Canon George Burgon writes:
CANON Michael Robert Henry Baker, who died on 30 July, aged 73,
spent most of his life, and his entire ministry, in Peterborough
His father, a village policeman in Geddington, near Kettering,
was recalled to the Coldstream Guards in 1941, when Michael was two
years old, and was killed in combat in Italy in 1943. The village
gave Michael the foundations that shaped his life. The Queen
Eleanor Cross, near the medieval church, St Mary Magdalene's, gave
him a sense of history. He was a chorister and server, and his
faith was born through these activities. Village life introduced
him to cricket, Scouting, drama, and music.
Michael was articled and qualified as a civil engineer with
Corby Urban District Council. He met his wife, Margaret, in that
town, and they were married in 1966, after his theological training
in Durham and Lichfield.
He was ordained deacon in September 1966, in Peterborough
Cathedral, and served his title at All Saints', Wellingborough. His
warm openness and wonderful sense of humour brought many members of
the congregation to his priesting the following year, to endorse
the ministry of this remarkable man.
It was in the many challenges that Michael faced when he moved,
in 1969, to become the Priest-in-Charge of the new parish of Christ
the Carpenter, Peterborough, that he began to see the importance of
developing the skills of the laity in ministry. Michael was a
pioneer in the use of pastoral assistants.
When he moved, in 1973, to All Saints', Earls Barton (with the
famous Saxon tower), Michael developed his skills in using props
and accessories to enliven and enlighten sermons and school
assemblies. His children were now on the receiving end of them, and
he could never be accused of boring them or their contemporaries.
Fishing rods and chickens and giant Mr Men are fondly remembered
still, along with a very risky scientific experiment that involved
heating and shrinking an empty petrol can in front of the medieval
One of the most daring props was a bunch of freshly cut stinging
nettles, duly grasped to drive home the necessary truth at the
centre of the Christian stewardship of money, time, and talents.
Michael became County Scout Chaplain, and was awarded the Silver
Acorn for his service to the movement. He was very proud of
When he became Team Rector in the Kingsthorpe Team Ministry in
1987, he had one of the largest parishes in Northampton, with team
vicars and curates to assist, but also to train. His ability to
listen and encourage was part of his graceful way of dealing with
people, especially when the inevitable tensions surfaced with the
ordination of women, a development that he welcomed. At
Kingsthorpe, he completed his Keele MA thesis on the Saxon tower of
Earls Barton, its structure, history, and form - a well-chosen
subject for a qualified civil engineer.
In 1998, Michael moved to the small and delightful town of
Towcester, with its Dickensian connections and links with
horse-racing. He adored the medieval church, St Lawrence's. He
continued to be a loyal and steady son of the diocese, bringing his
wit and common sense to several committees down the years. He was
Rural Dean of Wellingborough from 1975 to 1985, and of Towcester
from 1997 to 2003. He was Hon. Canon of Peterborough Cathedral from
1986 to 2004, and Chaplain to the Blind and Deaf.
Michael enjoyed all forms of sport, but cricket was his first
love. As a young lad, he had achieved his county school cap in
1954, and had ambitions to play for Northants. He became the first
chaplain to Northants County Cricket 50 years later, and was very
knowledgeable about world cricket.
His retirement was a well-earned rest back in Geddington with
Margaret. He loved his garden and his music, and having time for
his friends and his family, especially his grandchildren, whom he
entertained with stories, drawings, and acting the fool. Sadly, his
eldest son, Christopher, predeceased him in 2009; and he never
really got over that. His own health began to deteriorate early in
Michael had no other way of revealing the depth of his
priesthood than being himself. On his coffin were symbols of that
ministry and loving service to his Lord and Saviour. There was his
prayer book, which was with him every day for the offices. There
was his ordination stole, made by Margaret from her wedding dress;
and a chalice and paten. These had been given to Michael by the
neighbouring priest William Norman Campbell Murray, Rector of
Weekly and Warkton (1956-71), and had been used in the trenches
during the First World War. Michael was very proud to use them when
he celebrated in the homes of the sick and elderly.
Margaret and two of his children survive him.