Friday, 28 January 2011

Lead, Kindly Light

Prof Walter James CBE
The Obituary page in the Church Times gave me a moment to pause and reflect on my own journey to this place - to the greatest job on Earth, the priesthood (or just ministry in the Church). This week saw the life and contribution of Prof. Walter James remembered. Walter retired to the town where for the most part I grew up, and emerged as a member of our church community during my mid-teens. A goliath of a man with the finest array of teeth you have ever seen, towering over all of us yet thinner than a straw - Walter made it his business to come and talk to our youth group shortly after he started coming to our church. He talked simply and effectively about church life - a talk unremarkable in its Titling, but just one of the nudges that brings me to this screen now as priest. A truly great man, much mourned in Eastbourne

The Rt Revd Dr Mark Green MC
A couple of years earlier, another Church Times obituary was featured, for another wise and wonderful old man, Bishop Mark Green. I met Bp Mark at a Young Church Union event when I was eleven, and he was among the key influences upon my faith journey (he too 'retired' to my parish in Eastbourne - though he started a another 'curacy' in his seventies). He knew of my calling all of the time that I knew him, and was a ready presence of encouragement well into my theological training when age caught him up one night after Evensong. A genuine decorated war hero who never ever told his story willingly, Mark was one whom I could call a friend, an early spiritual director, the man who married Jo and I and as gentle a human as you could care to meet.

These men, to me, are way markers to my obeying God's call on my own life, and for me that is enough. However, they are remarkable for yet another reason that they largely hold in common. Walter James was one of the founders of the Open University, and Bp Mark the Aston Scheme for theological education (Mark was Bishop of Aston). Both these enterprises took heed of the fact that traditional institutions did little for people from my background and family wealth. They saw that people needed education in new and creative ways, and were pioneers in this. Walter identified that some people wanted to read for a degree without the classical A Level background, and Bp Mark identified that people were called to priesthood without possessing higher education backgrounds. Courageous moves like these are reasons why I am in Holy Orders, and those from a background like mine, as I lack the classical education of many in my field. 

To both these men - Walter a man with whom I shared much warmth as I grew up, and Bp Mark whom I loved dearly, I pay my tribute of thanks. Without them, I am not sure what I would be doing right now, but it wouldn't be this. This is surely an account of how affective it can be if we all took an interest in the kids in our churches. They took an interest in me and my friends, and I shall never forget that for the rest of my own life. 

(Bp Mark, an author himself, encouraged me to take up writing on a number of occasions - so blame him for me blogging)


  1. The Churchwarden29 January 2011 at 18:15

    Thank you for your kind tribute to two of our stars of recent years.

    We said goodbye to Walter in a lovely service on Thursday. He had been unable to make it to Church for perhaps a month before his death, but he continued to lead his Home Group to the end of their Advent Course. A thing like anticipated imminent death was not going to stop Walter James from finishing his current projects.

    If I may quote from the sermon, "Walter was, to his very core, a Don. After years of ill health, when the doctors told him that they had run out of cures, he did just what any good Don would do, he emailed for a copy of the Funeral Service, located relevant reference works and set about his homework writing his funeral service."

    He will be remembered, though, as a nice man, albeit one with a brain the size of a planet, who illuminated the countless things he involved himself in.

    May he rest in peace.

  2. David, they both sound like amazing people. The Church of England has so many sweet, gentle people among her clergy; that's part of what makes her so amazing!

  3. Thanks for the kind words about Walter. All the best, the James family. For anybody who is interested in Walter's life and work, we've put together a site with links to obits etc.



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