The Very Reverend Tom Baker
Last Updated: 10:28pm BST 23/08/2001
THE VERY REVEREND TOM BAKER, who has died aged 79, was Dean of Worcester from 1975 to 1986 and earlier played an important part in the training of clergy as sub-warden of Lincoln Theological College and principal of Wells Theological College.
His years at Worcester were clouded by an operation for throat cancer - which, though successful, left him with a weakened voice and required almost four years for a complete recovery. But he made a notable impact on the life of Worcester Cathedral through his concern for the right ordering of worship, in which he was very knowledgeable, his gifts as a preacher, and his efforts to connect the Cathedral with the world beyond the close.
Baker was ideally equipped for the work of a Dean, but his happiest and most creative years were spent at Wells, where he was an outstanding theological college principal. Although he was not a professional scholar, he had a good, cultured mind, and was an unusually gifted teacher.
Thomas George Adames Baker was born at Southampton on December 22 1920. He was the only child, but had for company, besides his parents, two grandparents, two unmarried aunts and two old family friends. From King Edward VI School, Southampton, he went up to Exeter College, Oxford, and, despite the limited wartime teaching arrangements, took a Second in Classical Mods and a First in Theology.
He then went to Lincoln Theological College where Christopher Evans, who had been the curate of his home parish in Southampton and a great influence on him, was chaplain. In 1944, he became curate of All Saints', King's Heath, Birmingham, under Michael Parker, who later became Bishop of Bradford.
After only three years as a curate, Baker was sent by the unorthodox Bishop Barnes of Birmingham to be Vicar of St James's, Edgbaston. This was an Anglo-Catholic church with only a tiny congregation, and the somewhat unsympathetic Bishop Barnes told its new incumbent that unless he could revitalise it quickly it would be amalgamated with the neighbouring parishes. Baker rose to the challenge, stayed for seven years, and put the parish on its feet again.
In 1954 he returned to Lincoln as sub-warden of the theological college and soon demonstrated his ability to combine rigorous scriptural and theological study with concern for its practical implications in the daily life and worship of the Church.
In 1959 Baker was appointed Canon Theologian of Leicester Cathedral. At about this time, he also received an invitation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Geoffrey Fisher, to become his senior chaplain at Lambeth; but, to Fisher's great displeasure, Baker declined.
At Wells Theological College, where he was principal from 1960 to 1971 and also a Prebendary of Wells Cathedral, he inherited a gentlemanly establishment with a good reputation for training rural clergymen.
He at once set about tightening discipline and broadening the outlook of the students, taking due account of their varied needs. The cathedral crypt was used as the college chapel, and the worship reached a high standard.
Baker also arranged for exchanges of students with the Methodist Wesley College at Bristol, where he taught at the university, and laid plans for amalgamating the two colleges to form a larger, ecumenical institution.
By 1970, however, the number of Anglican ordination candidates had fallen sharply, and a report commissioned by the bishops recommended the closure of Wells and its amalgamation with Salisbury Theological College.
This seemed at the time, and even more so later, when the combined college closed, a mistake, for Wells was flourishing. But Baker accepted it with good grace and was invited by the Crown to become Rector of St Margaret's, Westminster, and a Canon of Westminster. This he declined, since St Margaret's was in serious financial and structural trouble and he had no aptitude for money-raising. Instead, he exercised his administrative skills as Archdeacon of Bath.
Towards the end of his time at Wells, Baker wrote a small but influential book - What Is the New Testament? Designed chiefly for intelligent lay people, it expressed his own liberal approach to the New Testament and his rejection of anything smacking of fundamentalism.
This approach coloured a later book, Questioning Worship (1977), in which Baker said that if the Church of England's new services had retained more traditional expressions this would have lessened the risk of their being taken too literally.
The cathedral music at Worcester, especially the Three Choirs Festival, gave him much pleasure. He was himself an accomplished pianist, having become a Licentiate of Trinity College, London, when only in his teens.
At times, he could seem somewhat aloof, but to those he knew well his shyness gave way to warmth and affection.
He was for a time a member of General Synod, where his critical comments on the work of the Liturgical Commission were much savoured. He was also chief inspector of theological colleges. On his retirement, he was awarded a Lambeth Doctorate in Divinity.