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02 November 2006

THE Revd Eric Buchanan, who died on 4 March, aged 74, was one of three ordinands from the same form in Rotherham Grammar School, who all ended up serving together as Canons of Peterborough Cathedral - a unique achievement, and a credit to their alma mater.

Valuing the Catholic tradition, he was trained at Mirfield, and gained his degree at Leeds, where he was a keen cross-country runner and captained the English Universities team. He served his assistant curacy at St Mark's, Coventry, under the energetic Eric Buchan (later to be Archdeacon of Coventry); throughout his ministry he always acknowledged his debt to his first vicar and mentor.

He next had a fruitful five years in the chaplaincy team at London University, where he encouraged vocations and showed a sensitive understanding of students' needs.

He was brought to Peterborough diocese in 1964 by the Bishop, Cyril Eastaugh, who, as Bishop of Kensington, had known him before being translated. The 15 years Eric spent as Vicar of Duston were a time of growth in church life, and several curates were trained. (He was made a non-residentiary Canon in 1977, and served as Rural Dean for his last four years in the parish.)

He saw to the building of the daughter church of St Francis, and later he was involved in the establishment of a new community centre. He loved music, and had a full choir. The church was very much alive socially, with house groups and activities for young families; but the retreats that he started for the congregation were perhaps the most important sign of growth. One parishioner from that time said: "He always made people part of his ministry, encouraging us to do things we never thought we could." The eucharist and the daily office sustained his spiritual life, and were at the heart of all that he did.

It was towards the end of this period, in January 1977, that his first wife died. She had been alongside him in all that he did, from his early days in ministry, and it is good that she is commemorated with a fine figure of the Madonna and Child in St Luke's.

After Duston, Eric was called to serve in two other large parishes in the diocese: All Hallows', Wellingborough, and Higham Ferrers.

At All Hallows', his former churchwardens remember him as a forthright Yorkshireman with strong principles. Strongly supported by Julie, his second wife, he modernised All Hallows' without losing any of the traditional values. Always positive, he responded to the many challenges of a modern parish, despite the distraction of a necessary restoration appeal, which raised more than £250,000.

Backed by the PCC, changes in church life at All Hallows' were soon in evidence, including the introduction of female servers, choristers, and sidespersons. The conducting of retreats continued to be a feature of his ministry, and deepened the spiritual life of many.

The parish of All Hallows' spreads in a triangle northwards from the town centre. New estates were built, and required pastoral care. Eric addressed the problem by finding a supplementary place of worship at Gleneagles, meeting at Redwell School. Thus the more traditional Anglican services at the "Church in the Town Centre" were complemented by the modern style of worship more popular with young families at Gleneagles.

Eric never lost his initial vision of bringing together all the Anglicans in the town, and he was the driving force behind the Church Contact Scheme and the Wellingborough Anglican Group Council. The Group Council was a way of enabling the individual strengths of each of the six parishes to serve the wider needs of the whole town.

Today, there are still fond memories of a happy parish, where young people were encouraged to take part in all aspects of its life: the successes of Sunday school, youth club, and youth services speak for themselves. Several people in their early 20s living in the town today remember with affection their first steps into All Hallows' as members of the Tiny Tots group, which Eric led in his early days there. One song he taught them had the chorus "Be happy, be happy today." The words epitomise his philosophy.

In 1979, Eric was held in such high regard by his fellow priests that he was elected as vice-president of the diocesan synod, and chairman of its House of Clergy. He served for 12 years in all. When Douglas Feaver retired as Bishop, Eric wrote the main article in Cross Keys, the diocesan magazine. His description of the bishop could also be applied to him: "He has been his own man. . . He has done and said what he judged to be right. . . He challenged our cosy religious preconceptions."

Eric received proper recognition in 1992 when he was chosen to be one of the Queen's Chaplains. He greatly appreciated the honour of being part of the royal household.

At Higham Ferrers, his gifts of leading worship, writing, and preaching came to the fore. He never preached a bad sermon. He understood the human condition, and frequently spoke of the centrality of the incarnation, and how God meets our every need in the person of Jesus. He enjoyed taking groups on pilgrimages to explore our Christian heritage.

In his years of retirement, he ministered in several of the village churches, but he had a particular affinity with the parish of Hargrave, where his body is buried.

He leaves his widow, five children, and five grandchildren.

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