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Obituary: The Revd Thomas Percy Norman Devonshire Jones

13 March 2015


Refashioning the Church’s relationship with the visual arts: the Revd Tom Devonshire Jones, in 1982

Refashioning the Church’s relationship with the visual arts: the Revd Tom Devonshire Jones, in 1982

The Revd Charles Pickstone writes:

WHILE, by tradition, many Anglican clergy have a second string to their bow, whether cooking or model railways, few combine being a dedicated and effective parish priest with a through-going commitment to a major reform.

The Revd Tom Devonshire Jones, who died on 27 February, aged 80, sought to refashion the very serious matter of the Church's relationship to the visual arts. That one person could give himself to these two very different realms was made possible by his great gift of friendship: Tom had a particular genius for quietly befriending anyone who crossed his path, whether in church or in the world of the visual arts.

Brought up in the shadow of Bath Abbey, where his father was churchwarden, and whose Evangelical tradition gave him "a very great love of scripture and the Bible", Tom was also captivated by the aesthetic experience it offered ("it contained some lovely things, but it wasn't so much what it contained as the quality of the light").

Then, at school at Marlborough, Tom first encountered art history through a particular teacher ("He would stick postcards of works by Duccio or Giotto on a board on the Monday, and on Saturday we would write an essay about them"). Going up to St John's College, Oxford, to read Greats (where the Greek-sculpture option, taught by John Beazley, proved seminal), and then Theology, Tom also attended the series of lectures by Edgar Wind, the university's first professor of art history, so popular that they had to be delivered in the Oxford Playhouse.

Cuddesdon followed, and, from 1960, curacies in Portsea, student chaplaincies at Portsmouth, a year in Hartford, Connecticut, and then seven years as Vicar of St Saviour's, Folkestone. Twenty-one years after ordination, Tom became Vicar of the parish that would be the culmination of both sides of his ministry, St Mark's, Regent's Park. "Working in London brought me back into contact with art schools, exhibitions, and commercial galleries."

In Regent's Park and Primrose Hill, Tom's excellent memory for names and faces, together with his gift for friendship for all, church-going or not, put St Mark's on everyone's local map; and his capacity to draw people in served not only the church, but the very disparate group of people - academics, theologians, artists, sculptors, curators, critics, clergy, and journalists - he was meeting across London in connection with his love of art.

At an encounter in Venice, in 1990, with a well-known American academic, John Dillenberger, and his wife, Jane, an art historian who knew both Paul Tillich and many of the important New York artists of her day, an international meeting of some of the key players in this newly burgeoning field was planned for London for 1991. Out of it sprang the educational charity Art and Christianity Enquiry, which to this day is probably the foremost organisation for the encouragement of dialogue between the visual arts and religion, known not only for its biennial international conference (of which the 1991 was the first of 14 so far), study days, awards, and advice work to clergy, galleries, and artists, but especially for its highly valued quarterly publication Art and Christianity, which continues to flourish very much as Tom initially planned it.

Tom became the organisation's first director in 1994, retiring in 2006, and his unique contribution to the wider Church was recognised when the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred on Tom a Lambeth M.Litt. in June 2002.

Tom's beliefs were echoed in his style of ministry. "I think spiritual matters need to be spoken about in a rather small-scale, homely way, and I'm not sure that they lend themselves to large-scale pronouncements. . . the scale is immaterial to the believing." Both in the parish and in the wider world, Tom exercised a discreet and careful ministry, quietly and faithfully pastoral to his congregation, colleagues, and friends, and "neither overly fussy nor careless" in the sanctuary.

For Tom, art was not necessarily easy or consoling. "It's the arts that enable societies to articulate some of the more awkward factors in our existence." One such was the death of his first wife, Rosemary, within a few months of their arriving in London (he had offered to cancel the move because of her illness, but she had insisted); but, in 1982, he married Susan, who is herself the daughter of a priest, and whose wry observations on clerical life (occasionally published in the Standard) complemented his own highly infectious sense of humour.

To her ("who has held together the editor's outer and inner man") is dedicated Tom's remarkable final achievement, the complete revision of Peter and Linda Murray's well-known Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art and Architecture. This final gathering of so many of his friends' and colleagues' contributions in one volume forms a fitting tribute to the life of someone who, through his perceptiveness, conviviality, sense of humour, and, above all, gift of friendship, crossed many boundaries, and typified Anglican pastoral ministry at its best.

Susan and his stepson Kwesi survive him.

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