The Venerable Richard Ninis was a long-serving archdeacon whose zeal for parish reorganisation earned him the nickname ‘Dick the Knife’
Richard Ninis: the potential unpopularity of his parish reforms was mitigated by the buffet suppers hosted by his wife, dubbed ‘Jane the Fork’
The Venerable Richard Ninis, who has died aged 82, was Archdeacon of Lichfield from 1979 to 1998, having previously been Archdeacon of Stafford, also in the Lichfield diocese. Happy to be described as “a fixer, a mover and a shaker”, at the time of his retirement he was the longest-serving archdeacon in the modern Church of England.
His appointment as an archdeacon came at a time when a serious shortage of clerical manpower and money was demanding radical pastoral reorganisation throughout the Church. He had already had experience of, and developed an enthusiasm for, the creation of team ministries.
There was ample scope for this in the sizeable Lichfield diocese, embracing largely rural Shropshire and industrial Staffordshire. Ninis set to work with an enthusiasm fuelled by a vision of a reformed and renewed church life.
Successive diocesan bishops were more than ready to let him carry the burden of anger and distress often aroused in parishes about to lose their resident priest, and before long he was referred to as “Dick the knife”. Later it was mischievously suggested that, on seeing the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral, he had recommended the merging of the front two and the redundancy of the third.
Potential unpopularity was, however, often mitigated by face-to-face contact with a kind personality who cared deeply for the clergy and their parishes and worked long hours to produce the facts and figures on which responsible decisions might be made. Generous buffet suppers hosted by his wife (dubbed “Jane the fork”) at his home in the Close at Lichfield also helped.
Invariably Ninis was able to demonstrate that reorganisation was the only constructive way forward. Although not every scheme proved successful, his efforts over so many years played a large part in securing the survival of the parochial system in Lichfield diocese.
Richard Betts Ninis, the son of a Somerset farmer, was born on October 25 1931. While reading Agriculture at Lincoln College, Oxford, he felt drawn to Holy Orders, and after graduating he prepared for ordination at Lincoln Theological College. The curacy at All Saints, Poplar, which followed (1955-62) proved to be highly influential. The already large East End parish was extended further and some of its many curates, including Ninis, were designated team vicars with responsibility for particular areas.
When the rector of Poplar, Mark Hodson, moved to become bishop of Hereford in 1961, he invited Ninis to follow him as vicar of St Mark’s church, Hereford, with responsibility also, from 1966, for the neighbouring rural parishes of Upper and Lower Bullinghope, Grafton, Dewsall and Callow.
Thus experienced in the leadership of a multiple-parish benefice, Ninis was appointed diocesan missioner in 1971 and made a prebendary of Hereford Cathedral. An important new responsibility was that of planning officer for the Church’s ministry in the growing new town of Telford, straddling the diocesan boundaries of Hereford and Lichfield. A team ministry, rather than several separate parishes, was prescribed.
Greatly impressed, three years later the Bishop of Lichfield invited Ninis to become Archdeacon of Stafford – a title changed to that of Archdeacon of Lichfield following a reorganisation of diocesan structures in 1979. As canon treasurer, Ninis was by tradition responsible only for the cathedral’s treasures, not for its finances. But he was never going to be constrained or seek the protection of this tradition, and the arrival of a new dean, John Lang, charged with the task of overhauling the cathedral’s creaking administration, led to a fruitful partnership.
Later Ninis was responsible for the creation of an attractive bookshop at the west end of the cathedral; the introduction of a preparatory department in the cathedral school; and the raising of a significant part of a £4 million appeal for the cathedral’s music. His sermons, it was noted, rarely lacked reference to the stewardship of money.
From 1978 to 1990 he was also chairman of the council of the Derbyshire College of Higher Education, playing a part in its development to become the University of Derby, of which he was vice-chairman from 1992 to 1998 .
Richard Ninis retired to his native Somerset in 1998. He is survived by his wife, Jane, whom he married in 1967, and three children.
The Venerable Richard Ninis, born October 25 1931, died October 15 2014
© Telegraph 24 November 2014