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RIP – Richard Bird TSSF

Richard Bird TSSF
1933 – 2010

Brother Samuel SSF writes: “What’s your line on ecumenical relations?”  It was a typically direct question from Dick soon after he became Minister Provincial of the Third Order in 2002 (I had been elected the brothers’ Minister just a few months before).  This was a matter of significance for us Franciscans and it was important that the First and Third Orders should be of a common mind – or, at least, that we should know how each other was thinking on the topic.  I’m not sure that I gave him the straightforward answer that he was seeking.  Dick and I worked together over the next six years, often meeting in Cambridge, to which he came from Bury St Edmunds, and I valued both the warmth of his friendship and the way he would come quickly to the point over matters of shared interest and concern.

Dick’s introduction to SSF was as an undergraduate in Cambridge where he came under the spell of Br Michael who admitted him as a Companion in 1954 at the house in Lady Margaret Road.  Following ordination training at Cuddesdon he chose to serve in the Church in South Africa – at a time when Christians were witnessing to the life of the Kingdom under an increasingly repressive apartheid regime.  Here he met and married Valerie.  After returning to the UK in 1970, the issues of justice, peace and reconciliation remained central to his ministry, first as a parish priest and then as Archdeacon in south London.  These same concerns, coupled with the discipline of prayer, led him to join the Third Order – he and Valerie were professed in 1975 – and with their young children they were among the pioneers of the Hilfield Families’ Camp.

His election as Third Order Minister came at a stage in his life when most people look forward to slowing down a bit, but he threw himself into the job with energy and enthusiasm.  A focus during his first three-year term of office was preparing for the 2006 Third Order General Chapter at York.  It would have been easy to ‘play safe’ with general Franciscan themes, but under Dick’s leadership the dynamic issues of justice, sexuality, peace and the integrity of creation were addressed – challenging for many.  It was his inspiration, too, to take up the idea of a Third Order presence at Greyfriars in Canterbury during the 2008 Lambeth Conference to pray for reconciliation in the Anglican Communion.  For Dick, the Gospel was about an incarnational engagement with the world – praise God for a faithful and fearless Franciscan!  f