The Rt Rev Anselm Genders RIP
Obituary published in The Daily Telegraph 25 June 2008
The Rt Rev Anselm Genders, who died on June 19 aged 88, was for almost 57 years a member of the Community of the Resurrection, an Anglican religious order whose mother house is at Mirfield in the West Riding of Yorkshire, but he spent a substantial part of his monastic life overseas.
From 1955 to 1965 he was involved in education at Codrington College, Barbados; this was followed by nine years in Rhodesia, and in 1977 he became Bishop of Bermuda, where a breakdown in health led to his resignation after five years.
War service as a naval officer instilled in Genders the importance of strict discipline, which he took into his religious vocation; but when some of his students, encouraged by this trait and by his close-cropped head and fierce spectacles, referred to him as "Gestapo Genders" this was said with affection. He was something of a character with strong views, who might well have been cast in Dad's Army.
An uncompromising Tory in politics and an unbending traditional high churchman, Genders was constant in his opposition to change in the Church – except for modern translations of the Bible, asserting that if the Scriptures were not read in Greek or Latin it did not much matter what language was employed. His sermons, well spiced with humour, were always looked forward to, and the mixture of the serious and the comic, which coloured his whole personality, was always engaging.
Roger Marson Genders (he added the name Alban when he joined the Navy, and Anselm became his name as a monk) was born in Birmingham on August 15 1919. He was educated at King Edward VI School, where he was given a firm grounding in the Classics, and attended St Alban's church – Anglo-Catholic and famous for its defiance of Bishop Barnes, the modernist Bishop of Birmingham.
He went as senior scholar up to Brasenose College, Oxford, to read Greats, but soon after the outbreak of war in 1939 joined the RNVR, serving as a purser on five different ships in most parts of the world. This gave him a love of the tropics (he said that the British climate was suitable only for wildfowl) and it also made him an able administrator, which later proved to be useful in the monastic world.
On demobilisation in the rank of lieutenant-commander in 1946, he returned to Oxford to complete his degree, taking a Second, then taught for a short time at Dame Alleyne School in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
In 1948 he went to Mirfield as a novice and to prepare for Holy Orders; four years later he was professed as a monk and ordained to the priesthood. Shortly before his profession he sought to take the name Rodney, but was informed by the novice master that he must choose the name of a saint, not of an admiral.
From 1952 to 1955 Genders was a tutor at his community's theological college at Mirfield, but then was sent with two fellow monks, also ex-Navy, to "rescue" Codrington College in Barbados. This, the oldest theological college in the Western world, which was affiliated to Durham University, served the Church throughout the West Indies and had an honoured history; but it was in a crisis caused by neglect. One of its students complained: "Even the mice have forsaken the place."
Genders became vice-principal and before long principal, proving to be ideally suited to the task of raising the training of future priests to an exceptionally high standard.
He returned to Mirfield in 1965 and spent a year on administration and finance before being sent to Penhalonga, in Rhodesia, where the community had a priory and a large-scale educational programme in the schools of the area. His main role was that of treasurer, but he became involved in many other activities – training young clerks for commercial posts, supervising apprentices who were learning trades and engaging a horticulturist to grow vegetables on a scale large enough to feed a boarding school.
These were the years when the conflict between the British government and the Smith regime was at its height, and all the monks, except for Genders, united in their support of African rebellion against white domination. Genders, in common with a newly-appointed Bishop of Mashonaland, Paul Burrough, advocated a more moderate approach.
In 1970 Burrough persuaded the prior of the community to release Genders to become archdeacon of Manicaland in the eastern districts of the country. Over the next five years he travelled many thousands of miles, sometimes over mountainous territory, in a VW Beetle to minister to Africans pastorally and in other practical ways, such as shoe repairs, financial matters and urgent journeys to distant hospitals. His financial expertise also proved to be useful to the Anglican Church in Malawi, where he became diocesan auditor.
Genders returned once again to Mirfield in 1977 in the expectation of becoming bursar, but in the same year he responded to a request from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Donald Coggan, that he should become Bishop of Bermuda. Against the advice of his community, he accepted, and this turned out to be a serious mistake.
The diocese of Bermuda has been a longstanding problem for the Archbishop of Canterbury, under whose jurisdiction it remains. With only 10 parishes and about a dozen clergy, all living in one another's pockets, it is hardly a full-time job for an active bishop. Its isolation – 800 miles from America's east coast – made it a lonely post for an expatriate English monk who had spent most of his life in a religious community. Moreover, by the time Genders was appointed there was among the island's clergy hostility to the idea of yet another imported bishop, though they could not agree among themselves which of their own number might be preferable.
Genders later described his five years in Bermuda as the unhappiest in his life. He got on well with the Governor and the lay people, and did much valuable pastoral work; but he was never accepted by the constantly plotting clergy, and in the end became ill. He resigned in 1982 and went back to Mirfield, where he remained based for the rest of his life. Besides sharing in the community's ministry of preaching and retreat-conducting, he was an assistant bishop in Wakefield diocese until 1989.
The changes Genders found taking place in the Church of England displeased him, and he strongly disapproved of the ordination of women to the priesthood. This led him to provide episcopal ministry to many parishes associated with Forward in Faith, which unites those who reject women priests. Every year he also toured North America to minister to traditionalists and breakaway groups. But he none the less established strong links with the experimental Ecumenical Community of Jesus at Cape Cod, which includes families and some women priests.
The infirmity of advancing years was a burden to Genders, and he awaited death impatiently.