Debonair, fun risk-taking parish priest and bishop. From the Church of England Newspaper
Colin James Bennetts was born in 1940 and spent his early years in Cornwall and London. He was educated at Battersea Grammar School, at Jesus College, Cambridge where he read Modern and Medieval Languages and read Theology at Ridley Hall.
He met his wife, Veronica while both were members of the Cambridge University Musical Society. Married in 1965 they were to have four children during their forty-eight years (Duncan, Katie, Jonny and Anna). They were also blessed with “almost enough grandchildren for a football team”.
He was chaplain to the Oxford Pastorate 1969-79 under Keith de Berry and Michael Green, during which time he was also Assistant Chaplain and Chaplain of Jesus College. He went to St Andrews Church Oxford as vicar from 1979-1990. After being Diocesan Director of Ordinands in Chester under Bishop Michael Baughen from 1990-1994 he because Bishop of Buckingham in Oxford Diocese in 1994 and Bishop of Coventry from 1998-2008.
While at Coventry he was chair of the International Centre for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, and with the team there worked personally in Baghdad, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nigeria.
For six years he was co-chair of Springboard, Archbishop George Carey’s initiative for Evangelism. He chaired the Partnership for World Mission Committee.
In his farewell address to at General Synod Archbishop Rowan Williams described him as “the most debonair and dashing member of the House of Bishops”.
Bishop John Pritchard of Oxford, who attended St Aldates as a student, writes:
“Colin as a wise young Pastorate Chaplain wonderfully complemented the charming eccentricities of Keith de Berry. He offered a splendid model of discipleship and ministry for young students. His presence signalled reassurance and Godly common sense.”
Michael Green, rector of St Aldates from 1975-82 writes: “Colin guided me through the intricacies of that incumbency what with town work, student work, Catacombs, Commonwealth House, over the first year. He was an unfailing support, the ideal partner in ministry and I do not think we ever had a cross word.”
Donald Hay, fellow of Jesus College, Oxford writes: “Colin was the first Chaplain of Jesus College in the modern era who was not also Tutor in Theology. He made a very considerable contribution to the life of the College. Attendance at chapel increased markedly, and the chapel music was strengthened. His main contribution was in ministering to everyone in the College community. At the end of four years, he took with him an enormous stock of affection from the College, from non-Christians and Christians alike. His ministry is remembered with gratitude to this day. “
Canon Bruce Gillingham who succeeded Colin as chaplain of Jesus College recalls: “Colin made himself available to people over the Friday fish and chip lunch and in the evening bar, both for relaxation and fun but also to listen to stories of pain, perplexity and uncertainty in studies, faith and relationships.”
Rev Paula Clifford recalls “When Colin came to St Andrew's Oxford, a church hidden away in the residential streets of North Oxford, in 1979, the seeds of growth were already in place. But Colin's arrival from Jesus College, together with Veronica and their four children, led to a joyful explosion of new life. It was a time of fun and laughter, for serious reflection on new liturgical forms and a building project. St Andrew's rapidly became a church for all the family, and when Colin Fletcher (now Bishop of Dorchester) became the part-time curate, the dream team of the two Colins put in place an ambitious youth programme which flourishes to this day.
Colin had the gift of holding together a congregation of widely differing views, from conservative to liberal. He encouraged lay ministry in all its forms, and together with clergy from other evangelical churches in Oxford led a pioneering training course for people across the city and beyond, the Christians in Oxford Lay Training (or COLT) course. Groups from the course went out on mission to churches in rural areas, and a new enthusiasm for spreading the Gospel was palpable. At St Andrew's, many young, and not so young, people came to faith under Colin's careful teaching, and there was a steady stream of vocations to the ordained ministry. “
“Veronica's gifts as a singer and composer were an integral part of Colin's ministry, and resulted in some memorable musical productions in the 1980s which drew in children from local schools and musicians from across the county. Along with the more conventional church activities of house parties, day conferences, and an impressive network of home groups, this all helped to create a solid Christian community which offered inspiration and solace in equal measure.”
When Colin moved to Chester, he left behind a vibrant, flourishing church which was genuinely appealing to those outside it. For many, St Andrew's in the 1980s would prove to be an unforgettable experience.”
Lord Carey notes: “ He was an ideal chair of Springboard because he had an instinct for mission and knew what would or would not work. He was respected by those he was supervising and brought to the work a sense of realism and knowledge. In the House of Bishops he made an effective contribution because of his wide and varied ministry. He was one of the very few who had had a successful parish ministry and therefore was respected by his clergy. “
Canon Andrew White recalls his time on the staff of the International Reconciliation Centre at Coventry:
“We would regularly talk about the issue of being prepared to take risks rather than take care. Taking risks and not care became my motto but was also something, which was very much in the character of Bishop Colin throughout our years of working together not once did we ever have any conflict between us.
We built a multi million pound school in Bethlehem, held the first major inter religious summit of Jews, Christians and Muslims from Israel and Palestine and furthermore reopened the church here in Baghdad, establishing major clinic and school which resulted in a church of over 6000 people, though over a thousand have been killed in the past few years. Bishop Colin knew that if something was of God it would work and the funding would come.
He could relate equally well to the religious leaders or evil dictators. It did not matter how complex the diplomatic crisis was that we were working in, he always understood that the solution needed to both be diplomatic, political
Whilst driving through the bush in Africa we discussed the nature of our growing reconciliation work. It was clear that if our work were to continue to develop I would need a co-director. Bishop Colin asked me if I could choose anybody for this position who would it be? I answered that the only person I thought would be suitable was the vicar of Southam. On return to England Bishop Colin asked the vicar of Southam to take on the role as co-director. Thus Justin Welby was appointed to his first senior position in the Church of England. Could it be that whilst travelling through the bush in a Jeep that Bishop Colin chose the future Archbishop of Canterbury?”
The Coventry Diocesan Secretary Simon Lloyd reports that “on one occasion, we decided as a staff team to have a try at go-kart racing. In mid race, suddenly I got lapped at high speed by an even more enthusiastic driver who nearly shoved me off the track.” It should be remembered that a Formula One Racing Team Owner lived next to St Andrew’s Oxford for a number of years.
Archbishop Justin Welby has written "Colin Bennetts was an outstanding Bishop, a wonderful parish priest and an exceptional friend and mentor to a huge number of people. I was indebted beyond measure to him for wise advice and faithful prayer. Travelling with him was a pleasure, observing him a lesson..”
Colin Bennetts was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011 and died at home on July 10 surrounded by his family. His funeral will be in Coventry Cathedral on Tuesday 23 July at 12 noon. He faced death with a wholehearted commitment to Christ and with Veronica with him all the way.
In his final Easter Sermon in Coventry Cathedral in 2007 he said: " The mind-blowing assertion that 'Christ is risen' defiantly insists that individuals and communities were, and still are, transformed by meeting this Jesus; the Jesus who reverses the processes of destruction and decay. As St Paul puts it, 'Death is swallowed up in victory'."
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