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30 August 2013

Canon Hugh Beavan writes:

CANON Stuart Holden, who died on 11 February, aged 89, was a priest who always set the pattern of the Good Shepherd before him. Like Chaucer's poor priest, "Christ's lore and the apostles twelve He taught, but first he followed it himself."

Stuart's gracious personality, his quiet patience, infinite courtesy, and great humility, meant that he always seemed to have time for people. He was a natural pastor and "people person", and his ministry embodied the incarnational model of ministry that characterises the Church of England at its best.

As Vicar for 27 years of the large village parish of Earls Colne, he epitomised the traditional rural incumbent who was genuinely the persona: known to everyone in his parish, and totally involved in every aspect of its life.

Stuart was born in Streatham in 1923, an only child whose burning ambition was to become a London bus conductor. He was educated at Kingswood School, Bath (evacuated to Uppingham during the Second World War). After leaving school at the start of the war, he worked for a wholesale clothing manufacturer near St Paul's Cathedral, where his duties included checking clothing coupons and firewatching.

Called up in 1940, he served in the Royal Signals, in a special wireless unit. During the D-Day landings, his unit was attached to the US army, and landed on Omaha Beach. He travelled with his unit through Paris and Brussels to Minden in Germany.

After his parents' home in Streatham was bombed, they moved to Purley, and made friends with their new neighbours, whose daughter Jean would one day be his wife. Having long felt a strong sense of being called to ordination, Stuart was accepted to train for the sacred ministry at the London College of Divinity, then at Lingfield in Surrey. For four years he came under the great influence of the Principal, Dr Donald Coggan. (Stuart and Jean were married by him in 1953.)

Stuart's whole ministry was spent in the diocese of Chelmsford, beginning with a curacy at St Margaret's, Barking, under the incumbency of Frank Chadwick, later Bishop of Barking. Unusually for those days, he did not serve a second curacy, but moved in 1954 to Colchester, to be Curate-in-Charge (later Vicar) of St Margaret's, Berechurch, which covered the large post-war Monkwick estate.

This was a real pioneering ministry, as there was, initially, no church, church hall, or vicarage. Stuart and Jean and their three children, Michael, Christopher, and Angela, lived alongside their neighbours in a small council house. In seven years there, they worked hard to build a sense of community, and saw the completion of a new dual-purpose church hall, and a vicarage.

In 1961, there came a move to a very different sort of parish: the large village of Earls Colne, where Stuart was to be vicar for 27 years; White Colne was added in 1966.

Stuart threw himself with great energy into his new parish, and involved himself in every aspect of parish life: as chairman of the parish council, governor of two schools, group Scout leader, chaplain to the Air Training Corps, and town crier. Always an assiduous visitor, he conscientiously fulfilled his ordination commission to be "a faithful dispenser of the Word of God and of his holy sacraments".

On top of this very active and energetic parochial ministry, Stuart served the diocese for 30 years as secretary of the Essex Clergy Charity. His excellent administrative skills, and sensitive and sympathetic understanding of the needs of clergy and their families, made him the ideal person for this task, which must have involved long hours dealing with requests for help, keeping minutes, and drawing up reports for meetings. This very important but hidden ministry to his fellow clergy was recognised in 1980, when Stuart was made an Hon. Canon of Chelmsford Cathedral.

In retirement in Colchester, Stuart was actively involved in the life of his local parish church, St Leonard's, Lexden: officiating and preaching at services, involved in pastoral work, and helping in two vacancies. Until about six months before his death, he was a familiar sight, riding his bike around the parish. In the wider community, he served for five years as voluntary part-time chaplain of St Helena Hospice, and was chairman of the local branch of Cruse bereavement care for 12 years.

Throughout his long and energetic ministry, Stuart was wonderfully supported, helped, and encouraged by Jean. His family meant everything to him, and his great love for his children overflowed into love for their spouses and his six grandchildren.

We thank God for the privilege of having known him, and for the many ways he made Christ real for so many. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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