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12 December 2014

The Archdeacon of Lindisfarne writes:

PETER MIDDLEMISS, who died on 19 October, aged 71, worked for the Church all his life, but remained a deeply committed layman, avoiding the attempts of several bishops to lay hands on him. He was a Reader for 47 years.

After graduating in theology at Manchester, and doing a Dip. Ed. at Birmingham, Peter, under the influence of a remarkable university chaplain, Basil Hetherington, became chaplain to overseas students in Manchester. Students from that period still attest to his influence on their direction in life. It was there that he met and married Fritha. For a short while after Manchester, Peter worked in the parish of Haslemere as Education Adviser; then, in 1977, he became Warden of Morley Retreat House, which served Derby and Southwell dioceses. It was in Morley that Peter and Fritha's three children were born.

Peter continued to work in retreat houses, becoming in 1983 Warden of Holland House, in Worcester diocese, where he stayed until he retired. Hundreds of people have said that Peter's hospitality was remarkable. They felt accepted by him, but also challenged. For many, he changed the direction of their spiritual life.

He also allowed groups and individuals the space to grow; and this was true of secular groups as well as church ones. He was a lover of people. For him, relationships went beyond knowledge, books and titles. Peter's attitude to the House is indicated by his naming it a Retreat, Conference and Laity Centre.

He insisted that all lay people should be theologically literate, and should discover the meaning of Christian discipleship. To that end, he always sold theological books as part of his work, and often his bookstalls were seen to have a wider range than local theological bookshops. He served on Worcester diocesan synod, and chaired the Board of Ordained and Lay Development. He pioneered innovative parish-life conferences. Peter was made a lay canon of Worcester Cathedral in 2005.

Peter always looked to serve the wider Church. He founded Archway: the Anglican Retreat and Conference House Wardens' Association. For 15 years, he was a member of the General Synod. He was on the Board of Education and the National Society, and chaired the report on lay discipleship, Called to New Life. He was also an Anglican representative on Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Peter chaired, successively, the Association for the Promotion of Retreats, and the Retreat Association. Always an internationalist and ecumenist, he joined the Ecumenical Association of Academies and Laity Centres in Europe, part of Oikosnet Europe, and eventually became its President, helping the organisation to flourish in the new situation created by the growing co-operation between Eastern and Western Europe.

Peter and Fritha retired to Berwick upon Tweed, in Newcastle diocese, and in six years Peter made a significant impact on the parish, which he guided through a clerical vacancy; and the diocese, particularly in the work of Readers and on the practice of Local Ministry.

Nicola Slee adds: Peter was somebody with great energy and vision, a passion for hospitality and lay discipleship, a warm and generous heart, a lover of life. Under his wardenship, Holland House was a place of wide inclusivity, as well as warm hospitality: very many people over decades felt safe and at home there, nurtured and encouraged to be who they were and become something more.

Jaap van der Saar, president of Oikosnet Europe, adds: Peter was often quiet in leading meetings, but when he considered it required and effective, he was decisive about the direction to take on crucial matters. For him, this was about how the laity would have a realistic and respected place in the Church. His passion was more for that than for theology, big studies, and long lectures.

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