THE DEATH, on 10 August, of Herbert Thomas, known as Fr Jack to all his
friends, marked the close of a remarkably long and faithful West Country
ministry. The diocese of Bath & Wells, where he served all his 63 years of
ministry, has lost one of its most senior and loyal priests. He was 92.
Before ordination, Fr Jack was in the printing trade, and would recall that
he was a compositor of William Temple's Christianity and Social Order.
He had, however, discovered his vocation to the priesthood, and studied
theology at King's College, London, in wartime (evacuated to Bristol). Grateful
for the tuition he received, and for the preparation for the priesthood that
the college provided, he always valued being an Associate of King's College.
After several curacies, Fr Jack was asked, in 1948, to oversee the
development of the Conventional District of St Barnabas, Southdown, on the
outskirts of Bath. The time he spent there he counted as the happiest and most
fruitful years of his whole ministry.
Under his leadership, the church at Southdown became a strong and thriving
worshipping community, with the parish communion at the centre of Sunday
worship. He equipped the district with a fine modern church and hall within an
imaginative complex; and this is his enduring legacy. By 1958, the district
achieved full parish status, and he became its first incumbent.
Further incumbencies followed, at St John's, Bridgwater, and at Compton
Martin. In 1979, he retired - a word not really in his vocabulary. He
interpreted retirement as performing as many priestly duties as he could. The
parish of Christ Church, Frome, welcomed him gladly, and for the next 25 years,
until within a few weeks of his death, he enjoyed acting as Hon. Assistant
Curate to successive vicars.
He was a priest of the old school, with sound Tractarian principles and
ideals of priesthood. He valued highly the discipline of the daily offices and
the centrality of the eucharist in his life; and, as a keen student of liturgy
(according to the English Use), he never failed to enhance the quality of
worship in the parishes he served. Devoid of ambition, he never sought any
higher recognition than that of being a parish priest.
All who knew him admired his kindness, his judgement, and his prodigious
memory of the history of his home diocese. They gratefully remember him as a
priest who walked humbly with God. Large congregations came to the requiem mass
at Frome, and to the funeral service at Southdown, to celebrate his life and
pray that he may rest in peace.