Teacher, pastor, bishop, saint

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
November 2021

A comprehensive new biography of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln between 1885 and 1910, considers his impact on the church in the Victorian age, his extraordinary relationship with the people of Lincolnshire and the example his life and teaching provide today. Yusef Sayed spoke recently with the author, Bishop Michael Marshall.

A bronze statue of Bishop Edward King stands in the south transept of Lincoln Cathedral. It is not immediately visible to those wandering the magisterial building, and for many King’s name will be unfamiliar. The memorial shows King in the act of Confirmation, and it confirms his importance not only to the city but to the church in general. Despite its size and solidity, it also conveys something of the humble and kindly personality that so many who knew or met King have described. At once quietly unassuming and impactful, this seems to capture much of what made King so fascinating.

His former residence in Lincoln is now named after him, Edward King House, and provides offices for his successors.

Each year, on 8th March, which marks the day of King’s death in 1910, the church formally commemorates in the Church’s Calendar of Prayer, Bishop Edward King, as being, in the words of Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang, ‘the most saintly of men and the most human of saints.’ In that way, King completes the triumvirate of Lincoln’s saintly bishops: Hugh, Grosseteste and now Edward King.

A new book about King’s life, however, argues that rather than consigning King, however saintly, to the memorabilia of the past, he should continue to provide a vital model for today’s church, for the theological training of the clergy.

Furthermore, following his remarkable commitment to his diocese throughout the 25 years of his episcopate – and not least to the poorest living in it – King could encourage the church in our day to recover and re-envision a fuller understanding and practice of the bishop as being primarily a teacher and chief pastor.

Edward King: Teacher, Pastor, Bishop, Saint is the latest work by Bishop Michael Marshall, former Bishop of Woolwich and Hon Assistant Bishop in London. Bishop Michael was born and raised in Lincoln, was trained for the priesthood at Cuddesdon College in Oxford – where King was one of the founding teachers – and as a senior figure in the church himself is ideally suited to consider King’s importance.

Bishop Michael remembers first becoming aware of King at a young age: “We used to walk along Wragby Road from Lincoln School, in the pouring rain sometimes, for a beginning and end of term special service in that great Cathedral. And of course, we’d enter by the south transept door and there was this extraordinary statue which fascinated me.”

Bishop Michael grew up in a poorer area of Lincoln, ‘below hill’, in Hood Street and although he was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church, he is proud to trace family associations with the Anglican priesthood over many generations on his mother’s side of the family. At an early age, he began to learn the organ at St Peter at Gowts Church, where he met Canon Gilbert Houlden, to whom his latest book is dedicated.

“[Canon Houlden] followed Canon Townroe, who wrote one of the first biographies of King and was a great devotee of King. While I was there, of course, Canon Houlden taught me all about Edward King: he had all the books. He was devoted to Edward King, and very much modelled his life on the saintly bishop. And then I got a scholarship to Cambridge.”

Bishop Michael had previously gained a scholarship to the Lincoln School, but owing to his poor background, it seemed unlikely he would be able to fulfil his academic potential.

“I went home with great pride and told my mother, who burst into tears and said, ‘but darling, there’s no way that we can afford your uniform,’ and all those kind of things. Strangely enough, I was summoned to the White Hart Hotel [for tea] by a somewhat shy man, Sir Francis Hill, who was a remarkable scholar and great character in Lincoln, a great historian, and archivist and who at that time stood as a conservative member of Parliament – although never elected.”
Later, after becoming House Captain and Head Boy in his final year at the school, he was informed by the headmaster that Hill had paid for his uniform and sporting equipment.

“That was very moving to me because I thought, that’s what King used to do and that’s what I should try and do, if I have any wealth.”

In the course of his second year at Cambridge, where he studied History at Christ’s College, Bishop Michael attended St Benet’s Church and it was there that he felt he had a vocation for ministry. He then continued on to Cuddesdon, where he lived in the Edward King block and was ordained deacon in 1960 and priest the following year. In 1975, at the age of 38, he became the Bishop of Woolwich, the youngest man to be consecrated bishop since the Reformation.

He has carried the influence of the former Bishop of Lincoln through all these years.

Bishop Michael returned to Lincoln Cathedral in September for a special service and presentation to launch the book, and shared his hope that King’s life would provide the spark to reimagine how the clergy might be better prepared for their ministry in today’s world.

“I try not to draw it out too much because King was never a polemicist,” explains Bishop Michael.

“He never thought, I’m going to show the Church of England how it is to be a proper bishop: no. He just went on and did it.

“First of all, on this matter of the training of the clergy: we are not here just to run an organisation, we are here as physicians of souls. It won’t be enough simply to give the clergy theological information. They need to be able to read the signs of the times and to study and practice themselves the inner life of the Spirit, leading their parishioners in discipleship in what we term Christian formation. Frankly, I think this aspect of training is not getting the priority it deserves and indeed demands, in an age when the Christian faith is less taught either in schools or in the family. King prepared and trained hundreds of clergy for such a ministry and in this way eventually changed the face of the Church of England right across the board.

