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08 February 2007

The Ven. Bob Metcalf writes:
ERIC JENKINS, an unassuming Welshman, did not want all the publicity that surrounded his ordination in 1962. It embarrassed him. The media made a big issue out of his giving up a good lucrative career to “go into the Church”. Eric had been in the Church all his life, but not ordained.

His first-class honours degree in chemistry at Aberystwyth had launched him into a career at the Harwell Atomic Research Establishment near Abingdon, where he became the Principal Scientific Officer in Radioactive Chemistry, with the immediate possibility of moving to India.

In Harwell, Eric and his wife Pru, always faithfully alongside him, worked tirelessly in the church, and were instrumental in planting a church by converting the old Abingdon Abbey tithe barn. This was not the story that hit the media.

While working as a scientist, Eric had been invited to deliver the Christmas Lecture of the Royal Institution. While waiting to speak, he sat in the room that Faraday, who had founded the Lectures, had used. On the wall was a picture of the great scientist, who had been well-known as a Christian in the 19th century. In this room, Eric felt that God was speaking to him about his own calling as a scientist and a Christian.

There followed an ACCM selection conference, where a selector, the late Robert Martineau, earmarked him as a curate at All Hallows’, Allerton, Liverpool. (Advisers are strongly discouraged from doing this today.) Exchanging his “atomic house” for a council flat, he trained at Wycliffe Hall. The media then got the story, but all Eric wanted to do was to serve the Lord, not hit the headlines.

As he and I talked on the retreat before being ordained priest, Eric again displayed his natural humility. He felt that, with his Welsh accent and apparent lack of theological understanding, he was not meeting the needs of the “intellectual suburbia” of Allerton. I had the temerity to suggest that he might share this thought with Bishop Clifford Martin. He returned from the interview a relieved man. He had been warmly told: “God has called you to be yourself, to serve him where you are.” Indeed, when he retired, he and Pru returned to Allerton to assist for as long as he was able — humble, loved, and ministering effectively.

Another example of his humility was shown after a move from his first incumbency at Hale and Halebank to St Stephen’s, Hightown, near Formby. He confided in me once again: why, he asked, should Stuart Blanch, Bishop of Liverpool at that time, invite him to be his adviser on scientific matters? The Bishop reminded him of the gifts he had brought with him into the ordained ministry.

The reason was made very clear when, in 1986, he wrote an erudite theological paper for the diocese, reflecting on the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and its possible consequences; and, after all, he was a founder-member of the Society of Ordained Scientists.

While in Hightown, he cut across the diocesan parsonages committee, as he asked for a larger garden so that, as a green-fingered gardener, he would be able to study the wonders of the natural world.

As the end of his physical life drew near, Eric, like Faraday, moved into residential accommodation, where his wife Pru had died before him. He was no longer able to use the great gifts he had, other than to be as gentle to the staff as he was in pastoral care.

This priest, an example to both lay and ordained, an Hon. Canon of Liverpool Cathedral, died on 28 November, aged 83, leaving two daughters, Barbara and Susan, a son, Peter, and their families. He truly “walked humbly with his God”.

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