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.