In 2003, on Remembrance Sunday, I was the house-for-duty Curate of seven Devon country churches, under a full-time stipendiary Rector - except that he had taken early retirement nine days before on account of health problems caused by those who hated him for his opposition to the sacerdotal ordination of women. But I still had the help of a retired bishop, who lived a few doors away and who, in two years, had become a very dear friend. So, that Sunday, at one end of the United Benefice I said Mass and did the village Act of Remembrance; at the other end, Bishop John Richards did the same. After brunch, he went for a walk with his family; a couple of hours later, after a sudden stroke brought on by his years of selfless service, he was dead.
John Richards was a former Exeter diocesan Archdeacon and a very establishment man who was made one of the first two flying bishops, and in those days after 1993, days heavy with the danger of despair, built up and strengthened a people faithful to the Lord within the apostate body still called the Church of England. The skills which he had used as Archdeacon (and he was a Church Commissioner) to chivvy parishes who were late with their quota were now brought into play to defend the Faithful Remnant against the bullying and cruelty of the liberal establishment.
Going around with John Richards, I soon realised that he had created a new style of episcopal ministry, free from pomposity and prelacy and animated only by the love of God and a perceived calling to strengthen his brethren. PEVs, like ante-Nicene bishops, had no jurisdiction in the modern sense. I think it was the now deceased Bishop (later Mgr) Edwin Barnes who acutely remarked to his clergy 'Fathers, remember that the only jurisdiction we have is what you give us'. I thank God that one part of the patrimony which we carried into the Ordinariates was this vision of pastoral and unprelatical episkope.
John Richards was an Anglican to his fingertips. As we settled down together in the train for the long haul back to Devon after some meeting in London, and I start murmuring some Latin from some Romish volume, he would be fishing out a battered Prayer Book and Bible for O Lord, open thou our lips. But he was far too busy and too big a man to waste his time on anti-Romanism. Whatever he was or did, it was positive and Christ-driven. I think that, had he lived, he would have had no doubts about accompanying his former fellow Exeter Archdeacon Robin Ellis and joining the Ordinariate. But he would have done things in a distinctively Anglican way and in his own inimitatively combative way. He would probably have got down straightaway to enthusiastically devising ways of showing those bloody papists how much better we could do things in the Ordinariate. "Now look here, boy, now we're in the Ordinariate, what we've got to do is ..."
I can almost hear his voice saying it. He was a dear man.
Cuius animae propitietur Deus.