Obituary for John Wraw from Bishop Stephen

Posted on Tuesday 8 August 2017
The Rt Revd John Wraw, Bishop of Bradwell in the Diocese of Chelmsford since 2012, has died. He was 58. He lived with cancer for the last three years of his life. In his online tribute, the Bishop of Chelmsford said that other people with Johns diagnosis would have retired; but John continued to minister until the last few weeks of his life, a vivid example of a life and vocation lived to the full. Johns abundant faith and trust in Christ meant that he never contemplated being defined by waiting to die: as always, he sought to be defined by the life of Christ, crucified and risen.

John grew up in a loving family which reached out to others as his parents ran Barnado’s children’s homes. This meant that from a young age John knew not only the love of parents and siblings but also the care and the needs of cared for children. At least one of the cared for children who cared for John attended his funeral. This formation shaped John’s character and gave him a heart for paying attention to people, whatever their circumstances, and making them feel special. 

John won a place to read law at Lincoln College, Oxford. It was at Oxford that he met Gillian, the love of his life. He promised her a rich life but not much money. They formed a wonderful partnership for the rest of John’s life. His children confirmed in their funeral tribute that all that John accomplished in ministry was made possible by the their parents’ partnership in marriage.

John had a strong calling to ordination and he and Gillian set up home in Ely while he trained for ordination at Ridley Hall. In John’s generation the third year at theological college after the intensity of study for a theology degree could prove an anticlimax. John typically and imaginatively engaged with this by bringing together his deep and lifelong concern for young disciples and for ecumenism by going to Egypt for three months to research the Sunday School movement in the Coptic Church. He was nationally involved in ecumenism until very recently, particularly with the Methodist Church.

Throughout his ministry, John has been a champion of children and young people, not as the Church of tomorrow but as decisive disciples now. As a parish priest in Rotherham and as a bishop he had taken a lead in promoting the clear voice of children and young people in the counsels of the Church. He was for three years the Chair of the Board of Education in Chelmsford and has had a particular brief to draw out the gifts and wisdom of younger Christians.

John always felt called to urban ministry, but tested this by serving a rural curacy at Bromyard before moving to Sheffield and Clifton and Wickersley in Rotherham. This mixed experience was the perfect providential preparation for becoming an outstanding Archdeacon of Wilts in 2004 in which role he was called upon to support rural parishes north of the Salisbury Plain and across the Ridgeway as well as challenging urban centres like Trowbridge and Melksham. This in turn was creative preparation for his very mixed area as Bishop of Bradwell from 2012. The large attendance of clergy and lay people at an August funeral testifies to how he was loved in the parishes and by the priests for whom he so deeply loved and prayed for.

His service as a bishop distilled all his gifts and experience. Throughout his ministry he has supported the homeless and has been a champion of multi-culturalism and interfaith dialogue. Faith in Christ was never a private matter for John: he was always cultivating community and speaking courageously and attentively in the public square. This has been demonstrated everywhere that John has served but most conspicuously, perhaps, in his unique role in the development of the Wiltshire Assembly with the leader of Wiltshire Council.

John was one of the finest strategic thinkers of the Church of England. His acute mind and systemic gifts were always at the service of the kingdom of Christ which meant that he was so passionate about the vocation of all disciples, not least those called to be ordained. During his time as the lead bishop for ministry the number of ordinands almost doubled. In February of this year he wrote to the clergy of the Diocese of Chelmsford about his illness and about his hope for the Church from the perspective of a disciple close to death and to the hope of eternal life. The letter illustrates the profound integrity and honesty of this bishop and pastor challenging all of us to a deeper intimacy with Christ and acceptance of one another.

John leaves Gillian and four children. He was devoted to his family and rejoiced to welcome Theo, his first grandchild.

- Bishop Stephen