Obituary: The Rt Revd John Austin
The Rt Revd John Austin died on Friday 17th August at the age of 68 years. He had been ill for some months and died peacefully in hospital in Suffolk.
Bishop John’s funeral will take place in Suffolk. A Memorial Service to give thanks for his life and ministry will be held in Birmingham in the autumn.
Bishop John was the Bishop of Aston for thirteen years - he retired in July 2005 and has worked for the last two years in the Diocese of Leicester.
As Bishop of Aston, Bishop John had a particular concern for Inner Urban and Outer Estate parishes working alongside clergy and church workers, many of whom faced very demanding tasks. He was greatly valued for his humour and gentleness. He also chaired many Diocesan Committees with firmness and wisdom.
During the latter part of his time in Birmingham he was chairman of St Basils Homeless Project- developing it as one of the leading charities in the country working with homeless young people. He also developed interfaith relations regionally and nationally and made many friends with Faith Leaders all over the City. Bishop John also chaired the Newtown and South Aston City Challenge bringing expertise and encouragement to many regeneration projects in the City.
Bishop John was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy to China - a post he handed to Bishop David Urquhart, the present Bishop of Birmingham.
After his retirement, in 2006, he was awarded an OBE for services to interfaith relations.
Ordained Deacon in 1964 and priest in 1965, Bishop John had a varied ministry in North and South London, Chicago and St Albans before becoming Bishop of Aston in 1992.
On hearing of Bishop John’s death, the Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham said: "Bishop John made a tremendous contribution both to the Diocese and the city of Birmingham. He was liked, admired and respected by clergy, faith leaders, civic leaders and colleagues and was well known for his gifts of humour, encouragement, wisdom, honesty and friendship. He was an extremely effective chair of St Basils making it one of the country’s most inspirational charities. He developed the Diocesan work in regeneration and he helped to forge strong relationships among leaders of different faith communities.
"Bishop John was not only a great advocate of generosity but his life also embodied it. He saw generosity as being at the heart of the gospel and the key to community regeneration and flourishing neighbourhoods. His commitment to generosity has led to a number of Diocesan initiatives and has influenced much of our thought and practice over the last few years.
"He is much missed here in Birmingham as a warm human being, a wise pastor and gentle leader. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Rosemary and their family at this very sad time."
Archbishop Sentamu, who was the eighth Bishop of Birmingham from 2002 to 2005, said: "Bishop John Austin is a Christian in whom there is no guile. To celebrate the Centenary of the Diocese of Birmingham, he and I walked throughout the diocese: 348 miles in 37 days. In that time I discovered a brother, full of compassion, simplicity and joy in the Gospel of Christ. When I lost my voice due to a viral infection and he had to do most of the speaking, he referred to me as his Moses - and he, my Aaron. His humour and laughter were so infectious, so when we came across fields full of mud and cow dung his natural reaction was, ‘what have we got here?’
"He always represented the views of his opponents with such gracious magnanimity, it is no wonder he was trusted by people of other faiths and all those who were on the margins of society. In his presidential address to the Diocesan Synod before he retired, his message was, ‘generosity, trust and faithfulness’. I am grateful to have known him since the days of the Church’s report FAITH IN THE CITY. Mission for Bishop John was always delighting in God."
Bishop Mark Santer, the seventh Bishop of Birmingham, said: "It was a great day for Birmingham in 1992 when the Archbishop of Canterbury came to St Martin's in the Bullring to consecrate John Austin to be Bishop of Aston (the Bishop of Birmingham's right hand). He was a blessing to all who had to do with him. He served the people of Birmingham devotedly, both in life of the Church and in the wider community. In his earlier years he was one of the founders of Church Action on Poverty. This showed where his heart lay.
"He was a much-loved pastor to individuals and to parishes. He had a particular care for young clergy and for priests who were working in tough situations. He had a wonderful gift for friendship. Wherever he went he brought compassion and good humour. He was an encourager. He had great insight into what was going on in individuals and in communities. He always spoke the truth as he saw it, but always in such a way that people could hear it.
"He was a man of deep faith and prayer, who carried a sense of the presence of God with him. This showed in the way he conducted worship. He was a man without desire for power, which gave him great freedom in the way he exercised the authority he was given. To me, as Bishop of Birmingham, he was for eleven years a wonderful friend and colleague. I thank God for him."
Bishop John was married to Rosemary and they have three children.
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