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Bishop Godfrey Ashby of St John’s dies

The Right Revd Godfrey Ashby, a former Bishop of the Diocese of St John’s (which included the current dioceses of Mthatha, Mzimvubu and Mbhashe) died recently in the United Kingdom, aged 93.

Sharing memories of Bishop Ashby, who ministered as Diocesan from 1980 to 1985, retired bishops of the Province have paid tribute to his humility and gentleness, his gifts as a pastor, teacher, mentor, confessor and to his outstanding preaching and scholarship.

He was remembered as an Old Testament scholar who made the scriptures come alive in “brilliant” sermons at Evensong during his time as Dean of Grahamstown.

“Apart from his intimacy with Hebrew, he learnt isiXhosa to his great credit, and willingly conducted clergy retreats and graced patronal festivals. He was humble and gentle to the core,” wrote one bishop. “A great man with tremendous insight, intelligence and compassion,” wrote another.

One bishop told of a retired academic at Wits University in Johannesburg who said the then Professor Ashby used to attend anti-apartheid protests, not to take part but to keep watch and pray for the safety of students as they faced off against police.

The Wikipedia entry for Bishop Ashby:

Ashby was educated at The King’s School in Chester, Cheshire. After two years in the British Army Intelligence Corps, he studied at King’s College London, and graduated in 1954 with a Bachelor of Divinity (BD) degree and the Associateship of King’s College (AKC). He was an Overseas Visiting Scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge, in 1975. He also became a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).

Ashby was ordained in the Church of England as a deacon in 1955 and as a priest in 1955. His first post was as a Curate in the Parish of St Helier in the Diocese of Southwark.

In 1958, Ashby emigrated to South Africa. Here he rose steadily in the church hierarchy, being successively: Subwarden of St Paul’s College, Grahamstown; Rector of Alice, Eastern Cape; lecturer at the Federal Theological Seminary, Alice; a senior lecturer in Old Testament and Hebrew at Rhodes University; Dean of Grahamstown and Archdeacon in the Diocese of Grahamstown.

In 1980, Ashby was consecrated a bishop. From 1980 to 1985, he served as diocesan Bishop of St John’s. He was then professor of Divinity at the University of the Witwatersrand and an assistant bishop in the Anglican Diocese of Johannesburg.

In 1988, Ashby moved back to England. He served as the Assistant Bishop of Leicester in the Diocese of Leicester from 1988 to 1995. Additionally, he was Priest-in-Charge of All Saints, Newtown Linford between 1992 and 1995. In 1993, he was made an Honorary Canon of Leicester Cathedral.

Ashby retired from full-time ministry in 1995. He returned to South Africa, where he served as an Assistant Bishop in the Diocese of George. In 2008, he returned to England. He served as an honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Portsmouth between 2008 and 2011 and in the Diocese of Exeter from 2011 until he entered full retirement at the College of St Barnabas in Surrey in 2017.

Bishop Ashby was married to Valerie “Sally” Ashby, née Hawtree (she died on 7 October 2015). Together, they had six children: Garmon, John Mark, Mary, Philip, Ruth, and Charles.