*** DEBUG END ***

A priestly life: human, well-lived

14 October 2016

THE Revd John Lee, who died on 27 September, was best known in the Church as the Clergy Appointments Adviser, a post he held from 1998 to 2015. He advised hundreds of the clergy, not only in finding the right posts, but in understanding more deeply where their true vocation lay.

I came across John in the 1980s, when he was completing training as a psychotherapist. He helped me through the most desolate years of my life. Early in the morning, twice a week, I drove to the Institute of Group Analysts in Hampstead, and would sit on a couch in a basement room; John sat on a low chair.

I cannot really say what passed between us, except that I eventually emerged from a tunnel of pain to a place of hope. John was not a blank-wall therapist, although we spent a great deal of time in silence. Gradu­ally, however, he revealed his wider world.

He had been adopted. He knew that he was Irish, and that his real name was Michael Murphy. He never knew his birth mother. When I started therapy with him, he was Priest-in Charge and later Rector, of St Mary’s, Chiddingstone, Kent. He was married with three children. He worked with groups and indi­viduals, and had a particular min­istry to gay men. He had been an oceanographer before ordina­tion, and had worked in Australia. He loved the outdoors. He ran in marathons.

John was unlike anyone I had ever met before. He could be bloody-minded, sweary, and chal­leng­­ing. He did not care much about the things that most interested me (pre­cise liturgy, Church history). He was liberal where I was conservative in theology; rigorous where I preferred to be reticent in therapy. He thought the Church was often pathetic, dishonest, and hypo­critical; but he still wanted to be in it. After my years of therapy ended, we became friends. I preached for him at Chid­ding­stone, and later became part of his advisory group.

The church was packed at his funeral in Chiddingstone last Fri­day. There were four bishops, many priests, and a few former colleagues from Lambeth Palace and Church House. But there were also many people who loved the way that he cared for his flock, and his com­mitment to village life. How he managed to be so many different things to so many different people, I do not know.

I do know, however, that I am only one of many who owe him a profound debt of gratitude. He showed that a priestly life should not focus on ambition or success, but should essentially be a human life well lived. This is what he tried to convey in his last appointment — a kind of ministry which, in these reforming days, the Church could be in danger of forgetting.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Awards Ceremony: 6 September 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available


Inspiration: The Influences That Have Shaped My Life

September - November 2024

St Martin in the Fields Autumn Lecture Series 2024

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


Visit our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)