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In memoriam: Bishop Alan Wilson

Updated: Mar 9

It is with deep sadness that over a week ago we learnt of the death one of the finest bishops the Church of England has had for generations. Alan Wilson (27 March 1955 – 17 February 2024) was the area Bishop of Buckingham in the Diocese of Oxford. During much of my ministry in that diocese, and beyond that, at Los Olivos, he was my bishop, our bishop.

I always felt grateful, blessed and proud to have someone like him as my bishop. For he was not a career clergy who went through an ecclesiastical reset after the institution placed a mitre on his head. He did not keep two different discourses: one in private and one in public. Nor was he timid when it came to speaking for justice, even if that meant not toeing the party line. No, he was none of the above. Instead, he was a man of integrity, who sought God’s Kingdom above all things and who believed that a different church was possible: a more loving, honest, caring and inclusive church.

Over the past decades he committed much of his energy to working for the gospel as good news also for LGBTQ+ folk in the Church of England and in wider society. He wrote a great book advocating same-gender marriage: A more perfect union? (2014). He and Rosie Harper (his chaplain) completed that book whilst on retreat at Los Olivos, and were generous enough to acknowledge our ministry in its opening pages. He also happened to be at Los Olivos shortly after the UK passed legislation to make same-sex marriage legal. He had been advising David Cameron’s government in support of such legislation. That same week, whilst we were having drinks by the pool, he quietly showed us an email he had just received from the Prime Minister inviting him to a reception at Downing Street to celebrate this new equality law that would change the lives of many gay and lesbian people in the country. Yes, Bishop Alan, my bishop, our bishop, played his part in making that a reality.

In later years, he also worked tirelessly supporting the survivors of abuse within the church, and pushing for a better and more accountable safeguarding policy and praxis. The Church of England continues to be in a mess on this issue. Alan was a bright, brave, and articulate advocate of those who had become direct and/or collateral victims of the institutional church’s self-centred and self-serving behaviour.

Among the many treasured memories we have of Bishop Alan, on his numerous visits to Spain are he and his chaplain, Rosie, arriving in a Smart Car, a vehicle so totally unadapted for the mountain track up to the retreat centre, that only Alan could have thought it a sensible choice. The car miraculously made it through the entire week to leave us with the unforgettable departure with a Serrano ham leg poking out of the back window, looking like a guitar, as it was too big to fit in the car itself.

The gifts over the years were always generous: a cocktail set to make exotic mixes in our retreat centre bar, along with the necessary ingredients. Alan was keen to sample the resulting drinks, which were good. We still have the shaker in use at home today. On another occasion, an amazing Tibetan prayer bowl for the chapel.

When he visited Los Olivos, Alan always brought a special energy. He was not a man that you can imagine on a traditional “retreat”. He was far too energetic and restless for that. He spent his time walking, running, writing and in conversation. Sometimes visiting local sites, and generally being a big character around the place. People always remembered when they had spent time there with Alan.

Many have described him as having a prophetic voice within the church. And they are right. Alan was one of those modern day prophets who, no doubt, the church will point to in years to come, ignoring the fact that during his ministry, some saw him as an uncomfortable presence.

In a recent conversation with Bishop Alan, he referenced that well known Tony Benn quote: “It's the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you're mad, then dangerous, then there's a pause and then you can't find anyone who disagrees with you.” He was describing with these words his own journey of striving for change and inclusion in the church. This pretty much sums up his prophetic ministry.

From this modest media post, Guy and I would like to honour his memory and express our gratitude for all the love, friendship and support we received from both him and Rosie. Over the years, they were both a true inspiration to us. Alan was not just our bishop, he was a source of affirmation and a spiritual father in Christ. He was also a kind and generous friend. Today, the Church of England is worse off, and heaven has gained a faithful servant of Christ. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.



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