The Very Revd John Methuen writes:
THE Revd Kenneth Wright, who died on 28 December, aged 93, had the fullest possible life, fuller than even the long list of bare facts in his Crockford entry would suggest.
When I preached at his golden jubilee in 1990, I referring to my first and only incumbent as an “evergreen human dynamo”. In view of his ceaseless activity for his Lord, I wonder how he ever found the time to run a parish, and sometimes a deanery, as well.
But, of course, that is the whole point: Kenneth (or Edward as his wife George used to call him — but then her real name was Christabel) was first and foremost a parish priest for 29 years in Buckinghamshire. What was of significance to him were the relationships described between God and his people, between the members of the People of God, and between God’s people and the society in which they live — a full incarnational faith.
There must have been times when Kenneth reflected on how much the Church had changed. When he was ordained priest in 1940, the 1928 Prayer Book was almost as new as Common Worship is now. That was the era of the great Anglo-Catholic Congresses. He would remember maniples, triple candles, folded chasubles, birettas, the Easter vigil on Saturday morning, the dangers of evening masses, the Church Assembly and the ruridecanal conference, the abdication of the King, the three hours’ devotion, and the two minutes’ silence, when the whole country stopped.
But then again, nothing has changed at all: Kenneth proclaimed the eternal gospel of freedom and salvation, still spoke out about oppression and exploitation, about lifestyles that endanger spiritual values, about moral laws, and the family unit. He still administered the sacraments, still called people to the honour of God and the way of holiness, and reminded us that the earth is the Lord’s and we are only strangers and guests.
In the face of such substantial truths, Kenneth regarded changes of form as to be embraced rather than resisted. For 66 years, he was a servant, prophet, and priest, and faithfully did his duty and fulfilled his charge. At his farewell in St Martin’s Church Hall, Fenny Stratford, I described him as “quite simply the greatest priest I have ever known”. I wondered then, as I wonder now, what that meant to Kenneth. He would probably have replied: “When we have done all, we are unprofitable servants.”
When I went to Fenny Stratford to be his curate, it was disquieting to discover that my ideas were so unoriginal. Kenneth was always full of really new and exciting ideas, accompanied by an infectious enthusiasm and dynamic freshness.
On the other hand, he was full of endearing human foibles. On one occasion, in the procession, after the choir’s collapse during the introit chant, he cried: “Stop! How dare you start the Lord’s service in that way? Start again!” The procession was bundled back into the vestry in order to retrace its steps.
His spontaneity revealed itself when he vacated the presidential chair in order to leap on to the front row and conduct the congregation’s rather lacklustre hymn singing, or commented (not always discreetly) about the sentiments expressed by a visiting missionary-society preacher.
Although he was liturgically very “correct”, his sense of fun and humour often left me helpless with laughter, sometimes in inappropriate situations. He enjoyed a productive pub ministry in which I was encouraged to join, and he loved parties. My wife and I were frequently invited to Sunday lunch, carefully avoiding the pile of used socks left under his bedroom window because George wouldn’t let them in the house.
Very occasionally, he could be a little abrasive, usually around Christmas and Easter, but this seldom lasted for more than a 30-second spat followed (eventually) by “Well, that’s all right then,” which drew a line under the incident.
George predeceased Kenneth in 2001; he is survived by three sons, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.