Roger Sawtell writes:
THE Revd Anthony Owen Langlois (Tony) Hodgson died on 11 July, aged 80. After a degree in English Literature and Theology at Cambridge, he spent two years’ National Service in the navy in the Far East, choosing to be on the “lower deck” rather than an officer. He was awarded a World Council of Churches Scholarship to study the rural Church in Greece; this initiated a lifelong concern for ministry in the country rather than cities.
After his ordination, he served curacies in Norfolk and London, and then moved to Hemingford Grey, to work for Christian Aid. There he approached the vicar of a rural parish about setting up a lay residential community; he was advised to go away and pray about it for ten years.
Just a few years sufficed, however, to confirm his vision, and, in 1973, he and his wife, Judith, initiated a land-based Christian community at Little Gidding, north of Cambridge. It is a well-known place, because there had been a lay community there in the 17th century, founded by Nicholas Ferrar, that provided an oasis of peace and prayer at a time of national turmoil. Little Gidding has also become a place of pilgrimage, because T. S. Eliot described it in his eponymous poem.
In the 1970s, the new Little Gidding Community refurbished the buildings, kept farm animals, and grew vegetables. Numerous people came and went. Thus Tony and Judith became pioneers of small lay communities that proliferated during the last quarter of the 20th century; 135 are listed in the Directory published by NACCAN (National Association of Christian Communities and Networks) in 2000. They were little-known but significant outposts of the church in the post-Christendom era. In 1974, Tony wrote: “We are here to pray. We are here to let people use this place for their spiritual growth. We are here to welcome young and old, academic and practical, poor and wealthy, reactionary and radical, heathen and religious. . . . We are here to learn to love one another.
The Hodgsons moved on after six years, and the community continued until 1997. Tony spent 30 years serving in rural parishes, enthusiastically pursuing causes including ethical food-production, positive peace-making, equality, simplicity of lifestyle, and care for creation.
His spiritual director was a Baptist minister, and he supported inclusive ecumenical and interdenominational projects, latterly worshipping not only at his parish church but also with the local Quaker Meeting. On retirement, he and Judith were invited to return to Little Gidding as Wardens of Ferrar House, which had become a small retreat house in the diocese of Ely.
Tony was a man of wide interests. He had coxed a college boat during his student years, and he returned to rowing after retirement. An unfortunate collision, however, capsized the boat, and the crew were immersed in the cold waters of the River Nene for 15 minutes, until the rescue launch arrived.
It might be thought that this misadventure, when he was in his seventies, would have dampened his enthusiasm for physical activities; but not so — he celebrated his 80th year with a sponsored walk of 80 miles along this same river, and raised £17,500 for Freedom from Torture.
Always interested in growing food, and never afraid to be an innovator, when he no longer had a garden to tend, he developed the cultivation of vegetables in pots.
His ministry was one of hospitality and pastoral concern, and he will be missed by those he helped to find faith and purpose. His last earthly gift to his family, and many friends, was to die in mid-summer rather than winter. About 200 people filed into Great Gidding Church, and then assembled at Little Gidding for a convivial gathering in the beautiful space between Ferrar House and the tiny historic church beside which he is now buried. Bright colours were the order of the day; and the whole occasion was both a solemn and respectful mark of his dying, and a joyful celebration, with much laughter, of his varied life and enthusiasms.
Tony is survived by Judith, two daughters, and five grandchildren.