A Tribute to Lord Runcie
of Cuddesdon

This page, opened shortly after the death of Robert Runcie, is being expanded as material becomes available to form a brief archive of the 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury and as a celebration of St Faith's most famous son. It opens with material put online in the year 2000, with subsequent material added beneath.
Recent updates: February and March, 2005
Photographs with Pope John Paul II added April 2005

The death of Lord Runcie of Cuddesdon, previous Archbishop of Canterbury, has not only deprived the national church of one of its greatest figures of recent years, but also the church and people of St Faith’s of a friend and loyal supporter over many years. 

Born and brought up in Great Crosby, on the northern borders of Liverpool and in the ancient County of Lancashire, Robert Runcie went to school in the town, and found in the life and worship of St Faith’s a pattern and an inspiration that, as he often recalled, set his feet on the path that led him, first to the priesthood and in due course to the highest office in the world-wide Anglican Church and Communion.

Since his death, there have been many published tributes to Lord Runcie. In these pages, we print just one of the many newspaper editorials commemorating him; the complete text of the funeral address by the Bishop of Norwich; and an article from St Faith’s magazine Newslink, drawing together the local strands of Lord Runcie’s life. 

Together with images from his life, they form a tribute to a great and good man and are presented in his loving memory.


A true Anglican

When Edward VII appointed Cosmo Lang as Archbishop of York nearly 100 years ago, he gave him only two instructions: ‘Keep the factions in the Church from fighting one another, and don’t let the clergy wear moustaches.’ This was sound advice, on both counts, and Robert Runcie observed its spirit.

It is a tragic fact about Christians that they are all too ready to fight one another. As a man who had taken part, heroically, in a real war. Lord Runcie was more conscious than most of the futility of odium theologicum. He believed devoutly that the Church’s ways are ‘ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace’. This led him to go a very long way in the interests of  compromise. And it was easy for critics to say that he went too far. A liturgical conservative, he presided over the vulgarisation of the liturgy. A mild Tory in politics, he led a House of Bishops often bitterly opposed to the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher. His temporising may have paved the way for the schism over the ordination of women which occurred after his retirement. His soft answers sometimes increased rather than turned away wrath.

But it was not often enough understood that Robert Runcie was attempting, in  his humorous, unsaintly way, to lead in an authentically Christian manner. He did not hate, or judge, or punish: he tried to support and heal and love. He was a quintessentially Anglican archbishop - quite worldly, quite gossipy, extremely decent, undogmatic, kind, conscientious, unvisionary, patriotic. As with the Church he shepherded, his failures were honourable and his successes were more real than apparent. He led a good life and he made, through an exhausting battle with cancer, a good death. He deserves to rest in the peace which he always sought. 

The scene at Lord Runcie's Funeral

Sermon at Lord Runcie’s Funeral
The Rt Revd Graham James

St. Albans Abbey and Cathedral Church 22 July 2000

Sermon by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt. Revd. Graham James at the funeral of the Rt. Revd. Lord Runcie of Cuddesdon, Archbishop of Canterbury 1980 - 1991

I have two texts, a very unRuncie like practice. The first you have just heard from Luke’s gospel.

"all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble
themselves will be exalted."
 (Luke 18.14)

That text speaks for itself, and this address is but commentary upon it. The second comes from St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians.

"I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel."
(1 Cor. 9.22,23)

It is odd that this missionary virtue should be looked upon with suspicion in our own day. St. Paul became all things to all people through conviction, not uncertainty. He says "To the weak I became weak so that I might win the weak  To the Jews I became a Jew in order to win Jews  " It didn’t always work, of course. When Paul preached in the Areopagus he tried eloquence to impress the sophisticated Athenians. But he founded no church there. Yet to the Corinthians Paul spoke of the church as the Body of Christ in a city where the human body was the source of peaks of sensual excitement. These days we might say that Paul began where people were to draw them to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul’s subtlety has often been under-appreciated — but then subtlety, if true to itself, should pass unnoticed.

In many respects Robert Runcie was not at all like St. Paul. Height, for example. According to Paul’s account of himself he was neither attractive, tall nor elegant. Sometimes people were surprised to discover that Robert Runcie had such a fine bearing. On the way out of Liverpool Cathedral one day a woman greeted him with "Well, fancy that. I thought you were a little shrimp of a man."

