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WCC celebrates life of Archbishop John Habgood

WCC celebrates life of Archbishop John Habgood

Archbishop John Habgood was moderator of the WCC’s Public Hearing on Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament in Amsterdam at 1981. Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo

18 March 2019

Archbishop of York John Habgood, a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Central Committee from 1983 to 1991 and moderator of Church and Society from 1983 to 1990, died on 6 March at the age of 91. A scientist and philosopher, Habgood was regarded as one of the most outspoken clerics of his time.

In 1981, he was moderator of the WCC’s Public Hearing on Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament, organized in Amsterdam at a time of widespread concern about the danger of nuclear conflict. The hearing was crucial in the development of the WCC’s policy on nuclear weapons.

Renowned for both administrative flair and succinctness in the pulpit, he was also a thinker of broad range who began his career lecturing in pharmacology and physiology at the University of Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in 1954 for the London diocese and, two years later, returned to Cambridge as vice-principal of Westcott House. He not only made weighty contributions to the ecumenical movement but also to medical ethics.

Habgood attained a double first in natural sciences at Cambridge University, and was serving as bishop of Durham when he was appointed archbishop of York in 1983. He held the post until his retirement in 1995 and was appointed to the House of Lords as a Crossbench (independent) Peer in his own right. He had previously been a member as bishop of Durham and archbishop of York.

He was a member of the British Council of Churches, and took part in the joint Catholic Bishops’ Conference-British Council of Churches visit to Pope John Paul II in 1983. A liturgical reformer, he also oversaw the introduction of the Alternative Service Book in 1980.

He favoured the ordination of women and supported the idea that a guaranteed number of General Synod places should be reserved for black members.

Habgood was predeceased by his wife Rosalie in March 2016.