The Revd Dr Bernard Thorogood 1927 – 2020

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Bernard Thorogood in 2017 CWM credit

Details for the funeral of the Revd Dr Bernard Thorogood, who sadly died on 30 April in a Sydney hospital aged 92, have been released.

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The funeral will take place at Pymble Uniting Church, Sydney, on 7 May at 4pm Sydney time (7am BST). People can view the service live via this link. A password is not required. The service will be recorded an may remain online for a short while for those who are not able to are not able to watch it live.

Bernard was General Secretary of the URC from 1980 to 1992, and, prior to that, served as General Secretary of Council World Mission (CWM) from 1970 to 1980 (bringing CWM into being in its current form), and through most of the 1950s and 1960s was a missionary in the Pacific islands – mainly in the Cook Islands.

Bernard served as General Secretary of the URC at a time of immense change in Church life worldwide.

He was responsible for the 1981 union with the Re-formed Association of the Churches of Christ for drawing them into the general life of the enlarged Church and much of his work was to do with ecumenical affairs. He gave encouragement and support to the rapidly increasing number of Local Ecumenical Projects (LEPs), a partnership of churches of different denominations e.g. Trinity Church, Lower Earley, Reading, which is a URC, Methodist and Church of England church. He also served with the British Council of Churches (now Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) and the World Council of Churches.

The Revd John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC, said:

“Bernard Thorogood made an enormous contribution as a Christian leader, in the URC, in ecumenical life in the UK, and in the wide networks of the world church.

“He helped create the round table ethos that has shaped the life of the Council for World Mission since 1977. His directions for the URC Mission Council, drafted at the start of the 1990s, still guide the way we do business there. His gifts were legion.

“He wrote with wisdom and depth – theology, poetry, fiction. He was an able visual artist. Yet through it all he had a heart for people, meeting individuals with care and interest, supporting many, sharing deeply in church life at every level.

“We thank God for all that he gave among us, and for his example of gracious character, committed service, trusted leadership and warm friendship.”

The Revd David Cornick, General Secretary of the URC 2001-08 and General Secretary of Churches Together in England 2008-18, added:

"Bernard was a great encourager. I well remember the support and help that he gave me when I was the Moderator’s Chaplain in 1989/90 and responsible for Assembly’s worship. He was a gentle and gracious man whose quietness hid deep wisdom and a penetrating theological mind. His books were at once easily understood and deeply spiritual (a rare combination).

"He was a multi-talented gentle giant – pastor, administrator, thinker – skilled in understanding how the gospel interacted with many cultures. His long missionary experience in the Pacific paved the way for him to become a key player in the transition from a Western dominated world church to a truly global communion – which is what CWM became under his visionary guidance in the 1970s.

"His vision was at once universal and local, and once he became General Secretary of the URC in 1980, he kept our eyes on the world church, the national scene, and the need to ground our ecumenical passions in local ecumenism.

"He brought depth to all that he did, to the enrichment of so many. He was a blessing to us and to the world church. We give thanks to God for a long life, truly well lived."

The Revd Tony Burnham, who suceeded Bernard as General Secretary of the URC, said: 

"Only a week before Bernard died, I read his novel Crossing the Bridge. Novelist is not a description which springs to mind when thinking of the United Reformed Church’s longest serving General Secretary.

"We’d have expected him to have written books on theological and biblical subjects, which he did. He also wrote poetry. When I succeeded him as General Secretary, he greeted me with a verse of advice about being overwhelmed by the office and it ended:

But if at times your mood is blue, 
just say the prayer your elders knew:
God, loose me from this office glue
to touch the world with gospel true
and follow where the peace dove flew
to praise the Spirit, Son and You.

"In committees there are those who shoot from the lip. Bernard’s gift was to sit and listen. When all seemed lost in the verbal mire, he’d suggest some words he’d drafted. In them he’d go to the heart of the discussion with a splendidly concise summary which pointed the way forward.

"Those who worked with him understood why his gifts had been so valued that the Congregational Council for World Mission brought him back from the South Seas.

"The challenge was to lead in bringing about changes taking place in the ecumenical movement in relation to mission and to develop the work of the Council for World Mission into a partnership of churches in mission.

"From CWM he was called to be the United Reformed Church’s General Secretary and, with our commitment to seek further unity, he took a full and active part in the British ecumenical endeavour and the World Council of Churches. 

