A correspondent writes:
Canon Brian Fessey, who died on 20 July, aged 77, was a parish priest with a deep commitment to ecumenism and to taking the church out into the community.
His calling to the priesthood came in his late forties, after a successful career in teaching. He trained at St Paul’s, Cheltenham, and taught at schools in Swindon and Wakefield, before moving to the Isle of Wight in 1972. As deputy head at Solent Middle School, Cowes, and head of Swanmore Middle School, Ryde, he displayed a humanity, vision, and enthusiasm that inspired pupils and staff. Many still remember him with great affection and warmth.
His wife, Annis, also gave up her teaching career to pursue ordination, and both were accepted to train at Cuddesdon in 1988. They had only recently returned to the Church, but both felt a strong sense of vocation to the priesthood. When Brian was priested in 1991, Annis was there with their three adult children behind the MOW banner.
Both were serving the Hartcliffe and Withywood Estate in Bristol when, in 1992, rioting broke out after the death of two young men in a police chase. Under the glare of the world’s media, they worked tirelessly to heal the community and comfort those who were alone. One of Brian’s legacies was an advice and debt-counselling centre for the community. Every summer, he and Annis ran adventure-holiday weeks for disadvantaged children from Bristol.
Annis was among the first cohort of women ordained priest by Bishop Barry Rogerson in 1994, making her and Brian one of the first married priest couples in the Anglican Church. They moved to Wiltshire, where Brian became Vicar of Purton, near Swindon. He also served
as ecumenical officer for Bristol diocese, while Annis continued her calling to work in urban priority areas as Priest-in-Charge of Pinehurst, Swindon.
Brian brought his own church, St Mary’s, into a local ecumenical partnership with the local Methodist church, and played a leading part in the ecumenical Pentecost 2000 celebration held at Swindon Town Football Club. As at Withywood, he was fully involved in the community, setting up a drop-in centre and running summer events for children. With Annis, he ran further holiday weeks for underprivileged children.
His ability to enthuse young people led to growth in the church and an influx of new families. In recognition of his ecumenical work, he was made an honorary canon of Bristol Cathedral in 2001.
He remained active in retirement, chairing Churches Together in the Ryde Area (CTRA), which he gave a new lease of life. He spearheaded the creation of a drop-in centre for homeless people, Open Arms, and enabled CTRA to sponsor a youth worker under the supervision of Youth For Christ. He was a valued and active member of the ministry team at his church, St John’s, Ryde, until shortly before his death.
He had a huge passion for music. Inspired by the emergence of skiffle to take up the guitar, he would often sing and play when leading worship and at other events. Few retirement bashes passed without a humorous song that he had penned especially for the occasion. Brian also loved performing on stage, and helped form an amateur dramatic company on the island. He was a keen long-distance runner and a lifelong supporter of his home team, Swindon Town.
Brian was devoted to his family. He and Annis ran activity weeks each summer for their own children and the wider family’s, and later ran these Kids’ Weeks for their grandchildren. More recently, Brian loved spending time with his great grandchildren.
Brian died after a long and discomforting illness, which he bore with characteristic patience, courage, and good humour. Our prayers are with Annis and the family, including Brian’s father, Walter, whom he faithfully rang every day until his death.