02 November 2006

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.

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