"Bernard grew up in the south east of England. His theological training was in Scotland and then he ministered for 18 years in the Cook Islands and Kiribati. After such experiences, bringing about change in a church spread through the different regions of England was not easy.

"Even so, hearing him give the bible studies to a CWM Pacific Regional meeting, revealed the heart and voice of a firm but gentle pastor.

"When he retired in 1992, our churches presented him with gifts of brushes, oils, canvass and an easel. He was not only a writer, a church administrator and a minister of the Gospel; he was also an artist.

"In Crossing the Bridge, written only four years before he died, Bernard used his experience of the different parts of the world church to create an adventure story. It revealed his vision of church unity, in a search for an end to the divisions between Christianity of the East and the West.

"Bernard was a remarkable man."


Having trained in Scotland, he became ordained in the Congregational Church. For 18 years, from 1953, Bernard served three ministries with the London Missionary Society (LMS) in the islands of the South Pacific. He then became Deputy General Secretary of the Congregational Council of World Mission (CCWM, formerly the LMS) and then its General Secretary.

For ten years, he was responsible for the global work of the mission as this pioneering society was reformed into an international council of churches, in which each has gifts to share and needs to express.

Having changed its name to CWM in 1975 (following the creation of the URC three years earlier), Bernard led a consultation in Singapore in 1976 to review the mission of CWM because of the changing perspective about global mission.

The model had been to send people from the West to the East, but it was changing to “from everywhere to everywhere”. CWM was restructured and became a fellowship of partner churches.

Bernard was widowed in 1988, and he married Joan after his retirement in 1992, and moved to Australia.

While living in Sydney, Bernard became a minister within the Uniting Church, and was awarded an OBE and made a Doctor of Divinity in 1992.

His books include: Risen Today, The Flag and the Cross, Letters to Paul, One Wind, Many Flames, Our Father’s House, Old Grey Prayers, and A Guide to Amos. He also edited the history of the LMS called Gales of Change.

Joan survives him as does his sons, John and Neil, both of whom live in England. Neil is currently serving as Principal of Westminster College, Cambridge.

The Revd Tony Coates, in Who They Were, wrote:

"Bernard Thorogood has been an effective church administrator and ecumenist. He has never had a pastorate in Britain his local pastoral LMS (now CWM) churches of the South Pacific where his comprehensive vision of world mission began to be formed.

"He was called back to the UK in 1970 to work alongside Stuart Craig at Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM) before becoming himself the general secretary.

"Following the creation of the United Reformed Church (URC) in 1972, the CCWM became the Council for World Mission (CWM) in 1975.

"In 1980 he became the General Secretary of the URC at a time of immense changes in Church life worldwide. He was responsible for the 1981 union with the Re-formed Association of the Churches of Christ for drawing them into the general life of the enlarged Church.

"He was Moderator of the British Council of Churches (BCC) Executive and found himself coping with the reaction of the churches to Thatcherism and the Falklands War. He started the UK relationship with the Church in China. From 1983-91 he was on the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC). Furthermore, he could be heard from time to time on the BBC’s Thought for the Day.

"Retiring in 1992, he went to live in Australia.

"His most notable achievement, however, was the restructuring of CWM in the 1970s. It had become clear that the inherited missionary structures of Western agencies, run by Westerners, sending Western missionaries to the developing world, we an inadequate response to the new demands of world mission.

"A review of CWM’s work was due in 1976 and he called together a consultation in Singapore, involving both the Western sending churches and the receiving churches. The consultation recommended radical change and the outcome was a major restructuring of CWM.

"In 1977 it ceased to be a Western mission agency, sending missionaries to the developing world, but a fellowship of (then) 22 equal member churches, each committed to sharing finance and personnel in the cause of world mission at home and abroad. The present CWM is in large part his legacy to the world mission of the Church.

"Bernard Thorogood’s quiet wisdom is evident in several books. The opening and closing chapters in Gales of Change: Responding to a Shifting Missionary Context, a history of the LMS which he edited, shows his vision of the church in its global context.

"As his leisure activity he lists sketching and his sketches reveal his sensitivity and appreciation of natural and architectural beauty."

Picture: The Revd Bernard Thorogood/Council for World Mission
Published: 30 April 2020; Updated 4 May 2020

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