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Church, Ivor Frederick (1913–1998)

by Jonathan Holland

This article was published online in 2022

Ivor Church, 1968

Ivor Church, 1968

National Archives of Australia, J25, 1968/9022

Ivor Frederick Church (1913–1998), Anglican priest and theological college principal, was born on 22 August 1913 at Cobham, Surrey, England, son of English-born Elizabeth Emma Church, née Clark, who was living apart from her husband Francis Church. The name of Ivor’s natural father was not recorded in his birth and baptism certificates. Elizabeth Church reconciled with her husband for the sake of their three children but Francis refused to accept Ivor. On 22 June 1914 his mother entered him into the care of the Community of the Sisters of the Church, an Anglican order. They placed him initially with a ‘nurse-mother’ then in a succession of their orphanages in Kent, Somerset, and London. Aged eleven, he arrived in Western Australia and spent three years (1925-28) at the Fairbridge Farm School, Pinjarra. Afterwards, he worked as a gardener and general hand for Mary Beigel, wife of H. M. Beigel, a leading Bunbury businessman. The youth’s duties were light and allowed him time to study privately for the junior certificate examination (1932). Although baptised in the Church of England, he joined the local Church of Christ, the experience reinforcing his Christian convictions and leading him to enrol in the College of the Bible at Glen Iris, Melbourne (1933–35).

Academically able, Church made tentative enquiries about study at the University of Oxford. It may have been this hope together with encouragement from Bishop J. J. Booth that prompted his return to the Church of England and his seeking ordination. Although he trained (1936–38) at the evangelical Ridley College, Melbourne, he was sent as a curate to All Saints’ Church, East St Kilda, a thriving Anglo-Catholic parish. He absorbed the reverent worship, social compassion, and discriminating theology, and honed his ‘ability as a fascinating if undemonstrative preacher’ (Murray 1998, 13). From 1939 he also attended classes at the University of Melbourne (BA, 1946). On 18 February 1940 he was ordained.

Wishing to contribute to the country’s effort in World War II, Church was appointed as a chaplain, 4th class, to the Royal Australian Air Force on 24 February 1942. Among postings in the South-West Pacific Area, he served with No. 7 Squadron at Townsville, Queensland (February–October 1943); No. 22 Squadron on the islands of Goodenough, Kiriwina, and Noemfoor (Numfoor) (October 1943–November 1944); and No. 82 Squadron on the island of Labuan (January–October 1945). He was demobilised on 14 February 1946 in Melbourne.

That year Church was again appointed as a curate, this time to the pre-eminent Anglo-Catholic parish in Melbourne, St Peter’s, Eastern Hill, but his heart was in academia and in 1947 he sailed to England and entered St Edmund Hall, Oxford (BA, 1950; MA, 1953). He studied in the honour school of theology, and came under the influence of St Edmund’s vice-principal and tutor in theology and philosophy, J. N. D. Kelly, who smoothed the way to a position as a tutor (1950) at Cuddesdon College, near Oxford.

In early 1951 Church returned to Australia and, after a short period as locum tenens at Christ Church, Brunswick, Melbourne, responded to an invitation from Archbishop (Sir) Reginald Halse of Brisbane to be vice-principal at St Francis’s Theological College, Milton. He arrived in October as principal, due to the untimely death of the incumbent, Canon P. C. Nelson. Church remained at the college for the next thirty years and it became his life. He opened it up to the diocese, permitting lay people to study there, forming a postulants’ guild, hosting conferences, and frequently preaching and lecturing outside. Recognising the need for married ordinands to have an accepted place in college life, he eased its monastic framework and built quarters for them.

Church was charitable in his judgements and open to new insights and directions, provided they were theologically tested and prayerfully considered. Accordingly, he advocated the remarriage of divorcees in church, the ordination of women, and the embracing of liturgical reform and ecumenism. He shaped a generation of Anglican ordinands in gently Anglo-Catholic ways alongside his own belief in a ‘generous, open spirit of understanding’ (Rogers 2019). There were occasional tensions, sometimes from within the diocese, sometimes from the student body, but he was an even-tempered man and soon resolved them. Although he appeared to bear troubles with equanimity, his outward composure masked an inner sensitivity not readily seen. He enjoyed the company of younger generations. At a youth conference one year at Toowoomba, he preached each night on a different nursery rhyme, the homilies ‘simple but profound, entertaining yet perceptive’ (Murray 1998, 13). The young men and women sat enthralled.

From the 1960s Church was a member of the celibate Oratory of the Good Shepherd. He grounded his own spiritual life in the Eucharist and the saying of the Daily Offices. His great love of Mark’s Gospel bore fruit in the book A Study of the Marcan Gospel (1976). He played bridge, tennis, and golf, and enjoyed the finer aspects of art and food. Ordinands shortened his title to ‘Prinny’ and mimicked his idiosyncrasies. When animated, for example, he waved his hand across his face like a windscreen wiper. He was a dreadful, absent-minded driver, who once proceeded, against the one-way traffic, along Pitt Street, Sydney, on a Saturday night.

Retiring in 1981, Church left behind a generation of priests who had absorbed his values and who remembered him with affection. In 1982 he was appointed AM. He died on 19 June 1998 at Taigum, Brisbane, and was buried in St Matthew’s Church cemetery, Mitchelton.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Anglican Records and Archives Centre, Anglican Church Southern Queensland, Brisbane. DE 4 Boxes 1-17, Papers of Ivor Frederick Church
  • Church, Ivor F. The Paradox of the Wrath of God. New York: Vantage Press, 1990
  • Church, Ivor F. A Study of the Marcan Gospel. New York: Vantage Press, 1976
  • Church Scene: National Anglican Newspaper (North Melbourne). ‘30 Years’ Updating Tradition.’ 4 December 1981, 12–13
  • Holland, Jonathan. Anglicans, Trams and Paw Paws: The Story of the Diocese of Brisbane 1945-1980. Brisbane: CopyRight Publishing Company, 2013
  • Murray, James. ‘Epitome of the Gentle Theologian.’ Australian, 2 July 1998, 13
  • National Archives of Australia. A9300, CHURCH I F
  • Rogers, Michael. ‘Canon Ivor Church: More Evolutionary than Revolutionary.’ Anglican Focus: The News Site of the Anglican Church Southern Queensland, 22 August 2019. https//anglicanfocus.org.au/2019/08/22/canon-ivor-church-more-evolutionary-than-revolutionary/. Copy held on ADB file
  • Williams, Des. ‘Brisbane Farewells Theological Educator.’ Market-Place: A Newspaper for Australian Anglicans (Orange, NSW), July 1998, 16

Additional Resources

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Citation details

Jonathan Holland, 'Church, Ivor Frederick (1913–1998)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/church-ivor-frederick-30777/text38124, published online 2022, accessed online 8 February 2023.

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