The youngest ever bishop: not Nazir-Ali

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is in the news again, this time because an aide of Archbishop Rowan Williams used a (moderately) rude word about him in an article which was sent to 10 Downing Street and to 43 diocesan bishops. The most detailed and explicit account I have seen is in The Independent. Ruth Gledhill of the Times also reports the story, more briefly and with asterisks in the word in question. She gives her own ringing endorsement of Nazir-Ali, and also posts a transcript of an interesting BBC interview with him (to be broadcast on Radio 3 at 20:45 tonight, in progress as I write, so I’m surprised Ruth is allowed to publish the transcript in advance). Anglican Mainstream has posted an extract from the transcript.

But the BBC interviewer, Joan Bakewell, makes a small error in her introduction when she says:

As the youngest ever Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali was only thirty-five years old when he was appointed Bishop of Raiwind in his native Pakistan.

He may have been the youngest Anglican bishop at the time, but he certainly was not the youngest ever. I don’t know exactly who was. The preface to the Church of England ordinal (in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) states that

every man which is to be ordained or consecrated Bishop shall be fully Thirty years of age.

I knew a man who was consecrated as an Anglican bishop as soon as he reached that age of 30. So he might have been the youngest ever. He also had the distinction of being a bishop for more than 60 years, very likely another record.

I was actually rather surprised to find a Wikipedia article about Bishop John Dickinson, which confirms my memory of this gentle man. From what I heard, he was consecrated in 1931 as soon as he reached the canonical age because of the urgent need for anyone to serve as bishop in Melanesia. Perhaps this was because of the disgrace and resignation of Bishop Frederick Molyneux – Gene Robinson is not the first gay bishop, just the first to be openly gay.

After only six years service as a bishop, Dickinson returned to northern England and became a country vicar, as indeed he remained until he retired. I think it was then that he married my mother’s first cousin Frances. In 1946 he officiated at my parents’ wedding in Westmorland (now Cumbria). I’m told that he walked 20 miles across the open moorland of the North Pennines, carrying his vestments, to get there. My mother thought of him as highly eccentric, but his decision to walk may have been partly from poverty.

I remember visiting his vicarage in a tiny village in Northumberland, probably shortly before he retired in 1971, and getting a taste of rural parish life as he drove me around for part of a day. I also remember visiting him and his wife in their retirement home. Despite his unusual start in life, to me he was a good kind example of a traditional country vicar.

PS Wikipedia appears to report that Bishop Daniel Tuttle became a bishop in the USA aged 29, and so illegally, but this conflicts with a Time Magazine article which implies that he was 31.

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