Robert loved returning to honest Merseyside and to St. Faith's, Great Crosby where the colour, order and beauty of the Catholic tradition of the Church of England captured his soul as a young man. He received his religion through the eyes quite as much as through the ears. His faith was a faith of all the senses. Sermons were to be elegant, poetic, an art form. They were laboured over, words weighed for both truth and impact. They were to reflect the attractiveness of God. Robert wanted people to be drawn in their humanity to the God in whose image they were made. He always saw God in them as well as the flaws and failures that make human beings seem so frequently ridiculous. It is this incongruity between our status as children of God and our vanity and foolishness that was the source of so much of his humour. That was why he was so patient with a fallen world and a defective church. He could never be a recruit for the single issue fanatic or the moralising majority. His sense of proportion frequently irritated them.

But this did not eradicate Robert’s urge to identify with whoever he met. To the Jews he became a Jew. With the weak he was weak. He would connect. "When I was a country vicar in Oxfordshire ", he would say to the rural clergy rather than "when I was a theological college principal" which took up a shade more of his time at Cuddesdon. "When I was a curate on Tyneside" was a good line for the inner city though some of the leafy boulevards of Gosforth do stretch the boundaries of inner city ministry a bit. I heard him describe his father variously as "an agnostic Presbyterian" or "a Presbyterian agnostic ", depending on just what degree of subtlety was appropriate. His mother was frequently mentioned with affection as "a hairdresser on an ocean-going liner ". In all this there was a deep love for his roots, his history and his family. He instinctively put himself at the service of others. That was why he was a good pastor. His was an incarnate religion.

In many ways the episcopate is not family friendly. The diocese - let alone a worldwide Communion - is an irritating competitor for the wife seeking her husband’s attention or the child or teenager wanting some fatherly care. The freshness and liveliness of the Runcie family shows how it can be done, but Robert would never have been able to tell you how. That’s partly the secret. Before we had ever met Lindy, my wife had an article written by Lindy on display in our kitchen. It was titled "Clergy wives are people too ". There has never been any doubt about that in Lindy’s case. With her by his side there was no chance of Robert becoming donnish and remote.

Robert Runcie was an achiever but curiously resistant to recalling his achievements. I cannot remember a single occasion when he made reference himself to his Military Cross, his First in Greats or of other activities that could have made him a bore rather than a boon-companion. Robert was reticent. That’s one of the reasons why so many of us loved him.

He was also curiously detached from material possessions. This wasn’t because he lacked an aesthetic eye. He loved beautiful things, but there was a spareness to him and a discipline as well. He may have liked fine wine, but his intake was moderate, which is perhaps why he needed a succession of chaplains who could be relied upon to finish any bottle of champagne.

Those few of us privileged to work with Robert Runcie also prayed with him every day. He was incapable of public displays of piety, but his Christianity permeated the whole of his personality. It was no easy faith. There was nothing glib about it. That was why it convinced, or put better he convinced. There is, of course, a much bigger tale to be told than is appropriate for a funeral sermon. There is the story of the tank commander; the trainer of clergy; the Bishop of St. Albans who made this diocese an exciting place and who loved this city; the priest whose instinct it was to identify with institutions yet who became the focus in the eighties for dissent from prevailing political orthodoxy; the archbishop who travelled the Anglican Communion supporting those in more threatening situations to which Desmond Tutu’s presence today is testimony; the ecumenist — who will ever forget the Papal visit, though the real breakthrough of his time came with the Lutheran and Reformed churches in Germany. Then there was the retired Archbishop whose ministry continued to the very last. It was only two weeks ago today that he delivered his final address here for Peter Moore’s funeral. The day before on the telephone he tried out a few sentences on me. Dying himself, he wanted to get exactly right what he said to honour a friend and colleague and to honour God. He spent himself.

Yes, there is more to be said. Indeed as we all know, there is a biography still to be written. What we do today is honour Robert Runcie the man, the husband, the father and grandfather, the companion and friend, the Christian priest and bishop. He left people feeling better — more in touch with themselves and with God — for having met and known him. He was Good News, and that is spiritual stature.

A poem by Ann Lewin called After Word draws the themes of this address together.

           Thus heavens and earth were
           Finished, and were good. But
           In the middle of the night, God woke.
           ‘It might be burdensome,’ he thought,
           ‘To give dominion over all created things 
           To earthling folk; lest they should
           Take themselves too seriously,
           I’ll give them music and a
           Sense of fun, to lighten duty and
           Enliven praise.’
           So in wise mercy did Creator God.
           And all the seventh day, he rested,
           Well content.

