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Kenneth John Clements (1905–1992)

by Robert Withycombe

This article was published:

Kenneth John Clements (1905–1992), Anglican bishop, was born on 21 December 1905 at Southgate, London, son of John Edwin Clements, land agent’s clerk, and his wife Ethel Evelyn, née Clark. In 1922 the family migrated to Australia, settling first in Melbourne, where Kenneth worked as an office boy with The Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd. They then moved to Sydney in 1927 and he began studies at St John’s Theological College, Morpeth. In 1930 he entered St Paul’s College, University of Sydney (BA, 1933). He became a deacon in November and in 1934 was ordained priest in the diocese of Riverina, where he served as registrar (1933–37) and as curate of St Paul’s Pro-Cathedral, Hay. On 31 December 1935 at St Jude’s Church of England, Randwick, he married Rosalind Elizabeth Cakebread. After serving as priest-in-charge, Narrandera (1937-39), he continued his rural ministry within the diocese of Canberra and Goulburn, as rector of Tumbarumbah (1939–43) and Gunning (1943–44) parishes.

Pastoral administration predominated when Clements was diocesan registrar and archdeacon of Goulburn (1946–50), and examining chaplain to his bishop. On 29 June 1949 he was made coadjutor bishop of Goulburn (Canberra and Goulburn from 1950), and vicar-general of that diocese. Awarded a doctorate (1955) by the Australian College of Theology, in 1956 he was elected bishop of Grafton, where his energy and wide experience working in country districts enabled that rural diocese to steadily develop. His understanding of Anglicanism was enhanced when he attended the Lambeth Conference in London in 1958.

Returning to the national capital as bishop of Canberra and Goulburn in 1961, he faced the challenge of a rapidly growing city in the midst of a largely rural diocese. He continued the traditions of freedom, broadmindedness, and openness to learning that he had first imbibed from his predecessor, Bishop Ernest Burgmann, under whom he had studied at Morpeth. His concern for people, and his ability to work with them, imbued his administration with wisdom and sensitivity. He supported his laity, and deflated the presbyterial pomposity and isolating caste-consciousness of some of his clergy. Senior contemporaries considered him ‘a first class administrator’ (Canberra Times 1961, 3).

Clements showed empathy with youth within and beyond his diocese, being elected president of the national Young Anglican Fellowship in 1961. He chaired the Council of St Mark’s Library and Institute of Theology (1961–71). At the Australian National University he led Burgmann College council’s work (1963–71), and in 1966 he was appointed to the council of the university. He favoured Christian schools, believing that Sunday schools provided insufficient religious education for the few who attended them. Concerned by the rapid growth of Canberra’s suburbs, from 1966 he chaired the Joint Commission for Church Development in its efforts to persuade churches to negotiate with the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of the Interior. He worked boldly for ecumenical cooperation, even sanctioning jointly managed parishes. ‘We come at truth differently,’ he said, ‘we cannot have complete uniformity’ (Canberra Times 1971, 2). His stance on social issues chafed some people; he supported the remarriage of divorced persons, agreed that early term abortion was sometimes justifiable, and respected ethnic diversity.

Retiring on 30 September 1971, he settled eventually in Buderim, Queensland. Survived by his wife, son, and two daughters, he died on 8 January 1992 and was buried in the graveyard of St John the Baptist Church, Reid, Canberra. His portrait by Patricia Moyle Blake-Lane is held by the National Library of Australia, Canberra.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Clements, Bishop Kenneth John. Interview by Vivienne Rae Ellis, 25 March to 1 April 1981. Transcript. National Library of Australia
  • Crockford’s Clerical Directory, 1969–1970. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971
  • Canberra Times, 23 February 1961, 3
  • Canberra Times, 7 October 1966, 13
  • Canberra Times, 30 September 1971, 2
  • Canberra Times, 16 January 1992, 12
  • Warren, Cecil A.  A Little Foolishness: An Autobiographical History. Virginia, Qld: Church Archivist’s Press, 1993

Citation details

Robert Withycombe, 'Clements, Kenneth John (1905–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 19 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 December, 1905
London, Middlesex, England


8 January, 1992 (aged 86)
Buderim, Queensland, Australia

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