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19 October 2012

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 diocese.

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 rood screen.

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 that.

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 2012.

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.

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