On this seventh day we delight in Robert Runcie’s life and ministry which has lightened duty and enlivened praise. Robert, may you now rest in the refreshing peace of our Creator God, to whose wise mercy we commit you, well content. Well content. Amen.


Robert Runcie R.I.P. 
Chris Price 

This appreciation of Lord Runcie, with particular emphasis on his connections with Crosby in general, and St Faith’s Church in particular,  first appeared in the September 2000 edition of St Faith's parish magazine ‘Newslink’; is was subsequently updated to record the installation of the Lord Runcie window.

With the death of Robert Runcie last month, St Faith’s has lost its most distinguished  past member: a man who rose from altar server at our church to become the 102nd Archbishop of Canterbury, but who never forgot his home town of Crosby and the church where his faith was first nurtured.

Since Lord Runcie’s death, there have been many tributes to his life and achievement: mostly naturally concentrating on his life at Lambeth and such landmarks as the Pope’s visit, Terry Waite’s ordeal in the Lebanon, the Falklands sermon and, of course, the Charles and Diana saga. Humphrey Carpenter’s notorious biography has been much aired, and much has been made of its supposed revelations. History will judge of the Runcie primacy: to me it should speak of a wise and skilful balancing act by a man trying to achieve the all but impossible task of holding together a Church in a decade of great and growing tensions and conflicts.  But for St Faith’s people, and for Crosby people, the early and formative Runcie years will surely hold the greatest interest.

Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie was born in Crosby, the son of a  Scottish electrical engineer at Tate and Lyle and a hairdresser of Irish descent. They lived for a time in Moor Lane, before moving to 26 Queen’s Road, opposite the present writer’s abode, and close to that of Joan Fell, who remembers him well from their youth. As a boy Robert went first to Coronation Road primary school, where Jessie Gale, of happy and blessed memory to older St Faith’s folk, was his teacher, and then on a scholarship to Merchant Taylors’. The headmaster of the time, Charles Russell, was of an evangelical persuasion, and the young Runcie was in due course prepared for confirmation at St Luke’s, and was confirmed there in Lent 1936 by Bishop A.A.David of Liverpool. 

Legend suggests that it was the pursuit of a girl that took Robert Runcie to St Luke’s; for his transition to St Faith’s the Holy Spirit worked more conventionally through his older sister Kathleen, who suggested our church for her brother’s first communion. It took place on Passion Sunday, and the vicar was Fr John Schofield. Lord Runcie has told of how impressed he was with the life and worship of St Faith’s from the start. He was noticed, involved and cultivated, and before long became a server, both on Sundays and weekdays. In his own words, he and his fellows quickly became tremendous sanctuary-wallahs, all gossipy about birettas and incense! Until leaving Crosby and Merchant Taylors’ to go up to Brasenose College, Oxford, the teenage Robert Runcie worshipped and served at St Faith’s, apparently despite the efforts of his headmaster  a modernist liberal to discourage him from getting involved with the Anglo-Catholic goings-on in our church.

Oxford University, the army, the Military Cross, Westcott House, ordination, a curacy in the North East and successive steps up the Anglican ladder led Robert Runcie to become Dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, Principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, Oxford, Bishop of St Albans and finally Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England. For St Faith’s, and Crosby’s most distinguished Old Boy, the rest is certainly history.

Lord Runcie never forgot St Faith’s and over the years paid many handsome tributes to it and told many a tale of its people. He came back here first, to my knowledge, as Bishop of St Albans, preaching a fine sermon which began, as I remember, with the recognition that his local accent still betrayed him over such words as gooseberry and grass. That sermon ended with prophetic words from the late Secretary General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjoeld: For the past, thanks: to the future, yes!

He was Archbishop Runcie when he next returned: he celebrated and preached on Thursday, March 11th, 1982, accompanied by his Chaplain, John Chartres, now Bishop of London. A taste of what was to follow came when a flying picket of militant Protestants, hot on the trail of a man they accused of betraying the church by mixing with Papists, challenged George Gilford who, as organist, was very properly enjoying a cigarette outside the vestry during the service, as to whether that Runcie fellow was within  and George denied all knowledge, declaring that he was playing for a funeral! That service was triumphantly undisturbed: later that day, at St Nicholas, Pier Head, the Archbishop was shouted down and forced to abandon his address by those same despicable protestors.

