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THE REVD ROBERT THOMPSON


THE Revd Robert Thompson, who died on 26 September 2004, aged 69, was a parish priest whose influence extended far beyond the boundaries of his parishes.

He was born in the seaport of South Shields, Co. Durham, into a seafaring family, and spent a year with the Missions to Seamen before National Service in the RAF. He went on to train for the ministry at King’s College, London, and St Boniface’s College, Warminster. He was made deacon in 1962, and priest in 1963, serving his title at St Mary’s, Cockerton, in Darlington, until 1965.

During his second curacy, at St Margaret’s, Durham, he was Priest-in-Charge of St John’s, Neville’s Cross, and married Janet, the daughter of Canon Norman Goodacre, in St Wilfrid’s, Harrogate.

For eight years from 1970, he was Vicar of St John’s, Wallsend, a large  Tyneside parish, in which shipbuilding, heavy engineering, and mining were still the main industries. The rest of his parochial ministry, 22 years, was spent as Vicar of Norham on Tweed and Duddo, parishes on the northern extremity of the Church of England.

A faithful and diligent priest, he quietly and effectively preached the Word, celebrated the sacraments, and taught, visited, strengthened and encouraged his people. The spiritual care of the parishioners was his priority throughout his life.

In his years at Norham, he played an influential part in the life of the community, particularly as clerk to the parish council, and in his total involvement in the life of the village school, where he taught, led assemblies, and made a strong contribution as a governor. In every area of his ministry, he was highly respected and well loved.

By nature a thoughtful, studious, and quiet man, who listened carefully before he pronounced, he would nevertheless state his point of view firmly, and was fiercely defensive of the traditional ministry of the parish priest, which he believed to be the essence of the mission of the Church.

While his churchmanship was Prayer Book Catholic, he was sensitive to the witness of the Church in a rapidly changing society, and by no means unsympathetic to the far-reaching changes in liturgy, ministry, and mission throughout the years of his ministry.

But he held the traditional teachings and values of the Church at the heart of his ministry. If, in the course of discussion, a colleague might describe him as conservative, he would point out with justification that the preaching and teaching of those traditional values had effectively underpinned his management of change in the life of his parishes, and had encouraged people to move forward in faith.

In his unassuming manner, he could puncture pomposity, especially in chapter meetings and synods, with a quiet, well-turned phrase and acute sense of humour. He regarded ambition for high office, when it was manifested, with a wry and tolerant amusement.

A gifted musician, he was an enthusiastic member of a string quartet, which gave recitals on both sides of the English-Scottish border; so that he could describe himself as an international artist of no repute. He encouraged concerts of local and national orchestras and artists in Norham Parish Church, as a means of bringing the listener into the presence and beauty of God. Where better than in the House of God?

Gardening, reading and good conversation in the local hostelry completed Robert’s main interests, but complementing his ministry was his love of, and dependence on, his family: his wife Janet, his three daughters, and his grandchildren, at home and in the United States.

In their retirement in Killinghall, North Yorkshire, Robert and his wife Janet found their spiritual home in St Wilfred’s, Harrogate, where they had married, and where Robert continued to exercise an active and valued ministry.

His funeral mass was concelebrated there before a large congregation, and many fellow priests. The attendance at his memorial service later in Norham Church reflected the influence of his ministry in many people’s lives.

Throughout the dioceses of Durham and Newcastle, he is remembered with love. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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