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.