Wendy Cocks writes:
CANON Michael Butler, who died on 28 November, aged 82, after a
car accident in Norfolk, was a priest who gave much of his ministry
and energy to encouraging the spiritual life of older people.
Educated at Keble College, Oxford, and trained at Mirfield in the
late 1950s, he served in parishes in east London, the City of
London, Surrey, and Brighton; and volunteered for many years with
the Samaritans, and was part of their executive committee.
Michael became adviser for the Board for Social Responsibility,
and later director, in Chichester diocese. It was while in this
post that he encountered ecumenical partners who were keen to
improve the spiritual care of older people. So began a relationship
with the Christian Council on Ageing (CCOA) (now Christians on
Ageing) which lasted more than 30 years.
One of his particular gifts was writing: he became editor in
1989 of the journal Plus, contributed to the publication
Spiritual Perspectives on Ageing: A module for ministerial
training as part of the Halley Stewart Age Awareness Project,
and was co-author with Ann Orbach of Being Your Age (SPCK,
When Michael moved to Norfolk in 2000, after his retirement, he
became involved with the Norwich CCOA prayer group. Out of this
sprang his work with lifers in Nelson Wing, "the hospice behind
bars", at Norwich prison; the "Out and About" project in which
prisoners meet informally; and "Forget-me-nots", help for prisoners
After he met Dr Elizabeth MacKinlay, from Australia, the idea of
international conferences on ageing and spirituality was floated,
and Michael led workshops in Australia, Durham, and, most recently,
in Edinburgh in 2014, on the work he was undertaking with prisoners
at Norwich prison. In Norfolk, Michael was a founder member of the
Aylsham Music Society, and his rich bass tone will be missed
While all this paints a picture of a committed priest, he was a
very private person, rarely sharing personal information; and the
recollections of many have been about admiration for his writing
and words of wisdom.
In his editorial in 2012 he wrote: "Friends tell me I take on
too much and should 'downsize'. Maybe they are right, but there is
something that I still prioritize. It means getting up at 6.30 am
every day, and going to the parish church so that I can join in
saying the morning office. After prayers I get my local paper,
croissant for breakfast and roll for lunch, and my day has begun.
The routine is comforting and rooted in gratitude to God for his
gifts and challenges, even at 80."
Michael wasn't, as I'm sure he would readily have admitted, the
most organised of people. Despite poor health over the past few
years, he never gave up on all his projects: his prison work,
collecting prayers for the book that he never quite got time to put
together, his choir, and his unceasing support of CCOA. All in
Christians on Ageing will miss him very much.