Lord Runcie made other visits to Crosby, principally to Merchant Taylors’, both to lecture and to unveil his portrait. After he retired, he issued the fateful invitation to Humphrey Carpenter to write the definitive biography; as a result, in April 1992, they returned to Crosby to revisit the schools and churches of his youth. I showed him round Merchant Taylors’ (where he regaled us with hilarious imitations of past pedagogues) and Queens Road (where he revisited No 26). With Carpenter he attended a Holy Week mid-week Eucharist at St Faith’s. Carpenter subsequently irritated Fr Richard by calling the church ‘scarcely above middle-stump’ and recording Angela Capper’s political leanings! In the light of many of the embarrassing revelations Carpenter found himself free to publish, those of us who shared those days in Crosby can be grateful that nothing worse materialised in print. Lord Runcie was certainly unhappy about the Carpenter book, declaring in 1996: ‘I have done my best to die before this book is published. It now seems possible that I may not succeed’. 

The final visit to St Faith’s was of course, for the splendid opening festivities of our Centenary Celebrations in 1998. Those of us who were there will not easily forget his presiding presence, his obvious delight at being here, and his entirely entertaining speech afterwards at the meal at Merchant Taylors’. There, as always, he found time to talk to everyone who remembered him or just wanted to meet him and, although already suffering, he gave generously of his time, his company and his ready wit. Then and always, he possessed the remarkable gift of making everyone to whom he spoke feel cherished and of interest to him.

He gave us an enthronement portrait photograph, handsomely inscribed ‘For St Faith’s, with affection and gratitude’; he has written over the years for Newslink; he wrote a generous preface to my poems; finally he wrote the introduction to the current St Faith’s Diary of Events. Had he lived and been well enough, he would certainly have come to our final celebrations in October. Instead, we shall remember him then and always as a lovely man, who was proud of St Faith’s and of whom we can be very proud indeed, as the most illustrious of the many who have found their vocation in this household of faith. We have commisssioned and installed a stained-glass window for church, to commemorate all such men, but in particular of course Robert Runcie himself. It features places and events of his life and includes words that meant much to him and mean much to us, and which serve as an epitaph to him and all who, like him, came to the faith in this house of prayer.

         Sing praise, then for all who here sought and here found him;
         Whose journey is over, whose perils are past;
         They believed in the light, and its glory is round them,
         Where the clouds of earth’s sorrows are lifted at last.

The principal biographies of Lord Runcie, most of which mention St Faith’s and its assorted worthies, are:

Runcie, the Making of an Archbishop, by Margaret Duggan  (Hodder and Stoughton, 1983)
Archbishop, by Jonathan Mantle (Sinclair-Stevenson, 1991)
Robert Runcie, by Adrian Hastings (Mowbray, 1992) 
Robert Runcie, the Reluctant Archbishop, by Humphrey Carpenter  (Hodder and Stoughton, 1996)


Lord Runcie's grave
in the grounds of St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire. 
The inscription reads:

Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie
Bishop of St Albans 1970 - 1980
Archbishop of Canterbury 1980 - 1991
Husband of Rosalind
Domine est terra

Photograph by Fr Dennis Smith


Page Updates: February 2005

As the fifth anniversary of Lord Runcie's death approaches, we have produced a DVD, 'Lord Runcie Remembered', containing the TV 'Home on Sunday' programme featuring Cliff Michelmore's interviews of Lord Runcie, and items sung in St Faith's, some by our own choir, for that programme. Also included are scenes from the 1998 service at St Faith's when Lord Runcie returned to his old church for a confirmation service at the beginning of our Centenary Celebrations and his old school , Merchant Taylors', Crosby, for a celebratory lunch. It also contains from his enthronement at Canterbury Cathedral in 1980. Email the website manager via our  home page for details.

Two video clips from the 1998 events may be seen by following the links below. Please note that these are relatively large files which may take some time to download.

A picture of the Lord Runcie window may be seen by returning to our Home Page and accessing the Virtual Tour pages.

Click here for the first video clip

Click here for the second video clip

Page Updates: March 15th, 2005

Two further additions to the archive follow. The first is a full and perceptive obituary notice dating from 2000. The second, a short poem, is an impression of Robert Runcie's enthronement in Canterbury Cathedral in 1980, scenes from which feature on the DVD 'Lord Runcie Remembered' referred to in the previous update.

