Revd Canon Bob Reiss

We were deeply blessed by the friendship that Canon Bob Reiss showed towards Westcott as a loyal supporter of our work in many ways. He is greatly missed. Obituary and photograph submitted by Canon Ian Shelton, a former colleague and friend of Bob.

Canon Bob Reiss, who died on 26 January 2023, left Westcott as a student to be ordained in 1969. Previously a theology student at Trinity Cambridge, he returned later as its chaplain after a curacy at St John’s Wood (the home of Lords Cricket ground), and a period in Bangladesh. Bob left Trinity to serve as senior selection secretary at ACCM, the predecessor to BAP. The influence of Cambridge was long lasting, particularly John Robinson and Harry Williams.

Bob was instrumental, as a joint secretary, in the production in 1985 of GS 660, Team and Group Ministries, setting out a thoughtful and clear agenda for a style of ministry that had a fairly mixed reception at that time. Its essence was that, if collaborative ministry is to succeed, there must be a measurement of agreement on the task, appropriate and respected boundaries and development of specific areas of responsibilities, and a consultative approach of involvement in decisions, such as in team selection.

When Bob arrived in Grantham in 1986, he had the good fortune to put theory into practice, and also to appoint three new team vicars who could embody the spirit of GS 660. Bob’s style of wise, thoughtful leadership (with more than a hint of deliciously understated humour) was modelled, he once said, on Michael Brearley’s theory of cricket captaincy: the captain is primus inter pares, but the captain’s role is eliciting and developing the individual skills of each of the team: not all are bowlers, batters, or wicket keepers. To refresh his knowledge of such leadership, visits to his beloved Lords were not infrequent if the Ashes were under review.

Bob made in-service training an embedded feature of team meetings, and his open, receptive intelligence encouraged a respect for diversity and creativity; but closed theological systems were anathema to his liberal instincts. One very conservative lay person said of Bob, ‘he thinks kindly’, showing how Bob was gracious in his handling of those who may have not necessarily agreed with his own broad and generous ecclesiology.

The church, with its faults, obsessions and challenges, mattered deeply to Bob, and he was committed to Synodical government, however painfully slowly it seemed at times to move. From Grantham, he served as Archdeacon of Guildford, then as Canon Treasurer at Westminster Abbey. Bob once confided that, if he had served as a politician (and many of his friends were), the job he would find most interesting would be that of Foreign Secretary: dealing with complexity, diversity, with a value-laden approach. Such gifts he brought to ministerial leadership.

He researched Church selection processes for his Lambeth doctorate, and also published his personal manifestos: on Sceptical Christianity, and a radical monograph on death, concluding that to be held ‘in the memory of God’ was a sufficient and abiding home. In an all too brief retirement with his wife Dixie to Salisbury (where taking occasional services in small country churches gave him great joy), he summed up his own Christian journey as a continuing search of gratitude and forgiveness.