Obituary: Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke, BA, MA, DD, bishop

Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke: Former Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane who helped modernise the Episcopal Church
Rt Rev Michael Hare Duke: Former Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane who helped modernise the Episcopal Church
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Born: 28 November, 1925, in Calcutta. Died: 15 December, 2014, in Perth, aged 89

Bishop Michael Hare Duke was an invigorating, if at times controversial, bishop of the Episcopal Church. His views did not always coincide with contemporary thinking – either ecclesiastical or social – but he was popular in the parishes he served and especially in Perth, where his devoted flock respected him as a man and as a cleric.

That admiration was evidenced in 1989 when his 20 years as Bishop of St Andrews were celebrated in Perth with a special Eucharist, a reception and a picnic on the North Inch. It was special as the Eucharist was distributed by women and the service involved more laity than clergy.

As he put it before the event: “I will still wear pompous clothes, but we’ve set out to do some new things and make the point liturgically.’’

It was typical of the man. Hare Duke, throughout his career, questioned accepted views, and his influence on the Episcopal Church was significant.

Michael Geoffrey Hare Duke’s forbears were Irish and after Bradfield College and Trinity College, Oxford he served as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1944 to 1946. He then trained for the ministry at Westcott House in Cambridge, was ordained in 1952 and made a curate at St John’s Wood, London prior to being appointed (1956–62) vicar of St Mark’s in Bury and then, for five years, of St Paul’s in Daybrook.

It was in 1969 that he was elected to the Bishopric of St Andrews after he had gained a reputation in the diocese for his teaching at retreats and as a progressive priest.

He was certainly a breath of fresh air in the community but it took time for his views to be taken on board by the more traditional. Hare Duke toured his large diocese – it stretched from the industrial towns on the north of the Forth to the bare moors of Rannoch – with an energetic enthusiasm.

Hare Duke also became known for his appearances on television and the radio. He had a charismatic manner – a colleague described it as “chirrupy” – and had a fine command of the language so spoke fluently and with ease.

He often contributed to Radio 4’s Thought for the Day and BBC Radio Scotland.

He once was seen in a telephone box in Dundee feeding the coin box at 7:46am to deliver his homily down the airwaves. Ironically, the subject was on communication.

David Willington, who was a master at Glenalmond College when Hare Duke was a member of the council, is now church warden at St John’s, Perth. “Michael in his 80s acted as an assistant in the worship team there. Though his voice was frail, his sermons, delivered with barely a note, were always lucid and full of fresh insights.”

Hare Duke’s liberal views in a changing society were not always at ease with his senior colleagues. For many years he supported the idea of women priests in the Church of England and had strong ecumenical views. “I’d love to see the day when we’re part of the Kirk and I’m sorry that unity is seen so much in terms of bishops,” he once wrote.

Perhaps it was such pronouncements that prevented him being appointed Primus.

Hare Duke and his wife Baa enjoyed informal evenings in Bishop’s House with friends. “The house had magnificent views over the Tay and both were on first-name terms with everyone,” one parishioner recalls. “Michael lovingly cared for Baa throughout her Alzheimer’s.”

Hare Duke was a driving force behind the new liturgy of the Scottish Episcopal Church and wrote widely on theological matters. He was a published poet and much involved both with the Scottish Association of Mental Health and Age Concern, Scotland.

He was a radical thinker who helped to modernise the Episcopal Church. “The Church cannot be like a cruise liner,” he once wrote, “going through the ocean and occasionally noticing that a corpse floats past the porthole. We desperately need a peace and reconciliation role.’’

His wife predeceased him and he is survived by their son and three daughters.