My entry to Chichester Theological College in 1979 to train for the priesthood brought me into contact for the first time with Canon Roger Greenacre. He had been brought to Chichester Cathedral as Canon Residentiary and Chancellor from the chaplaincy of St George’s in Paris in 1975 by Bishop Eric Kemp, an act which must have been one of his first strategic appointments as he had himself only been appointed to the diocese in 1974. Roger lectured in the Theological College from 1975 until 1989, principally, as I recall, in Church History, Liturgy, and the Sacrament of Penance. When almost out of his hearing, we referred to him as Père Roger or, more frivolously, as Gigi, such was our appraisal of him as affecting to be more French than English. How ungenerous we were in our humour! There was indeed French blood in him, but there was also a strong appreciation of France and its relationship with the English world, as well as a desire to be a bridge in his teaching and in his refined ecumenism between the two ecclesiastical cultures represented, French Catholic and Anglican. He himself contributed to this dialogue through membership of the English Anglican-Roman Catholic Committee. His The Catholic Church in France: an Introduction (1996) told the French Church’s story, presenting its character and the history of its relations with the Church of England to Anglican readers.
He was a post-Vatican II ecumenist, ready always as an Anglican to receive what was profitable from the spirit of the Council and to interpret back a broadening and more catholic and sacramental Anglicanism to which he was deeply committed. ARCIC was food and drink to him and he devoted many of his energies to promoting the ecumenical vision of Anglicanism “united but not absorbed” with Rome. Such an inspiration led him eventually to become an oblate of the Benedictine Abbey of Notre Dame du Bec in 1982, the fulfilment of a journey and a sympathy which had begun with his first visit there in 1952.
What began as the relationship between a student and his teacher in 1979 became, over the years, a friendship between colleagues. I never knew him well, I must admit, but we reached a gentle understanding. I returned to the diocese of Chichester in 1986 and held various posts thereafter, but I found myself gradually working more closely with Roger in the ecumenical field on two fronts: first, as one of a team of three diocesan Ecumenical Officers in which Roger had taken the lead as Diocesan Ecumenical Officer from 1975; and, secondly, through my membership of the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of which Roger had himself been a member and luminary for many years, serving with distinction on its Council to which he brought theological rigour tempered by real sensitivity as well as characteristic wit. My own interest and involvement with the Society had only just been formed at that time, having been encouraged in it by Geoffrey and Jill Pinnock whilst in my second curacy in Oxford where they were parishioners. I recall a trip south to Chichester with me as driver and Geoffrey and Jill as passengers, the purpose of which was to renew acquaintance with Roger and spend time with him in his delightful home in Vicar’s Close, off Canon Lane, in the precincts of the Cathedral, talking ESBVM.
Arriving in the diocese of Chichester in the autumn of 1986 meant that I was able to be on the spot for the Seventh International Congress of the ESBVM (September 1986) which was being held at Bishop Otter College in Chichester. We were fortunate to be so near to the Cathedral and to be able to have Arundel Cathedral as a sister venue. I found myself amongst the great and the good of British ecumenism: Bishop Eric Kemp of Chichester was one of the Society’s Executive Co-Chairman (with established ecumenical credentials, having been a member of both the Anglican-Methodist Conversations and the Preparatory Commission of ARCIC I), and Cormac Murphy-O’Connor was Bishop of Arundel and Brighton and Co-Chairman of ARCIC II. Needless to say, Roger, a Residentiary Canon, was in the thick of it as he was Chairman of the West Sussex ESBVM (in those days one of the most active of the Society’s branches), and was supported – and regularly hounded – by the indefatigable Molly Corbally who was Branch Secretary and logistical animatrice of the Congress. It was a wonderful occasion and the papers of the Chichester Congress, Mary and the Churches (edited by Dom Alberic Stacpoole, 1987) testify to the breadth of intellectual interest the ESBVM stimulated internationally twenty-five years ago. Roger himself, an ESBVM Council member, was a regular contributor to such gatherings. A paper of his worth revisiting is one he delivered at the Conference at Dromantine College, Newry, in October 1995, and one which well exemplifies both his historical ecumenical interest and the range of his scholarship, The Malines Conversations: a significant milestone in the history of Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue in Mary is for Everyone (edited by William McLoughlin OSM and Jill Pinnock, 1997).
Having reached his seventieth year, Roger retired from Chichester Cathedral in 2000. He was awarded a Lambeth Doctorate of Divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury the following year in recognition of his extensive and scholarly contribution to ecumenism. Not one to be put out to grass, Roger immediately took up a retirement post as chaplain to St Michael’s, Beaulieu-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. How typical of Roger to find himself such an agreeable posting! Although this time was often one of ill health for him, he certainly felt that he still had a pastoral role to play amongst the English community there as well as continuing to write and to study. He returned to England in 2010 and spent his last year at the London Charterhouse.
Two last occasions come to mind. The first was the celebration of his 50th anniversary of ordination as a priest in Chichester Cathedral in September 2005 at which Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran preached – “surely the first curial cardinal to fly to England from the Vatican to preach at a celebration of Anglican priestly ministry?” comments Dr Colin Podmore, Roger’s literary executor, in another appreciation elsewhere. In this he goes on to remind us of a warm personal greeting from the Archbishop of Canterbury read out at that singular occasion in which he praised Roger as representing “a particular style of Catholic Anglicanism that is deeply rooted in liturgy and personal prayer, critical and generous all at once” (New Directions, September 2011, p.14). The second occasion (and, for my wife and me, the last sight of Roger before he was physically diminished by terminal illness) was Bishop Eric Kemp’s Funeral Mass in Chichester Cathedral in December 2009. Here Roger and others kept vigil before Bishop Eric’s body as it lay before the Shrine of St Richard, a typically prayerful and generous act from one who owed so many debts to his former Father in God, and of whom Roger had been a devoted and loyal supporter through many ups and downs in Anglican Church life.
Roger’s memory was honoured at a Memorial Requiem in Chichester Cathedral on 23rd September at 11.30 am. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom Roger honoured in his life and in his work for the unity of her Son’s followers, pray for him as he enters into the peace of God’s saints.