The day was one of a number of events scheduled for this 50th anniversary year of the publication of his controversial book Honest to God, and coincidentally the 30th anniversary of his rather premature death.
John Robinson began his ordained ministy in the adjacent parish of St Matthew Moorfields on September 27th 1947. He initially served at the St Saviours Mission sited roughly where the City Academy now stands. In those days that area consisted of a densely populated inner city area, a network of streets, now demolished, which harboured poverty, serious unemployment, alchohol dependency, lack of family planning.
To the humble, scholarly and rather shy John, bought up in the Cathedral Close at Canterbury this was major cultural shock. He was, however, fortunate in his vicar Mervyn Stockwood, who, although rather more flambouyant and autocratic, had an innovative and quickly developing ministry at St Matthews. The area and the lively parish gave John the context around which his later ministry as bishop (again with Stockwood) was formed. How is God communicated to modern man? How will the church's ministry be shaped in the future? How stands the institutional church?
These questions, equally alive today were always in the background of the day and in the various addresses. After hearing some contextual background, Bishop John Saxbee, himself of course a Bristolian, gave a critique of Honest to God (on the website of Modern Church).
A panel of people chaired by May Travis, included Christine Alker (the Administrator of Modern Church who were much involved in the day), Dave Pole, Nev Boundy and former Bristol Lord Mayor Bill Martin, spoke about the impact Honest to God had on their lives, or their own memories of John Robinson himself. Canon Richard Truss a former vicar of St John's, Waterloo in London, a church with a long tradition of ministry homeless people and others 'on the fringe' spoke after lunch, and Canon Vanessa Herrick of Wimborne Minster preached at a commemorative Eucharist.
The day was much appreciated. Although those who were able to share personal reminiscnces were inevitably 'of an age', the gaps in HTG were openly shared and owned as was the feeling that 'different times require different approaches'. However the need to be Honest to God, and honest with God was affirmed as was the courageous writing which caused a ferment inthe church at the time when there was much ferment elsewhere.
Bishop Mike and Archdeacon Christine joined us for a while at lunchtime, a much appreciated visit after the rigours of Synod. John Robinson was remembered as Scholar, Teacher and Bishop, but in locally as pastor and confidante, a gentle priest and lover of souls, even after all this time.
About the author
Revd David James is the Vicar of St Ambrose, Whitehall and St Leonard, Redfield.