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Canon Ian Tomlinson

18 November 2016

Bruce Parker and others write:

CANON Ian James Tomlinson, who died, on 31 October, aged 66, had been the Rector of the Ragged Appleshaw Benefice in the diocese of Winchester since 1979. Being the incumbent of the same parish for 37 years is, today, something of an achievement in itself. Ian Tomlinson, though, so firmly wedded to Appleshaw, its surrounding benefice and its people, saw off all attempts to budge him. Inherited Yorkshire grit, combined with adopted Hampshire cussedness, made him immovable in the eyes of his diocesan seniors.

Ian was born in Cottingham, near Hull, the only child of Joan and Sydney George Tomlinson. The family moved in the mid-’50s to Scarborough, where Ian developed an early and strong sense of vocation to the priesthood as head choirboy and server at St Martin’s. He was deeply influenced by its fine interior pre-Raphaelite artwork, its music and its Anglo-Catholic liturgy.

After a classical education at Scarborough High School, he went on to King’s College, London, ordination in York Minster by Donald Coggan, and curacies in Thirsk, where he married his first wife, Janet, and Harrogate. When the Vicar of St Wilfrid’s, Harrogate, Michael Manktelow, became Bishop of Basingstoke, he invited Ian to follow him to Hampshire, and take on the living of Appleshaw, newly united with Kimpton, Thruxton and Fyfield, its surrounding villages.

Over nearly four decades, generations of parishioners knew him as the man who led all the usual church services that are an important part of family life in a village community. Largely unseen and untrumpeted, though, was his important work outside the benefice. He was particularly proud, for example, of his hands-on involvement with the Andover Crisis and Support Centre for more than 30 years, as both committee member and chairman.

He was much involved, too, with Winchester diocesan affairs; he was an instrumental founder and overseer of the Diocesan Pastoral Care and Counselling Service, serving as Bishop’s Adviser for more than 15 years. He was also chairman of the House of Clergy, and became an Hon. Canon of the cathedral. He set up and maintained a diocesan counselling service.

He was a model of lifelong learning: a Master’s degree in theology from Hull University in the ’80s, another at Oxford in the ’90s, and then a doctorate from King’s College, London, as recently as 2012. He also studied at the Richmond Fellowship College, and the Tavistock Clinic, in London. He was a Professional Associate of the Grubb Institute of Behavioural Studies, and was a pioneer in using psychotherapy to inform understandings of ministry.

In temperament, Ian was a most delightful contradiction: on the one hand, a strict requirement for correct liturgical procedure, on the other, an abhorrence of pomposity in any form. Happiest in the company of plain-speaking villagers, he could litter his sermons with references to the Greek classics — even, once, an explanation of a Latin gerund to a bemused congregation. One churchgoer asked if bringing a Kennedy’s Latin Primer to church was a prerequisite for a full understanding of what he had to say.

He maintained that he should have been born in the 19th century. It might have suited him well. An old-fashioned parish priest par excellence, he was hugely involved with every single village institution: the church, the school, the hall, the playing field, the magazine, often as its supremo.

He would never have called himself a Conservative, but he was nothing if not conservative. Demands for extra village street lighting, tarting up the village magazine, revamping the summer fete — he was vehemently against them all.

Prostate cancer was diagnosed a decade ago, but Ian continued to work until this spring, and was able to take part in the recent selection process for the new Dean of Winchester.

He chose to organise a “Desert Island Discs” interview event in September as a means of saying farewell to his parishioners. St Peter’s, Appleshaw, was packed for the occasion, and people were even sitting on flagstones, and standing outside, to hear a personal account of his life, warts and all. At the end of an interview interspersed by his choice of music, he gave the congregation what he called “his final blessing”.

He died in the company of his second wife, Caroline, whom he married in 2006, and his three sons, Hugh, Ralph, and James. A thanksgiving service will be held at St Peter in the Wood, Appleshaw, on Friday 25 November, at 2 p.m.

The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, adds: I worked with Ian over many years: he consulted for the Grubb Institute, with which I am connected, and later was one of my postgraduate students. Ian completed a superb doctorate in practical theology in 2012, and it was a pleasure and privilege to supervise him on this project. Ian was an articulate, wise, generous, kind, and pastoral man — a passionate parish priest, who reflected on and processed his own vocation and ministry with exceptionally rare insight. He was an exemplary scholar-pastor-priest, and our world is the poorer for his passing.

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