Bill Snelson – may he rest in peace and rise in glory

In tribute to Bill Snelson, General Secretary of Churches Together in England from 1997 to 2008.

Bill Snelson was General Secretary of Churches Together in England from 1997 to 2008. Here CTE pays tribute to him, giving thanks for his life and ministry…

Bill Snelson went to St Michael’s Hospice, Knaresborough on 4 November 2020, and died on the morning of Thursday 17 December. Beryl, his wife, writes: “Clare, Duncan, Matthew and I arrived ten minutes after he had died and I managed to say some prayers and place a wooden cross from the Holy Land in his hand. We were so relieved that at last he was pain-free and at peace.”

Bill was taken into Goldsborough church on Tuesday 22 December, to lie there overnight with a lit candle. The funeral took place on the following day. He was cremated on 30 December with no one present. He asked for his ashes to be buried in Goldsborough church grounds.

Well done, good and faithful servant

Peter Whittaker, a personal friend of Bill and Beryl Snelson , was formerly Chair of the West Yorkshire Methodist District, Chair of CTE’s Trustees and Convenor of our Enabling Group. He reflects on Bill’s significant contribution to ecumenism in England:

Bill Snelson became the second General Secretary of Churches Together in England in succession to Canon Martin Reardon.
During his tenure from 1997 to 2008, Bill encouraged and witnessed an expansion of the membership of England’s Ecumenical Instrument, in particular from the Pentecostal constituency. One of his key gifts was the ability to look ahead. He saw the ecumenical potential of the Millennium and helped navigate the Churches through the celebrations and reflections surrounding it. Later he was instrumental in the Set All Free project, encouraging appropriate commemoration and learning by the Churches for the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade. As CTE approached its 20th anniversary, Bill encouraged a major review. Its report Moving Together, challenged the Churches to continue their journey as pilgrims with Christ, the head of the Church.

It was said, with deep affection and with humour, that Bill wrote minutes of a meeting before it took place! The truth behind that observation is testament to his grasp of the complexities and sensitivities of subjects tackled within Churches Together in England. His ability to create succinct notes was greatly appreciated by busy people engaging with topics and programmes. 

Bill was and remained at heart a Parish Priest, caring and compassionate, but also challenging of others and himself. He always tried to enable a response to the Gospel, recognising in a secular and multi-religious context, that the Churches were better together. After serving in parish ministry in Leeds, as Curate and Vicar, in 1993 Bill became Ecumenical Officer for the West Yorkshire Ecumenical Council (WYEC), serving until his appointment to CTE. That was his ‘apprenticeship’ and rooted in that experience he was always supportive and understanding of the work of County Officers. In WYEC he witnessed and encouraged Church Leaders from three Anglican Dioceses, one Roman Catholic Diocese, two Methodist Districts, Baptist, United Reformed Church, and Religious Society of Friends areas. The work extended to Black Majority Churches and to the Lutheran Church. That early indication of Bill’s understanding of the breadth of Church represented in our nation led to his insistence on the need for CTE to embrace a wider membership.
Bill made his own contribution to the debate on ‘Communion’, a difficult issue ecumenically, through his 2006 book Enriching Communion. In it he argues for a wider and perhaps deeper understanding of Communion than just the sharing of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table.
After retiring from the post of CTE General Secretary, Bill continued to work for ecumenical relationships by association with the Anglican Centre in Rome, raising awareness of its work in England and serving as interim Director between two permanent posts. He exercised his priesthood in his local parish. In all Bill’s ministry he was hugely supported by Beryl his wife of over 50 years. We give thanks for his work and witness. To God be the glory. 

Tributes to Bill Snelson

Rowena Loverance,  CTE Chair and Enabling Group Convenor: “Churches Together in England was wonderfully served by Bill Snelson. We honour his memory and we give thanks for the grace of God as witnessed in his life.” 

George Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury and CTE President: “A distinguished Christian man. May he rest in peace.”

David Moxon, former Archbishop of New Zealand and former Director of the Anglican Centre in Rome: “Bill was capable of considerable wit and humility which endeared him to many in the ecumenical world. The Anglican Centre in Rome owes some of its financial viability to him in his development role over a number of years; a most demanding challenge.”

John Richardson, former CTE Trustee: “I enjoyed Bill’s thoughtful leadership of CTE, to which he brought vision, efficiency, humour, imagination and a sort of straightforward view that of course ecumenism made sense and should be practised more widely. Quite simply, he was a lovely man with the right gifts for an important job.”

David Carter, Secretary of the former Theology and Unity Group:  “What an ecumenical heart he had!”

John Cole, former Anglican National Ecumenical Officer: “It was great working with Bill when he was at the helm of CTE, and I am grateful that I received his wise guidance and steadying hand on many occasions.”

Elspeth Coke, former staff member: “Bill was a tremendous boss/colleague and encouraged me to develop my knowledge and understanding of ecumenical relations.”
Aled Edwards, Cytûn (Wales): Many of us will have the fondest memories of working with Bill.”
Donald Norwood, CTE press representative at World Council of Churches (WCC) meetings: “I got to know and love Bill particularly well when we were both at the WCC Harare Assembly in 1998. My mischievous comment is that he was extra delightful as a very unAnglican Anglican!”

Priscilla Barlow, former County Ecumenical Officer: “He did so much for Christian unity and will be very much missed.”

Mark Woodruff, Society of St John Chrysostom: “He was part of our ecumenical universe, shrewd, no-nonsense but very patient and determined, with the true end, rather than the present means, always principally in sight. “

Elizabeth Welch, Society for Ecumenical Studies and former URC Synod Moderator: “I give warm thanks for his life and am grateful for all he achieved ecumenically.”

Download an obituary of Bill from the Church Times.