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CANON DONALD FRANK STRUDWICK

WHEN the Revd Donald Strudwick was congratulated on being made an Hon. Canon of Southwark Cathedral, he remarked with typical mischief: "About bloody time! If they'd waited any longer, I'd have been dead."

He had been ordained for 38 years, and had been Vicar of St Clement's, East Dulwich, for 24 of those. Of course, he did not really regard his canonry as a long-service medal. Others certainly saw in it the recognition of his exercise of a type of ministry, devout, prayerful, and eucharistically centred, that is less frequently found today.

Donald went to the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, in 1933. Before his 36 years at St Clement's, he served as a priest in Wandsworth, Plumstead, and Camberwell. He also served as a rural dean, and a conscientious chaplain at East Dulwich Hospital. At other times, he delighted in his work as a volunteer fireman, tearing along the wrong side of roads at the helm of a Green Goddess. He rejoiced in boats.

If St Paul's Cathedral is Wren's memorial, St Clement's is Donald's: he oversaw the planning and construction of the new church that was built to replace the one damaged by bombs in the Second World War. But with its blend of worship - always enriched by a generous provision of ceremonial - clubs, and social activities, St Clement's was not just bricks and mortar, but a true church community, buzzing with life and purpose.

Donald, often with his cassock tucked up into his belt, took an energetic lead in everything. The Garden of Remembrance in the churchyard at St Clement' s, where his ashes will be buried, is itself the result of a working party he formed to dig up the remains of the old church, so that the new one should have a decent burial ground. He infused all his physical and spiritual efforts among his people with encouragement and forbearance.

Donald was a priest during a time of great change and uncertainty in the Church of England, when both church doctrine and the parish priest's ministry were questioned and even ridiculed. Despite this, and sometimes because of it, Don-ald took his role as a teacher and theologian seriously. In the pulpit, the parish magazine, discussion groups, and open parish meetings, he encouraged others to think about their faith creatively and critically.

He was also prepared to be outspoken and unpopular - with the laity, and even with the Bishop, especially when he was elected to represent the clergy in Convocation. But he highlighted both the challenges and the joys of the Christian faith. The Church would be weaker without prophetic priests and lay people who are prepared to be square pegs in round holes.

Donald's wife, Nora, was good at helping him to keep his feet firmly on the ground, as well as at supporting and encouraging him. And he was not afraid to show his humanity. Amid all the hand-soiling work of parish life in a large city, he enjoyed a drink and a smoke: his pipe rarely seemed to leave his mouth. He was rarely out of a cassock, but was never parsonical or remote.

Preaching on his retirement in 1985, Donald expressed the hope that in his long ministry he had been able to share with people "something of the mystery of God". Under his leadership, worship, with its vestments, ceremonial, and music, was conducted with an unaffected and unprissy reverence. It showed that the mingling of the ordinary and the divine is both special and, to the Christian, the most natural thing in the world.

At a time when many clergy were abandoning public morning and evening prayer and a daily eucharist, Donald maintained these disciplines. By his example, he encouraged those around him to persevere in the pursuit of the mystery of God revealed in Jesus.

After retirement, Donald and Nora moved to Kent, where he could be near boats and cricket. Soon after her death, when it was obvious that he was finding the going tough, he moved to Pencelli, near Brecon, where a former parishioner cared for him. He made Brecon Cathedral his spiritual home, only opting out in favour of St Mary's, Abergavenny, on the third Sunday of the month, so as to avoid choral matins.

At Brecon, the congregation took to their hearts this apparently grumpy old man, and soon found that the more mercilessly they teased him, the more he loved it. His attention to the daily office, the eucharist, and the commemoration of the saints rarely faltered, though he never missed a chance to complain about revised lectionaries that changed the dates of certain days such as those of St Matthias and St Thomas.

It was in Brecon Cathedral that, on his 90th birthday, Donald celebrated the eucharist for the last time, and there that vespers of the dead received his body, and a solemn requiem proclaimed the resurrection and hope for his soul.

We celebrate the life and ministry of an energetic preacher and a man of faith and action.

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Sat 25 Oct 14 @ 10:55
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