05 April 2021

Remembering champions of justice
at virtual meetings of USPG trustees

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

Patrick Comerford

For the past year, I have continued to attend meetings of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel). But, instead of travelling to London a few times a year for these meetings, the pandemic lockdowns mean these have been ‘virtual’ meetings, attended online in the Rectory in Askeaton, without the benefit of the sideline meetings that help to foster and nurture friendships.

At the end of each meeting of USPG trustees, we remember in prayer former missionaries, staff members and supporters who have died since the previous meeting. At our latest ‘virtual’ meeting, those we remembered included Bishop Humphrey Taylor, a former USPG general secretary, and the Revd James Potts, who had been a missionary in Tanzania.

Bishop Humphrey Taylor (1938-2021) was a former USPG general secretary (1984-1991) and later the Suffragan Bishop of Selby.

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 and worked for the General Synod Board of Education.

Humphrey Taylor 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 Geoffrey Cleaver and Roger Symon, visiting 15 Anglican dioceses and people and groups, from parish level to the Provincial Standing Committee of the Anglican Church.

Their joint report expressed 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 also 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.’

The close links between USPG and the Anglican Church in South Africa made USPG a respected source of information for the media, and USPG was instrumental in setting up the South Africa Crisis Information Group. When I was working as a journalist, I relied on USPG as one of my sources for church life in South Africa at that time.

When the life of Bishop Simeon Nkoane was threatened violently in Johannesburg in 1986, Humphrey Taylor and USPG arranged a high-profile visit to South Africa by Bishop Keith Sutton of Lichfield as the representative of Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury. Later, Humphrey Taylor accompanied Archbishop Runcie to the enthronement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, and it is said he wrote Archbishop Runcie’s sermon for the occasion.

Archbishop Tutu made Humphrey Taylor a Provincial Canon of Southern Africa in 1989 for his ‘inestimable contribution’ to the life and work of the Church there. After 11 years at USPG, he became Suffragan Bishop of Selby in 1991. He died on Ash Wednesday, 17 February, at the age of 82.

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

In retirement, he was also the chaplain of Dr Milley’s Hospital on Beacon Street, Lichfield. We last met at the mid-day Eucharist in Lichfield Cathedral many months ago. He died on 8 February at the age of 90.

This news report is published in the April 2021 edition of Newslink (pp 8-9), the Limerick and Killaloe diocesan magazine

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