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The Revd Audrey Kemp

09 September 2016

Canon George Farran and others write:

THE Revd Audrey Kemp, who died on 17 August, aged 89, had been the inadvertent focus of controversy, when she was claimed as the first deaconess to be put in sole charge of a Church of England parish.

She was licensed, in July 1980, by the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Robert Goodchild, to be in charge of the benefice of St Faith, Brentford. A report in The Daily Telegraph, that she was the first woman officially in charge of a Church of England parish, led to indignant correspondence in the Church Times, which had reported the licensing more carefully (18 and 25 July 1980). Nevertheless, Audrey Kemp was one of a small group of the first women so licensed. Nine years earlier, she had been the first female chaplain of South Ockendon Hospital for the mentally handicapped.

Born in Esher, an only child, whose father was chief engineer of Wembley Stadium, she did not attend church until she joined the Girl Guide movement. It was while going to St Martin-in-the-Fields, with the other girls, that she first felt attracted to the Christian faith. Not initially realising that ministry was not open to women, she approached the Vicar. When her offer was rebuffed, she took some years to come to terms with the setback.

Not being able to afford the cost involved in becoming a doctor, she trained as a radiographer, and, for 14 years, worked at the Middlesex County Hospital. Dealing with terminally ill cancer patients persuaded her that her real vocation was to work with people.

After training at Gilmore House, Audrey became a deaconess in 1969, and served in various settings, including St Faith’s, until she was ordained deacon in 1987. She was priested in Wells Cathedral in May 1994. In retirement, she served as Hon. Assistant Curate of Ditcheat, East Pennard, and Pylle, in Bath & Wells diocese, and was Priest-in-Charge of that benefice from 1994 to 1995.

Audrey was an unassuming person, who exercised many long years of faithful Christian service, and there are many people who will always thank God for her ministry.

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