Maurice A.P. Wood, 1916-2007

Obituary

Several factors made Maurice Wood an unusual bishop.

One was his pastoral experience: he became Bishop of Norwich in 1971 from the Principal’s chair at Oak Hill Theological College, but also after notable earlier ministries at St. Ebbe’s, Oxford, and St. Mary’s, Islington (and as President of the Islington Conference). Another was his notoriety as a ‘conservative evangelical’, as we were then called. The bench of English Diocesans had seen none for a generation; the anonymous preface-writer of Crockfords Clerical Directory did not welcome the novelty.

No less extraordinary was that, having begun as an evangelical, on his retirement in 1985 he still was one. Several such bishops have been chosen since; very few stay the course in the same colours.

Warm-hearted

More remarkable still was Maurice’s extraordinary gift for warm-hearted, gospel-directed conversation. Not all big-stage evangelists retain their broad smile in private, or are equally at home with strangers in railway stations, football stadiums or the House of Lords. Maurice had an eye, heart and good news for those who were lost without the Saviour. His ‘Islington Booklets’, from How can I find God? onwards, had an enormous circulation.

Because of his genial humour, some thought him a lightweight; but he was deadly serious about what mattered, and not ashamed to value what some younger contemporaries were discarding as cultural baggage. He kept the Lord’s Day special. He abhorred gambling. A supporter of Billy Graham, he also believed in the parish church, the liturgy, marriage, the monarchy — and the media. When ‘Maurice Norvic’ (his ancient episcopal title at Norwich) warned against alcohol-acceptance, another Synod speaker recalled a popular soft drink and dubbed him ‘Maurice Britvic’. He treasured the New King James’ version of the Bible.

He upheld the gospel wherever he travelled. While celebrating Communion at the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, he led intercessions for Scripture Union, IVF (as it was then), OMF, Pathfinders, the Church Pastoral-Aid Society — and most other evangelical organisations. He was in great demand for special occasions and could make a decisive evangelistic event out of anything from a church anniversary (like Limehouse’s 250th) to the installation of some new lighting (as at Christ Church, Old Kent Road).

Comfort in Sorrow, written after his first wife died, was among Maurice’s most popular paperbacks. But he may best be remembered for the motto he so winsomely shared: ‘To know Christ better, and to make Christ better known’.

Christopher Idle