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George Kennedy Allen Bell

1883-1958. Prominent ecumenist and Anglican bishop. Ordained in 1907, he became an Oxford don in 1910 and chaplain to Archbishop R.T. Davidson* in 1914. He was at Lambeth during World War I and the reconstruction afterward. In particular he was involved in the early stages of the ecumenical movement and in the 1920 Lambeth Conference.* He was later Davidson's biographer. In 1924 he became dean of Canterbury, and in 1929 bishop of Chichester, where he remained until his retirement only a few months before his death. He was secretary of the 1930 Lambeth Conference and a member of the 1948 and 1958 conferences.

His ecumenical concerns date from his time at Lambeth. He was present at the Oud Wassenaar Conference in Holland in 1919, at which Christians from European and other nations involved in the war consulted about peace and reconciliation. This led by several steps to the Life and Work movement which was inaugurated by the Stockholm Conference* of 1925. Bell was one of those who drafted the conference message. In 1932 he became a president of the movement and chairman of its council, and despite his own concern for peace and disarmament thus became involved in the movement's confrontation with Nazi anti-Semitism and with the “German- Christians.”* In the course of this he became deeply sympathetic with Martin Niemöller* and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.* After 1939 his understanding of the anti-Hitlerite elements in the German nation made him advocate a more open approach to concluding the war than was possible with the policy of “unconditional surrender,” and also to deplore the saturation bombing of German cities in his speeches in the House of Lords. In these he stood alone. He even met Bonhoeffer in Sweden in 1942 to discuss the possibilities of ending the war from within Germany, and he incurred the strong hostility of Churchill. Rumor has credited the latter with blocking Bell's appointment to Canterbury when Temple died in 1944, but it was by no means probable that he would have been appointed in any case.

Bell's continuing ecumenical work helped to lead Life and Work on from the Oxford Conference of 1937 to the World Council of Churches, which was constituted in Amsterdam in 1948. His interest remained in the church and international order. At Evanston in 1954 he was elected an honorary president of the WCC.

His main publications are the four series of Documents on Christian Unity (1924, 1930, 1948, 1958); Randall Davidson (1935); Christianity and World Order (1940); Christian Unity: The Anglican Position (1948); and The Kingship of Christ (1954). His own life is the subject of the definitive biography George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, by R.C.D. Jasper (1967).