Robert Runcie, who has died aged 78, might prove to have been the last of the patrician archbishops of Canterbury. Tall and elegant, urbane and witty, he had the sort of charisma - not always evident on television - that made everyone he spoke to feel special. People loved him for it. Yet there was always that subtle formality that set him apart in church circles from the casual familiarity with which Christian names are almost universally used. Old friends called him Bob, newer friends called him Robert; but those who had no right rarely presumed to refer to him as anything but "the archbishop".

He was a workaholic perfectionist, demanding impossibly high standards of himself and of his staff. Only his most intimate friends knew the true depth of the spiritual faith and toughness which sustained him through punishing schedules of work, public engagement and overseas travel. The vulnerability was there, but the toughness also enabled him to withstand the constant attacks from the tabloid and rightwing press that were mounted on him and his family throughout the middle years of his time at Lambeth Palace.

For a short honeymoon period, it had delighted the media that this pig-keeping, ex-tank commander archbishop should officiate at a royal wedding, welcome the Pope to Canterbury, and deploy Terry Waite to rescue hostages. But the dramatic change came when he preached penitence and reconciliation at the service of thanksgiving after the Falklands war in 1982, instead of the triumphalism the press and politicians had looked for. From then on, all his considerable achievements were set against a background of a tabloid venom - aided and abetted, many believed, by a mafia of homosexual Anglo-Catholics and rightwing politicians. His survival was a triumph of intelligence, integrity and courage.

His instincts were patrician, but not his origins. Runcie grew up in Crosby, now a suburb of Liverpool, the youngest child of an electrical engineer at the local Tate and Lyle sugar factory. He won a scholarship to the local Merchant Taylors' School where he was an ideal pupil: clever, well-mannered and athletic. His parents were not churchgoers. His Scottish Presbyterian father referred to Church of England clergymen as "black beetles". Robert's conversion came about by following a girl on whom he had an adolescent crush to confirmation classes. His older sister steered him in the direction of a strongly Anglo-Catholic church, and within a short space of time he was fully involved in the rituals of smells and bells and catholic spirituality.

His father became blind and had to retire early, and the family was short of money. But a scholarship took Runcie to Brasenose College, Oxford, to read classics, where his time was interrupted by war service. Out of affection for his Scottish-born father, he volunteered to join a Scottish regiment, and was startled to be recruited as officer material for the Scots Guards. It proved a significant part of his education. As a lower-middle-class boy from Liverpool he at first had a hard time of it, but quickly learned form. His platoon and his fellow-officers - among them names like William Whitelaw - soon discovered that he was good company and an amusing and talented mimic.

In later years, Runcie used to say he was probably the first Archbishop of Canterbury since Thomas à Becket to have been into battle. The Third Battalion of the Scots Guards landed at Normandy soon after D-Day in June 1944, and fought their way to the Baltic. En route Runcie won the Military Cross for wiping out a German gun emplacement while under heavy fire, though this became something of an embarrassment to him when he was archbishop. He would have preferred it to have been for his action the previous day when, at the risk of his own life, he had pulled one of his platoon out of a burning tank.

After returning to Oxford, where he gained a first class degree in Greats and learned a classical liberalism which shaped his thought for the rest of his life, he went to Westcott House, the theological college in Cambridge. There the other ordinands - trained by Kenneth Carey - included Hugh Montefiore, Simon Phipps, Patrick Rodger, Graham Leonard, Stephen Verney and Victor Whitsey. Runcie did not, however, take a degree in theology. It was possibly not a wise decision, for he ever afterwards regarded himself as a theological lightweight, despite the years teaching in theological colleges, and he kept up with theological reading in a way that few other clergy ever do.

After two happy years as a curate in Gosforth, Tyneside, he rejoined Carey at Westcott House, as chaplain, later vice-principal. In 1956 he was elected fellow and dean of Trinity Hall, Cambridge. There he married Rosalind and the first of their two children was born. Four years later he was appointed principal of Cuddesdon theological college, near Oxford.

During his 10 years at Cuddesdon he not only humanised what had been a repressively monastic establishment, but raised its academic standing and strengthened its links with Oxford University. This was during a period when he was also having to steer his students through the furore caused by the then Bishop of Woolwich John Robinson's 1963 book, Honest To God. Unsurprised by Robinson's theology, Runcie welcomed the debate it produced. In future years as a bishop and archbishop he constantly drew on ex-students from Cuddesdon when making appointments to his staff.

In 1970 he became Bishop of St Albans. By this time his workaholic lifestyle was well established, though always hidden behind his easy friendliness. He was a popular bishop in a flourishing diocese. While there he became chairman of the central religious advisory committee, answering to both the BBC and the IBA. He was also appointed chairman of the Anglican-Orthodox joint doctrinal commission, which was to foster his affection for the Orthodox churches.

