The Rt Revd Edward Holland writes:
THE Revd Richard Buck, who died on 26 January after a long illness, aged 79, was a priest who had a remarkable ministry, mostly on a one-to-one basis with many people of varying Christian backgrounds and none.
He had very effective curacies at John Keble Church, Mill Hill, in north London, and then All Saints’, Margaret Street, in central London. He then served as Canon Treasurer of Truro Cathedral, where, among other things, he counted the pennies from the sale of postcards. The then Bishop of Truro, Graham Leonard, had raised his expectations that he would have a place in the training and support of ordinands and newly ordained clergy, but this never materialised. After two years, he was appointed as Vicar of St Mary’s, Primrose Hill, in London, and here he had a substantial ministry of eight years.
Richard was tempted into an experimental piece of ecumenism as the Anglican participant in a shared community with the monks of Worth Abbey in Dulwich. Richard and the monks collaborated in establishing a lay ecumenical community in what had been an Anglican church and vicarage. This worked well as far as it worked at all, but, after two years, Worth Abbey changed direction and, while the lay community continued for a while, the monks and Richard were withdrawn.
At this point, it feels as though the Church of England no longer knew what to do with Richard, and he was rather left to his own devices as a spiritual director and adviser. Ronnie Bowlby, then Bishop of Southwark, came to the rescue by continuing to employ him as Ecumenical Adviser, expanding the post to include being Adviser on Spirituality to the diocese and appointing him first as assistant curate in Rotherhithe and then in Bermondsey. Finally, he was appointed Assistant Curate at St Alfege’s, Greenwich, where he had a happy four years, before retiring, first briefly to Camden Town and then to Brighton, where he happily found his home at St Nicholas’s.
This is a skeleton outline of a full and fruitful life, but Richard’s priesthood was most deeply worked out in his work with many people in a personal capacity. Even as a student at King’s College, London, Richard gave great support and counselling to many fellow students. Later numbers of would-be ordinands, many of them sent to him by the Dean of King’s, Sydney Evans, were guided or goaded by Richard either to pursue ordination or not.
Richard had come to England from Perth in Western Australia to test his vocation to the religious life; so it is not surprising that a large part of his work was with religious, principally as Warden of Fairacres, but also with the All Saints’ Sisters in Birmingham and the Whitby Sisters, for whom he participated in a Visitation led by Bishop David Hope. He was also part of the advisory committee for the re-established community of men and women at Burford, now Mucknell, Abbey.
Richard also played an important part in the reinvigorating of the Association for Promoting Retreats, working closely with the administrators, especially Gill Russell and later Paddy Lane. Many clergy and lay people benefited from his understanding of spiritual direction. Richard was very suspicious of simplistic piety and spirituality. He believed, I think, that people must first be human and only then Christian or religious.
Richard loved books and read very widely. He was an expert at secondhand bookshops, indeed he was an expert at secondhand shops in general, and could spot a worthwhile purchase in the middle of what looked like rubbish; but books were his real passion, and there are many friends who feel they owe to him their own reading habits.
Another passion was music, of which he had a wide knowledge and appreciation. Before he left Australia he had worked as a music critic for one of the Perth newspapers. Music fed his spirit in a way that nothing else did, and this continued even into the confusion of his last days.
Above all, Richard was a good, though sometimes demanding, friend to many people, and he had great gifts of easy hospitality and fun.
May he rest in peace.