“Secondly, King changed the face of the episcopate. Traditionally the bishop is the teacher, which is why he has his, or in today’s church her ‘cathedra’, which has nothing to do with it being a big church. The ‘cathedra’ is simply the chair, never to be regarded as a throne, but rather as what it was originally perceived, namely, as being a teacher’s chair, from which universities coined the phrase of a professorial chair. In this way the bishops embody the tradition of the church, handing on, literally, what they have first received, patiently teaching ‘ex cathedra’ as the saying goes.”

Bishop Michael emphasises how personally engaged King was, both with his clergy and the local people, following his appointment as Bishop of Lincoln in 1885, travelling by train throughout the surrounding county and giving services both ‘up hill’ and ‘below hill’ in the city.

“When he took over the diocese, the clergy were at an extremely low ebb in that agricultural and impoverished county.

Many had left the countryside and turned to the cities to seek work in what few larger towns there were. So King saw that the clergy had an early increase in their salaries, and of the vicarages where they lived, he used to say to the builders and architects ‘build sunny vicarages’, because the clergy need the sunshine.

“But King was no manager or administrator. As his chaplain said, ‘he left others, better qualified to do that’. You didn’t visit the bishop in an office, as so often today, but in his home where an interview could comfortably conclude with prayer in the nearby private chapel. Then again, he had only one suffragan bishop to help him.”

Drawing on a wealth of biographical and other historical sources, which involved several visits to the Lincolnshire Archives, Bishop Michael’s book traces King’s life from his childhood in Kent, through to his years in Oxford, both at Cuddesdon College and as Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford University, and finally as Bishop of Lincoln. Throughout, he underlines King’s love for the natural landscape and wildlife – one of the attractions of the Lincolnshire diocese – and his simplicity of expression in preaching and writing, despite his prodigious learning.

Passionate about the writings of St Augustine and able to read Dante in Italian from a young age, King nevertheless related deeply to all those he encountered, from any background, during his lifetime. Indeed, it was a Lincolnshire shepherd who most succinctly captured the bishop’s character: ‘Eh! then yours is a yon-side religion, I see, sir.’

As the title of Bishop Michael’s book claims, he sees King as embodying something more than simply that of an exemplary preacher and pastor: it was King’s balanced and rounded character which struck people from squire to farm hand, during his frequent and extensive travels round his diocese.

“If we’re really in harmony with nature, with the earth and with our neighbour then we are spiritually healthy. And healthiness is what, really, wholesomeness and holiness are all about. I love that illustration I give about the carpenter who gave King a carefully crafted and handmade box which was the same on all sides. There was no side to King.

That young man had spotted this and didn’t have a language for it: he wouldn’t have called it sanctity, but he reproduced in visible and tangible form what he saw in King through the medium of his craft.”

Although Bishop Michael is especially concerned that the book not be overlooked for what it offers to clergy in training, it will be of interest to general readers. Edward King: Teacher, Pastor, Bishop, Saint is an informative story of a period of upheaval both within the Church of England and in wider society during the Victorian age.

The book also provides a vivid picture of Lincolnshire in the 19th and early 20th centuries, moving between the affairs of the church and the lives of those among the lower classes. King as subject allows us to cross social lines and hear many different voices, bringing the past to new life.

The central event of King’s life was the ‘Lincoln Judgement’ of 1890, which followed a complaint of ‘ritualism’ from a churchwarden of Clee-cum-Cleethorpes in the autumn of 1886. The charges against the rector, J P Benson, were vetoed by King. A year later, after two Advent Sunday services at St Peter at Gowts Church, ‘King was ‘observed’ performing ceremonial acts, allegedly contrary to what was permitted by the Prayer Book’.

King was regarded by his opponents as a ‘Romanizer’. Although King was not one of the initiating founders of the Oxford Movement, he was well grounded, as they were, ‘in scripture, the teachings of the early Church Fathers, and the Councils of the undivided Church’. He was also a close friend of Edward Pusey. While a High Church preacher, he was not, Bishop Michael argues, the ‘ritualist’ that some accused him of being, most notably at his trial. Bishop Michael provides the context in which this event must be understood: the Catholic Revival and the conflicts within the church as well as among local churchgoers, whether drawn to Catholic of Evangelical Christianity.

Since his retirement, Bishop Michael has continued his ministry based at his former church, Holy Trinity Sloane Square, regularly preaching and teaching in London and indeed throughout the world. He is enthusiastic about sharing King’s example not only through his scholarly writing, but in his daily life, learning from his example as he has done since his childhood in Lincoln. And this example need not be limited to those following King within the Church.

As Bishop Michael says: “The message and the messenger have to be all of one piece. It’s because King lived the message that he was such an authentic messenger and preacher. Furthermore, he resonated with people because he knew his people and he prayed for them.”

Edward King: Teacher, Pastor, Bishop, Saint is published by Gracewing.



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