Melanie Barber MBE (1943-2012)

In November I was privileged to be among the many family, friends and former colleagues who gathered at Lambeth Palace to remember Melanie Barber, former Deputy Librarian and Archivist of Lambeth Palace Library, who passed away in June. Melanie was on the staff of the Library for more than thirty years, retiring in 2002.

Until the service, I had not quite registered that Melanie must just have retired when she and I first met, in the reading room at Lambeth. I was making my first trip to the Library, whilst in the midst of what was to become a permanent migration in academic interest from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. It was the papers of George Bell I had come to see, and Melanie, having prepared the catalogue, took time and some obvious pleasure in pointing me towards the volumes on Bell’s artistic patronage. I often saw Melanie at Lambeth over the following years, and it was she who took me aside to look at an exchange of letters between William Temple and Dorothy L. Sayers, in which Temple offered Sayers the honorary Lambeth degree of Doctor of Divinity. Melanie had an abiding interest in the history of the Lambeth degrees, one of which she herself received, and she left behind the seeds of a fascinating study of the subject which it would be splendid to see someone nurture. My interest in the letters was piqued by the light they shed on the relationship between the church and the arts; and the resulting edition now forms part of the Church of England Record Society miscellany volume to which Melanie gave form and direction, even if it fell to Stephen Taylor and Gabriel Sewell to complete it in her last years of illness.

Melanie was also one of the leading lights and a Trustee of the George Bell Institute, of which in more recent years I myself have become a Fellow. At Melanie’s funeral earlier in the year I learned of her longstanding voluntary efforts in fostering the work of young scholars of Quakerism. These two things together, added to her own published historical work, point up that which I shall most remember Melanie for: a modelling of an important but neglected interconnection of faith, life and scholarship. Remembering Melanie, it is difficult if not impossible to see where the lines might be drawn that separated employment and vocation; service to others and a life lived towards God; the pursuit of truth for its own sake and the meaning of that pursuit in the created order. I can’t claim to have known her well, but her example was and will continue to be an inspiration. She will be sorely missed.

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