Stumbling around the web, as one does, looking up woodcuts by Howard Phipps, I was put in mind of Simon Phipps, sometime Bishop of Lincoln. I liked him very much, he was one of the few senior clergy with whom I had anything to do who seemed to talk any sense, and in the little I had to do with him he helped me a great deal. The following is his obituary from the Guardian and seems to me to be a good summary of the man I knew.
When the Alternative Service Book appeared in 1980, one of the Eucharistic Prayers contained the phrase, “He opened wide his arms for us on the Cross”, and when said by the good Bishop, it came out as, “He opened wide his arms for us on the crawss”, but that was the way he spoke and somehow it didn’t seem to be in the least bit affected.
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The Rt Rev Simon Phipps
Confidant of Princess Margaret and champion of women priests
Fri 2 Feb 2001 02.11 GMT
The Rt Rev Simon Phipps, who has died aged 79, was a classic example of a senior Anglican cleric who made it to the top on his own merits despite being well-born, well-connected and well off. His father, a naval officer, had been appointed to the Royal Victorian Order. Phipps was educated at Eton and, while still a young subaltern, was picked out by the then Queen Elizabeth (now the Queen Mother) as a suitable escort for her younger daughter, Princess Margaret. He went on, in 1968, to be appointed Suffragan Bishop of Horsham, and, in 1974, to become Bishop of Lincoln.
As for many of his generation, the second world war meant instant transference from boy to man, and Phipps joined the Coldstream Guards straight from school. By the age of 25, he had attained the rank of major, and, in the last year of the war, was awarded the Military Cross.
When finally released from brief spells as an ADC in India and a staff officer at the War Office, he arrived belatedly at Trinity College, Cambridge, to read history, graduating in 1948. He became a star turn in the Footlights review, and, in 1949, was elected the club’s president. His amateur theatricals appealed to Princess Margaret, herself no mean mimic, and, on one memorable visit to Balmoral, he was roped in to play charades by the then Queen Elizabeth, the future bishop being obliged to march around ahead of King George VI carrying an umbrella in imitation of a crozier.
After training for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge, Phipps was ordained in 1950, and served his title as assistant curate at Huddersfield parish church. In 1953, he was invited back to Trinity College as chaplain. This was the year when Princess Margaret fell in love with the divorcé Peter Townsend, and it was to Phipps that, during the next three years, while struggling with her conscience and the constitutional issues, the princess turned for spiritual advice. At one time, they were in almost daily contact. Later, he became godfather to her son, Lord Linley, after her marriage to Anthony Armstrong-Jones.
While still at Trinity College, Phipps also forged, with Mervyn Stockwood, one of his warmest episcopal friendships. He and his wife, Mary, remained loyal and loving friends to the future Bishop of Southwark throughout his lonely years in retirement.
In 1958, Phipps moved into an area of work for which he seemed least suited but became best known, serving for a decade as industrial chaplain to the Coventry diocese. He played a major role in the sociological development of the new Coventry Cathedral, and always said that the people he felt sorry for were the men who found themselves sitting next to him in the works canteen. Determined to give 10 years to the Coventry post, in 1963 he turned down the prestigious living of the Cambridge University church.
In 1965, Phipps was made an honorary canon of Coventry, and three years later, with Princess Margaret in the congregation at Southwark Cathedral, he was consecrated as Suffragan Bishop of Horsham. He used to recount an amusing story about his night at Lambeth Palace on the eve of his consecration.
He imagined that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, would pass on some sage advice. But the time went by in silence. Eventually, Phipps suggested they should go to bed. “The only advice the archbishop had given me,” he recalled, “was to take every fifth Sunday off, and to leave a space in my diary every week for the crisis which was likely to emerge. I thought it was wonderfully characteristic of him to say two completely mundane things, and to leave the rest to God.”
It was in 1973, while still in the Chichester diocese, aged 52 and seemingly a confirmed bachelor, that Phipps surprised and delighted his friends by getting married. His wife, Mary Welch, was a daughter of Sir Charles Palmer, of the biscuit manufacturers, Huntley & Palmer, the widow of a clergyman, and a practising psychiatrist.
The following year, Phipps accepted the bishopric of Lincoln. Strictly speaking, he was no academic or intellectual, and was chosen for his pastoral qualities, his unshockability and innate comprehension of human frailty. He retained his interest in industrial affairs by serving on the council of the Industrial Society, and by speaking out in the House of Lords on the dangers of unemployment. He was also a member of the home secretary’s inquiry on liquor licensing laws, coming down in favour of more flexible opening hours for pubs.
For some reason, his relations with his dean had not been too harmonious, but when he resigned the see in 1986, Phipps left it in pretty good shape. In retirement, however, he watched with increasing dismay the unfolding of dramas and scandals under a future bishop and dean, which were to rend the cathedral chapter asunder.
He retired to his wife’s enchanting Sussex home, with views to Chanctonbury Ring, being invited, most unusually, to act as an honorary assistant bishop in two dioceses, Southwark and Chichester. He always said he enjoyed carrying out duties in Southwark because the people there were fun, whereas in Chichester he was regarded as unsound.
This was hardly surprising. Phipps was in favour of the ordination of women, and, in a paper written for the Association of Pastoral Care and Counselling, accused the House of Bishops of abrogating its vocation to prophecy by attempting to force celibacy upon homosexual clergy who themselves had no vocation to celibacy.
He always extended unqualified affection and support to those of his friends, clergy and lay, who were homosexual, and rejoiced in successful permanent gay relationships.
While undeniably an establishment figure, Phipps lacked the pomposity or condescension typical of some senior clergy of his generation, retaining always an easy familiarity. Late in life, he discovered a talent for painting. He was also an excellent cook.
His wife died last June, aged 89.
Simon Wilton Phipps, clergyman, born July 6 1921; died January 29 2001