Always finding it hard to take himself seriously, he seems to have been genuinely astonished when, in 1979, after nine years in St Albans, the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, asked if she could forward his name to the Queen to succeed Donald Coggan as Archbishop of Canterbury. He was the first archbishop to have been chosen by the church itself under the new crown appointments system, and it took him three weeks to say yes.

He brought with him to Lambeth his chaplain, Richard Chartres (now Bishop of London), a considerable support and influence in shaping those early days. Runcie had a gift for strategic planning, organisation and delegation unusual in a Christian leader. He soon recognised that, if a modern Archbishop of Canterbury were to satisfy the huge expectations of his office, he would need the staff and resources of an efficiently run establishment, and must always be properly briefed. The talented team at Lambeth Palace included Terry Waite; but his staff found (and would complain in private) that the more he delegated, the more extra work he took on. Among other demands, he promised - and just about managed - to visit every province of the world-wide Anglican communion before the Lambeth Conference of 1988.

In his first three years at Lambeth he was scarcely out of the headlines. The saga of Terry Waite as "the archbishop's special envoy" extricating three missionaries being held hostage in Iran captured the public imagination during Christmas 1980. It took two months of Waite's negotiating skills to gain their release, which Runcie was able to announce at a dramatic moment in the middle of the 1981 February General Synod.

That same year he married the Prince and Princess of Wales, taking centre stage with them in all the international publicity that surrounded that event. He was concerned at the time at the extreme youthfulness of Diana, but hoped she would grow into her role. He later said he had found Prince Charles "disenchanted" with the Church of England, and Diana not naturally religious, but he kept in contact with the couple and, at Charles's request, did his best to help Diana.

A year later Runcie was instrumental in inviting Pope John Paul II to Britain and was howled down by anti- papists in his native Liverpool for doing so. By this time Runcie had developed a personal friendship with Basil Hume, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, and together they and their respective staff planned the visit. Runcie held strongly that the Pope should experience Anglican worship while in England. A eucharistic service was ruled out by the Pope, but gradual agreement was reached about a great "celebration of faith" to take place in Canterbury Cathedral. This was the time of the Falklands war, and plans for the Pope's visit were complicated by the invasion of the islands by Roman Catholic Argentina. The Vatican declared the visit would have to be cancelled if the crisis continued, and the whole project became uncertain until, with less than a week to go, the British government offered to
withdraw from any official participation in the visit. On May 29 1982 the Pope arrived in Canterbury, to be welcomed by Runcie and escorted to the high altar of the cathedral. It was a historic service: an act of reconciliation which marked how far the relationships between the Anglican and Roman churches had eased since the Second Vatican Council. It was probably Runcie's high point in public esteem when he was seen to be guiding the Pope through the
unfamiliar English liturgy.

Victory in the Falklands followed soon after. At the service of thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral, Runcie reminded the congregation that war was a terrible thing, and "people are mourning on both sides in this conflict". He deeply offended members of the Conservative government, who were expecting triumphalism, and much of the rightwing establishment, political and press, never forgave him for it. In the following months, government and media began to realise that on many issues, particularly those to do with unemployment and deprivation, Runcie and a growing number of other bishops were becoming a political force.

When the report of the Archbishops' Commission on Urban Priority Areas, Faith in the City, was published in 1985, it left Mrs Thatcher and her government in no doubt that the concerned leadership of the Church of England could not endorse Conservative policies which did so little to alleviate the misery of poverty and bad housing in the inner cities. It was blown up into a church versus government row, with Runcie receiving most of the opprobrium. But while the report criticised both the state and the church for its record in the inner cities, it was not mere words. In response to its call, the Church of England raised over £18m to support hundreds of local projects to help the urban poor.

It was often said at this time that, because the Labour party was in disarray, the Church of England was becoming the real opposition in the country. The archbishop himself was often under criticism for "not giving a clear lead" (ie not taking a conservative stand) on a number of moral and theological issues, as well as on the vexed question of the ordination of women.

