02 November 2006

FOR a paratrooper of the 6th Airborne Division, active in Germany as the Second World War ended, to become a champion of pacifism for half a century, requires a life-changing conversion experience. For Sidney Hinkes, serving his second curacy at Leigh-on-Sea from 1954 to 1958, and looking to become a mission priest in Bulawayo, the decisive moment came in 1956 after a commemorative service for the fallen of Arnhem. His altar server, Ray Jagelmann, rebuked him for failing to pray for the enemy dead.

It led Hinkes to re-examine conditions for a just war, and to realise that the Suez confrontation, then at its height, failed to satisfy those conditions. Hinkes presented his Sunday congregation with an indictment of Britain's military involvement, denouncing it as unjust, and calling for parishioners to help stop the war. Some walked out in mid-sermon.

Hinkes was suspended and summoned before the bishop. The scandal reached the national press, and Hinkes's posting to Rhodesia was cancelled. It was the beginning of a lifetime of commitment to the cause of peace, often embroiled in controversy.

Further study led Hinkes to the conclusion that Christianity was in its very essence a pacifist faith. Pacifism was not a corollary of Christianity: it was part of its definition. Being Christian meant opposing all war and preparation for war.

His pacifism was not negotiable. He was a well-read and formidable opponent in debate. Yet he had a distinctive sense of humour and, with a twinkle in his eye, would joke about equally uncompromising colleagues whose vehemence, he said, "put the 'fist' into 'pacifist'".

He chaired the Southend Anti-H-Bomb Committee, and, while based in Chalvey, Slough, from 1958 to 1966, he carried a cross on Aldermaston marches, and allowed his home to be used for accommodation by hosts of marchers. In 1964, he succeeded Edward Carpenter, Dean of Westminster, in chairing Christian CND, leading processions from London to Canterbury to increase Church opposition to the war in Vietnam.


He was recruited into the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship (APF), a body he loved and inspired, and the platform for his constant challenge of the explicit and implicit militarism of the established Church. From 1975, he became the secretary of the APF, and for 15 years his Oxford home was the Fellowship's headquarters. Alongside Gordon Wilson, the chairman, he helped to initiate the Week of Prayer for World Peace, and was active in the World Congress of Religions for Peace. Over 13 years, Hinkes and Wilson were a formidable campaigning duo, not least at times of Lambeth Conferences.

In 1982, Hinkes initiated regular peace prayers in Christ Church, Oxford, an example to be followed by other cathedrals. He would attend any demonstration, rally, or vigil for peace, from London streets to Molesworth mud, always carrying the distinctive APF cross.

Returning from a pacifist mission to New Zealand, Sidney took the APF chair in 1993. In his retirement, he continued to be active in the Fellowship, representing it on the Network of Christian Peace Organisations (where he knew well Norman Kember of the Baptist Peace Fellowship, still a captive in Iraq), and presenting prizes to schoolchildren-peace-poets not many weeks before his death.

For more than a generation, Hinkes was the clear and unambiguous voice of pacifist Christianity in the Church of England and beyond. His influence was considerable. Lives of more than a few were changed on being impressed by his sincerity and challenged by his arguments.

Sidney recalled first meeting his fellow campaigner Paul Oestreicher, both of them latterly APF Counsellors, at a Porton Down Christian CND demonstration in the mid-1960s. Their mutual commitment could withstand differences. Paul's readiness to countenance soldiers engaged in peacekeeping operations looked to Sidney like an unprincipled sell-out.
 Yet they were one in deploring the way in which their Church, torn apart by secondary questions, kept the life-and-death issue of war and peace at the optional margins. A turbulent priest, so often perceived by ecclesiastical authority as an extremist, Sidney permitted himself a wry smile when he was invited to the top table at a community-relations function, while his bishop was placed with the lesser dignitaries.

Sidney Hinkes, who died on 8 February, aged 81, was born in Dagenham. His theological training was at St Stephen's House, Oxford. At St Mary's, Bayswater, a deprived council-estate parish on the edge of wealthy Oxford, he in his turn helped to train Anglo-Catholic ordinands. His theology was conservatively Catholic in what he regarded as essentials, yet his parochial and pastoral practice was radically open, both to the working-class culture and the ethnic diversity of the people in the areas in which he served.


He was at the forefront of race-relations and community-relations work; strong in his own faith, he was a pioneer of interfaith worship. Having been involved in the Slough International Friendship Council, he became an early co-chairman of the Oxford Community Relations Council, and served on the national executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants.

To Sidney, peacemaking was anything but passive. His priesthood was a total commitment to the non-violent struggle to implement God's just and gentle rule. It was tough and demanding, but never embittered. In all this, his constant support and co-provider of generosity and hospitality was his indefatigable wife, Elsie, whom he married in 1945. She survives him, as do their five children, and three long-term foster children. The village church of Crudwell was crowded for his requiem.

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