A correspondent writes:
THE Revd Donald Johnson, who died on 25 February, aged 85, was a
clergyman of many parts: a skilled artist, working primarily in
water colours; a horticulturalist who specialised in saving old and
rare apples; a keeper of sheep and bees. Above all he was a country
parson who defined himself as following in a great English
tradition which runs from George Herbert, via 18th-century
squarsons and Victorian clerics in their book-lined studies, to the
clergy of our own age who endeavour to keep the faith alive in
scattered rural communities.
Donald came from a Buckinghamshire family strongly committed to
the Church, and learned his love of liturgy and music from their
example. After National Service, he went up to Lincoln College,
Oxford, in 1948, and then to Cuddesdon for ministerial training. He
found the demands of the sacred tongues challenging, but his time
in Oxford left him with a life-long engagement with systematic
theology, reflected in a formidable library. He became assistant
curate at Henfield, Sussex, in 1953, and spent two happy years
there, culminating in his marriage to Aileen.
A second curacy followed, in Horsham, and then, in 1959, he was
instituted as Vicar of Oving, West Sussex. He held the parish in
conjunction with domestic chaplaincy to Roger Wilson, Bishop of
Chichester. The combined duties were onerous, especially as these
were years of bringing up his three sons, Christopher, Michael, and
Edward. There were compensations, however, in the close friendships
made in the palace, and the opportunity to extend the range of
clerical stories that could be told in and out of the pulpit.
Donald was a born raconteur.
With his move to the parish of Hellingly, East Sussex, in 1968,
Donald identified himself explicitly as a country priest, and
confirmed this position even more strongly when he moved to
Funtington, West Sussex, in 1978. He retired in 1998.
It was in these later parishes that his love of painting and of
the country was given full rein. His water colours were exhibited
at many shows, and he became well-known in local artistic circles
for his landscapes and downland scenes.
At Funtington, he kept sheep on the glebe, giving them the
adjunct role of churchyard lawn-mowers. Animal husbandry, in his
view, needed as much study as any major life-interest: the
bookshelves were full of relevant texts, and Donald became an
enthusiastic member of the Southdown Sheep Society. Apples were not
merely for eating: he became a skilled grafter, and developed a
reputation as one who could identify rare varieties. He rejoiced in
rescuing old apples that had been almost lost, and lamented those
that had vanished without trace.
Donald's varied interests, however, were never allowed to
distract him from his priestly role. He was a faithful servant to
all his congregations, and faithful also to the form of worship in
which he had been raised. He was a traditionalist: often at odds
with developments in the Church, but intensely loyal to the Book of
Common Prayer. In his later years he affirmed this latter
commitment through his chairmanship of the Chichester diocesan
branch of the Prayer Book Society.