BBC radio programme on Bishop George Bell

BBC Radio 4 has broadcast a programme in its “Great Lives” series about Bishop George Bell (1883-1958). In it, the journalist Peter Hitchens presented a compelling portrait of Bell’s courage in opposing the bombing of German civilians during World War II, a position that almost certainly cost him further advancement.

Bell is best known as Bishop of Chichester in the Church of England, which office he held from 1929 until his death. However, he was also Primate of two semi-secret communions: the Order of Corporate Reunion, between 1933 and his death, and the Evangelical Catholic Communion, between 1940 and 1944. In the former organization, Bell had close links with German church leaders who opposed Nazism, particularly Bishop Friedrich Heiler, who was originally intended to succeed as OCR Primate in 1933 but could not take up the position because of the political situation of the time. Heiler eventually became OCR Primate on Bell’s death in 1958.

During the 1950s, an additional branch of the OCR operated within the Church of England using the name Order of St Michael the Archangel. On the Feast of St Benedict, 1953, in Edinburgh, Bell was consecrated bishop for this Order by two of its prelates. On St Michael’s Day, 1954, Bell ordained the Revd. John Ross priest and appointed him Prior of the Edinburgh Priory of the Order. Ross subsequently became an Episcopalian clergyman.

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