An Interview with Richard Holloway, writer, broadcaster and former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh

The implication is clear: to Holloway, the certainties of organised religion have little meaning other than, perhaps, as metaphor or poetry. If anyone derives spiritual consolation from them, that’s fine. He doesn’t ”“ and no longer having to defend things he doesn’t believe in is one of the great joys of his later life ”“ but he doesn’t want to cut himself off from Christianity altogether. Indeed, he still goes to church on average a couple of times a month ”“ usually to Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh, where he was rector from 1968-1980, in what he says, looking back, was the happiest time of his life. Occasionally, he even preaches there. “I’m like a member of the family who doesn’t support everything the family stands for but still wants to be associated with it. At my stage in life, it’s quite difficult to give up emotional allegiances.”

It was only several years after he had become Bishop of Edinburgh in 1986 that the tensions between being expected to uphold the orthodoxies of faith and his growing disbelief in the certainties of the system became too great. The last straw came over the refusal of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 to countenance the ordination of [non-celibate] gay ministers.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Scottish Episcopal Church

5 comments on “An Interview with Richard Holloway, writer, broadcaster and former Episcopal Bishop of Edinburgh

  1. Br. Michael says:

    However did TEC become a safe-house for non-believers in positions of leadership? (Yeah, I know about Bishop Pike etc.)

  2. Br. Michael says:

    I guess that the Scottish Episcopal Church not TEC.

  3. pastorchuckie says:

    Br. Michael, I think part of the answer is that there’s a Jekyl-and-Hyde personality here. You mention James Pike– in his case, premonitions of his heresy must have been evident early on. But to take another example, Joe Fletcher, sometime professor at ETS/EDS in Cambridge– when he first became well-known, I think most people would have said there was hardly anyone more orthodox or traditional.

    I got to know Richard Holloway somewhat while he was the rector of the Advent, Boston. For several years he wrote about one book per year, which I now think was actually two books that he kept revising in alternate years. He wasn’t so much an original author; more like an anthologizer, who with an elegant style paraphrased and interpreted some of the best of other Christian authors’ writing.

    I am grateful for his having evangelized me, as I don’t mind calling it, through one book in particular, Beyond Belief (1981). The last chapter, “The Faith of a Hypocrite,” describes a struggle that he resolves by throwing himself on the mercy of Jesus. I’d hate to think he was faking it when he wrote that. I prefer to think he is still struggling.

    I only skimmed the interview, so I might have missed any mention of this, but Holloway has gone through more than one episodes of losing his faith, despairing of his vocation, and then (so it seemed) having a powerful and renewing encounter with the living God. But there was also something of a “rock star” aura about him then; it must have been hard to be humble. I’m sure no one was surprised that not long after returning to England he became a bishop and later Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

    At the Advent, he had the public persona that convinced you, when he was preaching, that he was speaking directly from his heart to yours, and I might not have been the only reader who found that true of his books. Up close and personal, he was more cold and remote, though he was always kind to me and my family.

    A couple of years ago I met a priest of the Scottish church who had known Holloway. (I don’t think she’d actually served under his episcope.) At that time Holloway was in retirement, but would come out of hiding once in a while and prompt headlines speculating whether the bishop was an agnostic. I asked this Scottish priest about it– I don’t remember exactly what I asked her, but I wanted to know whether this man, who had once impressed me as an eloquent spokesman for the Gospel, was really a Christian at all.

    She said she didn’t think Holloway believed half of the controversial things he said, but considered it his ministry as a bishop to stir things up, to get Christians to engage the church-and-culture questions that they tend to deny when they stay in their little safe Christian huddles.

    It made me really sad to read this interview. It’s a good reminder to us in ministry not to have too much confidence in ourselves. “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27) I pray for Richard Holloway’s conversion.

    Pax Christi!
    Chuck Bradshaw
    Hulls Cove, Maine

  4. Terry Tee says:

    I knew that he had moved away from conventional belief but even so, this interview had me straining to reconcile the man revealed in it with the man I remember celebrating Mass at St Mary Magdalene’s in Oxford: austere, reverent, the very embodiment of old-fashioned Anglo-Catholic piety.
    Loss of faith could happen to any of us. A pastor who sees bad things happen to good people will almost certainly have his faith tested. What should help carry us through, though, is the faith of the Church as a whole. I find it helps sometimes simply to say to myself: ‘What the Church believes, I believe.’ It does not all depend on me.

  5. MichaelA says:

    Unfortunately, when a senior bishop openly disowns the beliefs of Christianity, that makes it very difficult for ordinary people in the pews to tell themselves: “What the Church believes, I believe.” If they say that and mean it, they will probably end up walking out, and not coming back.

    At the very least, its highly self-indulgent of +Holloway. A bishop’s job is to WORK – to labor unceasingly to build up the flock of Christ. If he can’t do that because he is spending so much time flattering his own vanity, tickling his unbelief, as it were, then don’t be a bishop. Become a writer, or a philosopher or whatever, but not a bishop.