The rightwing campaign against him took a nasty turn when it began to focus on his marriage and his wife. Lindy, from the outset, had made it clear that she was her own woman. She rarely accompanied Runcie on the weekends he spent at the Old Palace in Canterbury, because her interests were in London. She only went with him on his overseas visits when she had been invited to perform as a concert pianist. A tabloid newspaper had splashed privately-taken pictures of her, including one in evening dress draped across a piano, and another in a swimsuit; and the implications were that the marriage was breaking up, and Runcie should resign as archbishop. The persecution, for such it was, surfaced at intervals over the middle years of Runcie's archiepiscopate, until he and Lindy were forced to issue a formal statement that they had been "a happily married couple for nearly 30 years, and we both look forward to our rewarding partnership continuing for the rest of our lives".

On marriage, as on many issues, Runcie was more liberal than conservatives in church and state really liked. He had long advocated re-marriage in church after divorce in cases where partners really wanted to make a new Christian marriage; but it often looked as though his liberal intellect was in tension with his catholic, conservative and pastoral instincts. He refused to condemn, as many traditionally-minded Christians would have liked him to do, the Bishop of Durham's radical theology, though at the same time he privately deplored Dr Jenkins's pastoral ineptitude in coming out with such views at the great Christian festivals of Easter and Christmas.

He showed cautious sympathy for homosexuals. In a church where many good priests were known to be of that orientation, he had homosexual friends and ordained men whom he suspected were gay, but he always preferred a policy of "don't ask". Accused by angry evangelicals of contravening the church's teaching, he claimed that he had never "knowingly ordained anyone who told me they were a practising homosexual and living in a partnership as if it was a marriage". His refusal to support openly gay clergy drew their animosity, and Runcie admitted that he could never quite trust them not to stab him in the back.

In General Synod debates on national and international affairs, he often knew too much of the complexities of the situation from his many contacts in government, the Foreign Office and overseas to be able to endorse some of the simplistic solutions the Synod wanted to offer. And on the subject of ordaining women, many people thought him handicapped by his affection for the deeply conservative Orthodox churches.

Only reluctantly did he accept that he must vote in the General Synod for women priests. The church was deeply divided on the issue, and both sides were often frustrated by what they saw as the archbishop's "nailing his colours to the fence" and refusing to come clean about his own real views. His traditionalist instincts, his radical sense of justice, and his deep fear of a split church were all in tension. With hindsight it is probable that his long refusal to commit himself helped to limit the damage when the vote for women priests was eventually passed.

During all these years he was incessantly travelling throughout the Anglican communion. It should have been Terry Waite who set up and accompanied him on these tours. But increasingly Waite had become involved in his attempts to rescue hostages held in the Middle East. He had been successful in rescuing the three missionaries from Iran, and in negotiating the release of four Britons held in Libya. He then turned his attention to hostages held in the Lebanon, and got out of his depth in Lebanese, Iranian and American politics as he attempted to secure the release of more western hostages in Beirut. Runcie defended his work, but grew increasingly uneasy about it, both for the sake of Waite's personal safety, and because the Lambeth Conference, which Waite should have been organising, was fast approaching.

Suspicions surfaced that the Americans were using Waite to cover up an arms deal with Iran, and Waite, in a defiant attempt to clear his name, and against Runcie's advice, went on another expedition to Lebanon, where he was himself taken hostage. Not knowing where he was, or whether he was dead or alive, cast a shadow over the last three years of Runcie's archiepiscopate.

A few months later, with criticism of Runcie from the conservative - and anti-women priests - wing of the church running high, an anonymous preface was published in Crockford's Clerical Directory, which accused him with donnish venom of always taking the liberal line of least resistance on all issues, and of appointing a succession of liberal elitist bishops who were theologically unsound. It was quite clearly the work of an academic disappointed at not being offered high office in the church, and Runcie, like many others, quickly guessed that the author was the Rev Dr Gareth Bennett, an Oxford theologian, a closet homosexual and an Anglo-Catholic, whom he had long regarded as a personal friend. Runcie, challenged by a reporter about the preface, delivered one of the most apt aphorisms to fall from the mouth of an archbishop: "In my father's house are many mansions - and all of them are made of glass." The Bennett affair was the second dark shadow to fall across Runcie at Canterbury and was made darker when Bennett, pursued by the media and fearing the inevitable exposure, committed suicide.

However, there was genuine acclaim by the assembled bishops of the whole Anglican Communion when Runcie opened the 1988 Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. He had been working towards it from the time he had been made archbishop. Before it took place there had been grave warnings that this would be the last of the 10-yearly conferences, for it was said that the Anglican communion was being torn apart by tensions over doctrine, particularly with regard to the ordination of women, and cultural differences. For Runcie the conference was a great personal triumph, and the climax of his career. His astonishing energy, his warmth and humour, and his skill in handling difficult issues, not only held the huge gathering of bishops together for three weeks, but ensured that they would go away determined to keep the Anglican communion intact, and meet again in 1998.

