The Venerable Anthony James Balmforth

We have learnt of the death of AJ Balmforth.

Obituary: The Venerable Anthony James Balmforth


[1926 – 2009]

Rt Revd Barry Rogerson, the former Bishop of Bristol, commends the life of VenAnthony Balmforth who was the Archdeacon of Bristol throughout the 1980s.

Anthony’s ministry began and ended in a mining community. Ordained in 1952 at Southwell Minster, he served a curacy in a mining community, Mansfield. On his retirement he and Eileen moved to a mining community in the Forest of Dean, where he exercised a more than active retirement ministry.

Anthony was the son of a vicarage, whose education at Oxford was put on hold by War Service, which took him to the Far East and Singapore in particular. It was in Singapore he came under the influence of Bishop Leonard Wilson, whose episcopal ministry included imprisonment during the Japanese occupation. Anthony’s National Service was cut short when he his petrol tanker was blown up requiring plastic surgery and recuperation in Switzerland. Returning to Oxford he exchanged physics for theology and completed is preparation for ministry at Lincoln Theological College, then one of the foremost liberal catholic colleges.

For those who like to find connections, Anthony’s ministry provides a rich vein. After an initial curacy and incumbency the family moved to Kidderminster, where Eileen, ever a forthright support, and he had grown up and where Anthony’s father had been incumbent. Bishop Leonard Wilson, now Bishop of Birmingham, re-enters the frame inviting Anthony to be incumbent of King’s Norton, once part of the King’s forest, but now a large suburban parish on the south west edge of Birmingham itself. For fourteen years until his appointment as Archdeacon of Bristol in 1979, Anthony exercised what many still remember as an outstanding parochial ministry. Clergy in neighbouring dioceses knew about Anthony through his prowess as a cricketer.

Bishop John Tinsley invited Anthony to be Archdeacon of Bristol. Archdeacons are the butt of many ecclesiastical jokes, in part because no one is exactly clear who and what an Archdeacon is. Traditionally deacons were the agents of the bishop, becoming known as the bishop’s eyes and ears, bringing to the bishop’s attention those who are worthy of praise but they are also to defend the clergy, against whom is not clear.

The experience of being a busy parish priest, who had colleagues, had given Anthony the gift of pastoral care of the clergy. There are many who would attest to his patience, his willingness to encourage and if necessary to wait for a priest to make their own decisions. Anthony himself said that he acted this way so that the clergy couldn’t blame him if it went wrong, but that is to underestimate his care and pastoral skill. The early years as an Archdeacon in Bristol were not easy, not least because his predecessor maintained his contacts and relationships with those who had been his Rural Deans, but patience won through.

The mission of the Church requires resources and it was Anthony’s patience and skill in dealing with the Trustees of the many Bristol ecclesiastical charities which released funds, to enable the work of Industrial Mission and Social Responsibility to develop. There were many areas of the life of the diocese which benefitted from Anthony’s wise and patient counsel, not least that of Hospital Chaplaincy during the time in which the NHS limited the access clergy had to their parishioners. But above all he enjoyed being Chaplain to the Church Lads & Church Girls Brigade and not least their summer camp on the Isle of Wight.

Perhaps Anthony’s granddaughter caught the essence of the man when she reminded us all that he always had an egg cup of Smarties for them after they had cleaned their teeth! Humanity, loyalty and patience served the Diocese of Bristol and the Church well.”

I don’t have any details of his time at Sebright, but if anyone can enlighten me I would be grateful

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