Saturday, 21 April 2012

Canon Reginald Askew

Canon Reginald Askew, who has died aged 83, was Dean of King’s College London from 1988 to 1993 and before that Principal of Salisbury-Wells Theological College.


A thoughtful, scholarly priest, Askew had a special interest in the relationship between theology and the arts and knew a good many people in the literary world. At King’s his bearded face made him a distinctive figure in the college, where he had a particular responsibility for the pastoral care of those students — an ever-decreasing number — who were preparing for Holy Orders.

Twice in his career, however, he had the misfortune to succeed outstandingly successful priests and to suffer somewhat by comparison. The first of these was the charismatic Anthony Bridge, who had taken Christ Church, Lancaster Gate, in Paddington by storm in the 1960s and left to become Dean of Guildford; the other was Richard Harries, a future Bishop of Oxford (and now Lord Harries of Pentregarth), who had not only made a considerable impact at King’s College but also become a media personality and an authority on ethical issues related to warfare and medicine.

Askew did his best in both situations but, through no fault of his own, struggled to match his predecessors. By contrast he was a highly effective theological college principal during a period when the organising of colleges and the training of future priests was changing considerably.

Reginald James Albert Askew was born on May 16 1928 and educated at Harrow and Corpus Christi, Cambridge. He prepared for Holy Orders at Lincoln Theological College.

From 1957 to 1961 he was a curate at St Michael’s church in Highgate village, where he was very much at home with journalists and writers. He then spent eight years on the teaching staff of Wells Theological College, first as a lecturer, then as vice-principal. He was also a priest-vicar of Wells Cathedral.

Short of parish responsibility, Askew then accepted — unwisely, many thought — the challenge offered by Christ Church, Lancaster Gate. He was a diligent pastor and an interesting preacher, but the recent prosperity of this church had depended too much on the unusual flair of his predecessor, which probably no one else could have matched, and decline was inevitable. After dry rot was found, the church was eventually closed.

In 1973, therefore, he went to Salisbury, where the theological college had been united with that of Wells and where his teaching gifts and experience were much valued.

He was made a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral and chairman of the Southern Dioceses Ministerial Training Scheme — a new project which provided training for future priests who were unable to undertake full-time preparation.

At King’s, Askew was in effect senior chaplain of the college and also responsible for organising the theological lectures open to the students of every faculty. He represented London University on the General Synod from 1990 to 1993.

During his five years in London he developed a particular concern for the conflict in Northern Ireland and made several visits to the province. Having joined the Corrymeela Community in 1990, he shared in its work of reconciliation.

Askew retired to Somerset in 1993 and wrote Muskets and Altars: Jeremy Taylor and the last of the Anglicans (1997), about the godly 17th-century bishop and writer.

He is survived by his wife, Kate, and a son and two daughters.


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