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The Ven. Howard Levett

13 January 2017

Canon Mark Nicholls

Building communities: the Ven. Howard Levett

Building communities: the Ven. Howard Levett

The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS writes:

THE Ven. Howard Levett, who died on 13 December, aged 72, was an outstanding priest who enjoyed a varied ministry. He served in inner-city parishes in the diocese of Southwark, as Archdeacon in Egypt, then as Vicar of St Alban’s, Holborn, before becoming the Anglican Chaplain in Venice.

Born in 1944, and brought up in Lancashire, Howard found faith and a vocation to the priesthood while still at school. He trained for ordination at King’s College, London, where he gained a rare First in his AKC. Blessed with a fine analytical mind, musical talent, and a love for life, he enthusiastically embraced parish life in the diocese of Southwark, first in his curacy at St Mary’s, Rotherhithe, and then as a young incumbent at St John’s, Walworth.

In Rotherhithe, he was much influenced by his training incumbent, Canon Dudley Tassell. Then, in Walworth, he was faced with the challenge of increasing the congregation, and his pastoral zeal, evangelistic-style preaching, and community involvement bore fruit. The parish had a licensed club where families could meet, and which provided pastoral contacts. It also gave him the opportunity to play the piano and accordion, to sing and dance, and to show that “life in all its fullness” was more than just a theological concept.

Howard was a man of honesty and integrity. On one occasion, he had a blazing row with his bishop, Mervyn Stockwood. Howard left Bishop’s House feeling that he had no future in the diocese, not realising that the Bishop had been much impressed by his strong personality and courage; so he made him Rural Dean. After 12 years of tough ministry in the inner city, Howard was exhausted, and given sabbatical leave. He was invited to spend it in Alexandria, where they were without a chaplain, only to be invited back on a permanent basis. He agreed to do it for a few years, which turned out to be 14, during which time he served as Archdeacon in Egypt & North Africa, and as secretary to the Provincial Synod.

Howard had to oversee the election of a new Bishop, and declined to be a candidate, believing that it was important that they should elect another Egyptian so that the government could not claim that they were not an indigenous Church. He became an invaluable lieutenant to Bishop Ghais Abdel Malik, and set about tackling administrative reforms to ensure a sound future for the diocese.

His political awareness, negotiating skills, and diplomatic gifts were well used in the diocese and province. He engaged in informal interfaith dialogue, and I heard him give a masterful attempt to explain to Muslims how Christians believe in one God while embracing the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation.

After his years in Egypt, Howard returned to be Vicar of St Alban’s, Holborn, with its fine liturgical and musical tradition. He realised that his own theological convictions were more conservative than those of his predecessor, and of the need to hold together “Affirming Catholics” and “traditionalists”. While he loved the high mass, he was also keen to build up the parish mass for the local people, and he enjoyed his ministry to the church school with its many Muslim pupils.

After 16 years at St Alban’s, Howard decided to “retire” and take on the chaplaincy in Venice with Trieste, where he lived in a gondolier’s house. He preached in St Mark’s for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and worked closely with the local Roman Catholic parish priest. On Palm Sunday, the two congregations would meet in the piazza outside St George’s Anglican Church on the Grand Canal for the blessing of the palms, before processing to their respective churches.

In 2015, Howard was diagnosed with a melanoma (which he blamed on the Egyptian sun), and then left Venice to return to live in Rotherhithe, where he had served his title. He died of cancer on 13 December, and leaves a widowed sister, Sonia.

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