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Bell, George

Bell, George (1883–1958). Bishop of Chichester (1929–58) and leading ecumenist. Born in Hampshire and educated at Christ Church, Oxford, Bell was successively chaplain to Archbishop Davidson (1914), dean of Canterbury (1924), and bishop of Chichester. From 1919 he strove tirelessly for Christian unity and, as chairman of Life and Work (1932), was a leading international protagonist, responsible for founding the World Council of Churches. Present in Berlin at Hitler's accession (1933) and later personally confronting Hess and Ribbentrop, he foretold the evils of Nazism. A confidant of Bonhoeffer, the German dissident pastor—whom he met secretly in wartime Stockholm—and of the anti-Nazi confessing church, he tried in vain to obtain British support for wartime German resistance; he persistently opposed demands for German unconditional surrender and condemned obliteration bombing. With vast ecclesiastical experience, he seemed the obvious choice for Canterbury (1944), but his outspokenness possibly cost the nation and the church the benefit of his primacy. A profoundly pastoral diocesan bishop, he was a lover of English literature. He reintroduced religious drama—the first since the Reformation—to cathedral life, commissioning for Canterbury Masefield's Coming of Christ (1928) with music by Holst, and Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral (1935).

Revd Dr William M. Marshall

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