Alan Brunskill Webster was born on 1 July 1918 in Wrenbury, Cheshire, son of the Rev J. Webster. He attended Shrewsbury School and studied Modern History at Queen's College, Oxford (BA, 1939 and MA, 1943). He subsequently entered the theological college Westcott House, Cambridge, where he came under the influence of the principal, B.K. Cunningham and Launcelot Fleming. He was awarded a BD in 1954 and an honorary DD by City University in 1983.
Webster was ordained deacon in 1942, serving his curacy in Sheffield parishes, and priest in 1943. He remained in Sheffield until 1946, where he was influenced by Bishop Leslie Hunter and Alan Ecclestone and their vision for the Church of England to be 'loved into new life so that it could be once again the moral and spiritual centre of the whole community' [Times obituary].
From 1946 to 1953, Webster was chaplain and vice principal of Westcott House, where his students included the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie. In 1951, he married Margaret C.F. Falconer, who was working in the study department of the SCM. He was the first member of the Westcott staff to marry and have children. He introduced a more liberal approach to married students and their needs. He left Westcott in 1953, becoming vicar of Barnard Castle in the Diocese of Durham (the bishop at the time being Michael Ramsey). Runcie succeeded him as vice principal of Westcott.
In 1959 Webster became warden of Lincoln Theological College, where he initiated Anglican-Methodist dialogue, introduced women students and arranged for lectures by Roman Catholic theologians. From 1964 to 1970 he was a canon and prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral.
|Runcie and Thatcher|
Within the church itself, Webster had become a leading advocate of the ordination of women to the priesthood. In this, he worked closely with his wife, Margaret, who was executive secretary of the Movement for the Ordination of Women (MOW) from 1979 to 1986. In 1982 Webster earned the rebuke of Graham Leonard, Bishop of London, for hosting a eucharist irregularly celebrated by Elizabeth Canham, an English woman ordained in the United States.
Webster was a member of the Crown Appointments Commission, the perceived liberal bias of which was a factor in the 'Crockford's Controversy', seen as severely damaging Robert Runcie's leadership. Webster's own view was that the presence of the Prime Minister's patronage secretary put more radical candidates at a disadvantage.
Webster's activities did little to endear him to a divided chapter at St Paul's. In 1984 an unsuccessful attempt was made to force his retirement. When Webster did retire, he was not appointed Dean Emeritus of St Paul's until after the tenure of Bishop Graham and his equally conservative successor, Bishop Hope.
In 1988 he was appointed KCVO by the Queen and retired to Norfolk. He died in Cley on 3 September 2007.
Independent obit, 5 Sep 2007
Daily Telegraph obit, 6 Sep 2007
Guardian obit, 11 Sep 2007