Bishop Grosseteste College in Lincoln until he moved to London to work for the General Synod Board of Education from 1975.

He then returned to USPG as Missions Programmes Secretary in 1980 and General Secretary in 1984.

He visited South Africa on behalf of USPG in 1982, with the Revd Geoffrey Cleaver and the Revd Roger Symon, later a Canon of Canterbury Cathedral. They visited 15 Anglican dioceses and met 300 individuals and 20 groups, from parish groups to the Provincial Standing Committee of the Anglican Church. Their joint report expressed their admiration for a Church that was ‘strong in numbers, rich in talent, efficiently led, active in evangelism, powerful in stewardship, deeply involved in social concern.’ But they were worried that the Church was part of the status quo and pointed out: ‘Despite the black majority (80%) in its church membership, of seventeen diocesan bishops … only six were black.’

During his time at USPG, the close links between USPG and the Anglican church in South Africa made USPG by mid-1985 a respected source of information for the British media. In 1986, USPG was instrumental in setting up the South Africa Crisis Information Group.

Acting on information that the life of Bishop Simeon Nkoane, a former Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg, was in danger, Humphrey Taylor and USPG were instrumental in arranging a hurried visit to South Africa by Bishop Keith Sutton of Lichfield as the representative of Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury.

Humphrey Taylor and Roger Symon accompanied Archbishop Runcie to the enthronement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and it is said Bishop Taylor wrote Archbishop Runcie’s sermon on the occasion.

Archbishop Tutu made Humphrey Taylor a Provincial Canon of Southern Africa in 1989 for his association with the life of the Church there and his ‘inestimable contribution towards its life and work.’ Later, Archbishop Tutu said, ‘We are honouring you in your own right and also because of USPG.’

As journalist, I was deeply grateful to USPG as a source when I wrote about church affairs in South Africa, and when I visited Cape Town and Johannesburg in 1990, Humphrey Taylor was spoken of with admiration and affection.

After 11 years at USPG, he was consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of Selby at York Minster by Archbishop John Habgood in 1991.

He was instrumental in setting up links between the Diocese of York and the Diocese of Cape Town, and he was an active advocate of the ordination of women. He retired in 2003, and in retirement continued to minister as an assistant bishop in the Dioceses of Gloucester and Worcester.

Bishop Taylor died on Ash Wednesday, 17 February, at the age of 82, less than a month short from his 83rd birthday.

In our prayers yesterday, we also remembered Julie Leonhardt, a UMCA/USPG missionary in Tanzania, Peter Field, a former SPG/USPG missionary, and the Revd Mike Atkinson, a former USPG representation secretary.

Bishop Humphrey Taylor … instrumental in the USPG response to apartheid in South Africa

Updated 28 April 2021 with a photograph of the Revd James Potts at Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield

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