10 May 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of John Charles Ryle, the 1st Bishop of Liverpool.
Benjamin Disraeli, the Prime Minister of the day, invited John Ryle to become Bishop of Liverpool in 1880.
The new Bishop was from the Evangelical wing of the Church of England. He was surprised to receive the invitation and was concerned that he was too old for the task. Disraeli assured him that he would live for a few years yet and was proved correct.
He began his ministry on July 1st 1880 and came to live at the Bishop’s Palace in Abercromby Square, Liverpool with his wife and daughter Jessie.
Every third year he delivered his Episcopal Charge to the clergy of the Diocese and held a Diocesan conference annually. The charge in 1881 set the tone for his future ministry; throughout his episcopate - he made it a priority to recruit more clergy and lay ministers and built many more churches. Before clergy were ordained they attended a retreat at Bishop’s Palace and the Bishop gave a series of addresses. Diocesan clergy could call on their Bishop on any Tuesday morning.
The Bishop valued the work of the Scripture Readers who were paid lay workers. There were about 50 licensed Readers in the Diocese. In planting new churches his aim was to have a parish of no more than 5000 souls. He felt it was unreasonable for clergy to work with numbers larger than that.
The Bishop and his family attended St Nathaniel’s Windsor Street, which was under the care of Canon Hobson, who became a close friend of the family. At this church ‘the Gospel was preached at a simple hearty service and the power of the Holy Spirit was felt to be at work. ‘
The Bishop inherited a Diocesan Finance Association from Chester Diocese and added to this a clergy fund to help to help those in ‘poor livings’. When visiting parishes to preach, he said ‘I cannot give you a sermon if you do not have an annual collection for Diocesan purposes. ‘
The Liverpool Cathedral project had been suggested before Ryle became the bishop - his seat was at the Pro Cathedral, St Peter’s. He believed that there were good reasons to build a cathedral and allowed the matter to remain on the Diocesan agenda. The first scheme did not come to fruition. During the last few years of his episcopate Bishop Ryle concentrated on building up Church House to cater for the fast growing need of the Diocese.
On his 80th birthday the Diocese presented the Bishop with and illuminated address recoding ‘its warm appreciation of your Lordship’s personal work, your kindly feeling with and for us in times of sorrow and joy alike, and your active interest in all that makes for the well-being of the community.’ Because of his imposing stature it was sometimes felt that the Bishop appeared aloof but this testimony reflected the feelings of the Diocese after working with him for 20 years.
John Charles Ryle was a family man and loved to pass on his cricketing experience to his grandson. After a serious illness in 1891, his health began to deteriorate. In 1900 he retired to Lowestoft, but his health did not improve and he died on 9th June. The funeral was held at All Saint’s, Childwall, and he was laid to rest in the churchyard. The texts in his gravestone note ’For by grace are ye saved through faith’ and ‘I have fought the good fight , I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.’
His successor Bishop Chavasse described John Charles Ryle as a man who lived so as to be missed.’