By the Rev Rosemary Nixon
MANY Durham people were saddened to hear of the death of the Rt Rev Alan Smithson. The former Bishop of Jarrow died suddenly in hospital in Edinburgh on June 17, following a short illness.
As suffragan bishop in Durham diocese from 1989-2001, Alan, with his wife Jean, were renowned for the warmth of their hospitality. At their home at Pittington, 60 or more readers would be entertained on a Sunday afternoon; large groups of clergy gathered on a Saturday morning; lay people, some whom he had confirmed, potential ordinands, deacons and people meeting for study would be gathered in to share food and build friendships. His spirit of hospitality and welcome was legendary – as was the daunting collection of wonky chairs for people to sit on.
When leading a silent ordination retreat, he would add a generous touch of friendship taking chocolates, wine and videos; he thought of the needs of the people he was with.
He kept in touch with them, and was imaginative and generous in giving the support that was needed. He was a man of the people. Accessible, a good listener, a creative thinker and home-maker, Bishop Alan had the gift of being able to remember people by name.
His generosity and openness extended further than some thought was right for a CofE bishop. In co-operation with others, he sought to establish a “Three Faith Forum” in which people of the three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam, could meet to listen to each other and build mutual understanding.
His decision to read the Koran during Lent hit the national press, leading some to claim he was overstepping the mark. His aim in adding the Koran to his Lenten reading was to understand Islam better.
Alan had a reputation of often being a bit late for meetings. Setting off early one Sunday morning to visit a church some 20 miles away, he was delayed by travelling in the wrong direction down the motorway sliproad.
Mercifully the road was empty, but his arrival at the church was very last minute.
He was a keen water-colourist, sailor and camper. Shadow his dog was a constant presence and Mittens the cat kept his chair warm.
Many will be thankful for having met Bishop Alan, a man much at home with himself and valuing of others. He leaves four grown-up children and two young grandsons.