Carefully choosing his moment, he retired at the beginning of 1991. He was given a life peerage, and with Lindy went to live in St Albans. His diary remained full. He was able to resume an occupation he had several times enjoyed before becoming archbishop: sailing as guest lecturer on Swan Hellenic cruises. He was in constant demand for lecture tours in America, for semi-official visits to Eastern Europe and Africa, and for television programmes. The absence of any news of Terry Waite remained a continuing sadness until November 1991, when Runcie was at last able to welcome him home.

In retirement he had two health scares. He had to be flown home from Salt Lake City with a recurrence of cellulitis, a serious condition originally caused 30 years before by a crop-sprayed blackberry thorn, and exacerbated by a splinter. During his stay in the American hospital he, for the first time, received the sacrament consecrated by a woman priest and "wondered why we'd been fussing about it". Then, in 1994, he had a prostate operation which revealed some cancer, but with a good prognosis.

Though he had already been the subject of three biographies, none of the authors of them had been given access to his official papers. For the sake of future historians he accepted there should be a fully authorised biography to take its place with those of his predecessors, and invited Humphrey Carpenter to write it.

When the book was almost complete, Runcie was horrified that, far from being the seriously researched history of his episcopate he had expected, much of it, he felt, was simply transcribed conversations and gossip, including a number of old indiscretions Runcie had given off the record about the royal family. He also thought Carpenter had exaggerated the way Runcie had used staff and friends to research and draft most of his addresses as though he had few ideas of his own, and had failed to understand the importance of the archbishop's overseas visits, and his extraordinary personal achievement at the Lambeth Conference. Runcie reluctantly accepted that it was Carpenter's book, and he had made no real stipulations about the form it should take. He did, however, write a postscript for it stating: "I have done my best to die before this book is published... the writer... who so brilliantly evoked the atmosphere of Oxford in the 1940s does not seem to me to have grasped what it was like to be Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1980s."

Once again, Runcie was in the tabloids, and under fire from his former critics, particularly about the remarks he had made about Prince Charles and Diana, and his admission that, yes, he had ordained homosexuals. Undoubtedly the book sold well because of it, but it was hard to see it as other than a piece of opportunism on Carpenter's part. Perhaps the task was too great, and the subject too enigmatic, despite Runcie's disarming frankness. But that book will not stop many church members looking back on the Runcie era as one of the most colourful and distinguished periods of recent church history.

He is survived by his wife, son James and daughter Rebecca.

•Rt Rev and Rt Hon Robert Alexander Kennedy Runcie, Lord Runcie of Cuddesdon, priest, born October 2 1921; died July 11 2000

25th March, 1980

Today, in Canterbury, the Church put on
Her festal garb and colourful array
To celebrate the coming to his throne
Of Robert, called by God in this our day
To lead and serve with apostolic care
Those Christians, far dispersed in many lands,
Who find their focus in Augustine's Chair
And now for Robert lift up praying hands.

Through crowded choir and nave, while organ pealed,
A humble man with shepherd's staff he trod,
Whose poise and simple dignity revealed
The strength of one who knew the peace of God:
And when he raised his hand and voice to bless
We caught the accents of Christ's tenderness.

Robert Winnett

Page Update: March 2005

The Runcie Memorial Window at Saint Faith's Church, Great Crosby

To commemorate Robert Runcie's long association with our church, we commissioned and installed a double-light window alongside the western porch of the church. Here it looks out on to the busy A565 highway and the 'Saint Faith's' bus-stop, and is lit in all its colourful splendour by the sunshine of afternoons and early evenings. The window, whose details may be seen in the photographs below, show Robert Runcie, St Faith's, St Luke's, Crosby, Merchant Taylors' School, St Albans Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, together with appropriate heraldry, the Military Cross - and, in the lower left hand corner, a pig, to celebrate Lord Runcie's life-time interest in pig-breeding (you can make it out in the foruth picture!). Bishop James Jones of Liverpool is seen at the dedication service. Click on any image to bring up a larger picture. For further information, and details of the inscriptions, see my article: 'Robert Runcie R.I.P.' above.


To mark the death of Pope John Paul II, two archive photographs, added on April 16th, 2005, show Archbishop Runcie with His Holiness.



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