Howard Mowll (1890 – 1958) Anglican Archbishop of Sydney
Howard Mowll was in every sense a big man, with a big voice, and a big heart. He had a commanding presence and was never afraid to accept the burden of responsibility. His skill in man management and decision-making grew with experience. He was always fertile in new plans and ideas, and he had the gift of knowing how to translate them into practice.
In 1933 Bishop Howard Mowll was elected Archbishop of Sydney in succession to John Charles Wright. He arrived in Sydney in March 1934; 25 years of extraordinary growth and activity in church affairs were to follow. He had enormous energy, a phenomenal memory, and an amazing grasp of detail. He made good use of his height of six feet four inches (193cm).
There were three well-defined chapters in his episcopate; the first covered the five years prior to the outbreak of war in 1939. He was at work from early morning until midnight, bringing fresh initiative and imagination to bear on all aspects of his diocese and its needs. He swept through the diocese like a whirlwind; the pace left his clergy breathless. He set out to visit every parish and every corner of the diocese to see with his own eyes all that went on. The whole diocese soon throbbed with activity, but there were certain areas which he viewed with special concern. These were the China Missionary Society, the Moore Theological College and the Home Mission Society. Howard Mowll set out to reinvigorate all three bodies, they were soon to expand and flourish through the stimulus of his leadership.
The second phase in his episcopate covered the years 1939 to 1947. All Mowll’s latent strength was called forth with the outbreak of war. Plans were set afoot at once and on the widest scale to provide for the spiritual, moral and social welfare of men and women in uniform. The Church of England National Emergency Fund (CENEF) and the Sydney Diocesan Churchwomen’s Association came into being. Huts for rest and recreation in the cathedral grounds and in army camps, hostels to provide overnight accommodation for men and women on leave, mobile canteens to serve others on duty, special equipment for chaplains in the armed services, and a host of voluntary workers: these were all part of the evergrowing activities of both bodies under the vigorous leadership of Abp and Mrs Mowll. CENEF was to maintain its great community service after the war through the CENEF Memorial Centre in the heart of Sydney, and in 1949 it was the umbrella organisation under which the large country property, Gilbulla, was acquired as a diocesan conference centre. Meanwhile in spite of the many clergy who were released to serve as chaplains and the falling numbers of men in training for ordination, Mowll continued his drive to strengthen the parochial and spiritual life of the diocese, demonstrated in his major effort to secure church buildings which would serve outlying districts. The war years had established his position as a great diocesan bishop.
The third and last phase covered the years 1947 to 1958. In November 1947 he became Primate of the Church of England in Australia. This broadened his field of action as he strove to make this office as effective as possible. He led the Australian bishops at the Lambeth Conference and was present in Amsterdam for the formation of the World Council of Churches in 1948. He arranged for the visit of the Abp of Canterbury in 1950 and of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of America in 1955. He launched the South East Asia Appeal through the ABM and the CMS in 1953. He travelled throughout Australia to visit and encourage every diocese. He led a small delegation to the church in China in 1956 and strove to make Australians aware of the needs and problems of Christians in that country. He helped to guide the long-drawn-out efforts to achieve an acceptable constitution for the Church of England in Australia (which later became the Anglican Church of Australia) and he rejoiced when his own diocesan synod gave its formal consent in 1957. The death of Mrs Mowll in December that year was the prelude to the break-down of his own health, and he died a year later.
Abp Mowll was in every sense a big man, with a big voice, and a big heart. He had a commanding presence and was never afraid to accept the burden of responsibility. His skill in man management and decision-making grew with experience. He was always fertile in new plans and ideas, and he had the gift of knowing how to translate them into practice. He was totally committed as an evangelical in faith and churchmanship, but his gift for friendship and his hospitable spirit allowed him to cultivate cordial relations with those whose school of thought was quite unlike his own. His creative leadership brought a tremendous stimulus to all kinds of work and all sorts of people. He grew in stature throughout the years: he was appointed CMG in 1954. He owed an incalculable debt to Mrs Mowll who shared all his burdens and provided the incentive for many of his projects. He was always catching sight of new and far-away horizons, and still had a forward look at an age when many are quite content to let things take their course. His death marked the end of an era, but he had left an after-glow in whose light others were long to walk.
Howard Mowll headed up the interdenominational efforts that brought Billy Graham to Australia in 1959, the year after he died.
Billy Graham noted that he had, “never visited any city in the world where … the influence and spirit of one man was so evident as Archbishop Mowll in Sydney”.
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