Monday, December 1, 2008


Bishop in the Church of God

On 18th November I attended the funeral of Bishop Lionel Renfrey at Christ Church, North Adelaide. Bishop Lionel believed and lived the Catholic Faith; he was courageous when standing for God's truth in a church that had become wishy-washy at best. He was an inspiration to many people.

Here is the homily from his Requiem Mass, preached by the Rector of Christ Church, North Adelaide, Father Lyndon Sulzberger:

"We sing the praise of him who died"

– this was the song that Bishop Lionel sang –

"of him who died upon the Cross.
The sinner’s hope let men deride,
for this we count the world but loss." (1)

If he were preaching here today it would be about the Cross – the precious death, the Blood that was spilt for you and me.

How do I know this . . . what Bishop Lionel would have preached?

Well, I have here a very precious letter that he wrote over 40 years ago from the Deanery just down the way. He had come to a realization of his faith – and I want to share it with you. He wrote:

“I give my soul into the hands of Almighty God, humbly beseeching Him to pardon all my sins, known to me and unknown, through the sole merits of the Blood of my Redeemer Jesus Christ, one drop of whose Precious Blood might cleanse the whole world.” (2)

We have here a foundation built on Christ. A firm foundation for faith. A faith which carries us through this world and into the next.

The Gospel for today says, “I am the way the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me.” Bishop Lionel’s letter reiterates this. He says, “It is through the sole merits of the Blood of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.”

In this world of uncertainty that talks about all ways leading to God, the church needs to stand up and say: “No!” It is through Faith in Christ, in his death and resurrection that we can know salvation.

It is this Salvation that gives the sinner the hope that we need. The hymn continues:

“for this we count the world but loss.”

"Inscribed upon the Cross we see
in shining letters GOD IS LOVE."

This is the most important thing in life we can know. Life is never measured by its length but by its depth. Its depth of love. If we have not love we are but a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. The Church teaches the Cross is the ultimate expression of love; the vertical and the horizontal love – up to God and out to others. This is what the cross is about.

The Cross is

"The balm of life, the cure of woe,
the measure and the pledge of love
the sinners refuge here below –
the Angels theme in Heaven above."

We all come to the certainty of death. It is then we need to be able to give an account of the hope that is within us.

Let me read to you again Bishop Lionel's account of the hope within him:

“I give my soul into the hands of Almighty God, humbly beseeching Him to pardon all my sins, known to me and unknown, through the sole merits of the Blood of my Redeemer Jesus Christ, one drop of whose Precious Blood might cleanse the whole world.”

You see this is what makes "the coward spirit brave and nerves the feeble arm for fight." Bishop Lionel had 2 strokes yet fought on. His the cross that "takes the terror from the grave and gilds the bed of death with light."

I thank God that I have been privileged to know this man of God who was never afraid to stand up and give an account of the faith that was within him, who continually looked to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of his faith in life and in death – and what a peaceful death it was at home surrounded by love going to love.

I challenge you this day – to commit yourself to this Faith more fully – to follow the example of Bishop Lionel and those who have gone before us, to build on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. It is through faith in his Blood that "all men might be saved."

(1) "We sing the praise of him who died" by Thomas Kelly, 1769-1854 (English Hymnal 510).

Bishop Lionel quoted these lines from the Last Will and Testament of Dr Pusey, 19th November, 1875.

* * * * *


- Father Andrew Cheesman

Lionel Edward William Renfrey's origins were humble. He was born in 1916 in Adelaide. Five years later his father, an enameller died in the Spanish influenza epidemic. His mother, Catherine Rose, took whatever work she could to support her son and daughter, Joyce, who, sadly, lost her life prematurely.

After schooling at Unley High, Lionel found a clerical position with the Taxation department to support both his mother and the University course he entered upon. This led him on a scholarship to St. Mark's and ultimately St. Barnabas Theological College. A brilliant literary scholar he obtained a first class honours degree in English in 1938 and the Bundey prize for English verse. He became a firm friend of the Professor, J.I.M. Stewart who wrote detective stories under the pseudonym of Michael Innes and included Lionel in one of them. Lionel himself loved to tell stories particularly of the "shaggy dog" kind. He had a wonderful sense of humour and love of the ridiculous. His partiality for rhyming verse and limericks cemented a growing friendship with the future Diocesan Bishop Thomas Reed.

Lionel's love of cricket was intertwined with his pastoral work. His lifelong support of Sturt, both football and cricket clubs, began in Unley days at St. Augustine's and St Oswald's. His association with the Hawthorn ground began with his appointment to Mitcham as catechist under Archdeacon Clampett in 1939 and he was to be seen on the pickets right up to the current season. No mean batsman himself he played for Burnside whilst at Kensington Gardens and for West Torrens during his tenure at Mile End. This was a most happy period for the growing family of six children who well remember the spacious garden and much loved vintage Rolls Royce which conveyed them to the beach for summer twilight picnics. Lionel's love for the Catholic faith nurtured by his friendship with Fr Percy Wise found full expression at St. James' and the children who attended the parish school took full part in the liturgy.

Lionel's love of liturgy and ordered spiritual life had grown during his leadership of the Bush Brotherhood of St. John Baptist which served the upper south east from Tailem Bend in 1944-47. It was here that Lionel met and fell in love with Joanne Smith of Cooke Plains. After their marriage they served together in the Berri-Barmera Mission. Jo was a wonderful helpmeet throughout sixty years of married life immersing herself in their hobbies, diocesan and family life. Her unfailing help sustained her husband when those causes dearest to his heart were threatened. Some of their happiest years with the family were spent in the Deanery next to the Cathedral where their hospitality, especially after Synod Evensongs was renowned. Lionel annually led Church Office staff and their family members on a picnic to Keyneton after worship in the Cathedral on Ascension day.

Appointed Dean of Adelaide in 1966 Lionel was made Assistant Bishop of the Diocese in 1969 which gave full rein to those administrative and pastoral talents already widely recognised in his role as Archdeacon and Organising Chaplain of the Bishop's Home Mission Society in 1965-66. His beloved Dean and Chapter and Church Office staff were recipients of his personal care and humour, but so were casual acquaintances, former parishioners, wayfarers, and shop assistants. Like his great predecessor Dean James Farrell he was truly the persona of the city as he walked to Church Office in Leigh Street and returned nightly to the Cathedral for Evensong. He was editor of the Church Guardian from 1961-65 and published theological and devotional treatises as well as two significant biographies of Diocesan figures, Bishop Nutter Thomas and Fr Percy Wise.

The final and best witness of his allegiance to Christ and love of the Book of Common Prayer was testified to by the Sanctuary party at his Requiem Mass made up of his son, two sons-in-law and four grandsons. This took place at Christ Church North Adelaide 18th November 2008.

Part of Bishop Lionel's final spiritual testimony was there read out by the Rector, "I give my soul into the hands of Almighty God, humbly beseeching Him to pardon all my sins, known to me and unknown, through the sole merits of the Blood of my Redeemer Jesus Christ, one drop of whose Precious Blood might cleanse the whole world."


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