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The Revd Dr Kenyon Edward Wright

03 March 2017

Air India

Legacy for reconciliation lives on: the Revd Dr Kenyon Wright

Legacy for reconciliation lives on: the Revd Dr Kenyon Wright

Sarah Hills writes:
IN HIS book on the reconciliation ministry at Coventry Cathedral, the Revd Dr Kenyon Wright, who died on 11 January, aged 84, wrote: “Re­­conciliation was at the heart of all I was called to do.”

A Methodist min­ister, missionary to India, Direc­tor of International Ministry at Coventry Cathedral, General Secretary of the Scottish Council of Churches, campaigner for Scottish devolution, and early speaker on environmental justice, Kenyon Wright wore many hats throughout his life. Yet it is clear to see that, through all of this, at the heart was reconciliation.

Kenyon Wright was born in Paisley, and attended Paisley Gram­mar School, before gaining a degree in maths and philosophy from the University of Glasgow, and then an MA in theology from Cambridge.

In 1955, he married Betty, his wife for 59 years, and together they followed his calling to become a missionary in West Bengal, India. After working in the slums of Cal­cutta, he founded and directed the Ecumenical Social and Industrial Institute in Durgapur. This institute developed the mission to India’s rapidly expanding industrial area, and grew to become the national training centre for urban industrial mission in India.

It was through this that he came into contact with Coventry Cathed­ral, meeting Simon Phipps, then Industrial Chaplain at the cathedral, and, in 1970, he was invited by the Provost, William (Bill) Williams, to become Director of the Centre for Urban Studies. Dur­ing his time in Coventry, Kenyon became licensed as an Anglican priest through the Church of North India, and became a Canon Residentiary at the ca­­thedral. In 1973, he was also given responsibility for the international ministry. Alongside Bill Williams, his work has defined the recon­ciliation ministry of Cov­entry Ca­­thedral throughout the 20th century and beyond.

Kenyon transformed the loose network of Cross of Nails churches into the Community of the Cross of Nails, which today has more than 200 partners around the world, who work in their own contexts to build a culture of peace. He built up many of our connections with India, and with Israel and occupied Palestine. It was here also that Kenyon first began to work on an issue that he continued to campaign on for the rest of his life: the protection of the environment and promotion of environmental justice

In 1975, the Community of the Cross of Nails held a conference in Tennessee on Ecology and Christian Responsibility, at which Kenyon argued, as he did many times after, that the covenant with God was three­fold, “upward with God, horizontally with one another, and down­ward with the earth itself”.

In 1981, Kenyon moved on from Coventry to become General Sec­retary of the Scottish Council of Churches, and it was through this post that he took a prominent posi­tion in the campaign for Scottish devolution. He was invited to chair the Executive of the Scottish Consti­tutional Convention, which, through a “long and painstaking process of argument, reconciliation, and con­sensus, drew up the blueprint for the new Scottish Parliament”.

On his death, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said: “His input to the creation of the Scottish Parliament cannot be over­stated. . . He was able to bring together the different strands of Scottish politics and society to achieve con­sensus about the way ahead for Scottish devolution. His legacy will live on through the work of the Scottish Parliament.”

In her tribute to him, Ms Stur­geon draws on the key element of Kenyon’s gift to the world: his remarkable ability to bring people together and inspire them. Canon Carter Echols, of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, worked with Kenyon at Coventry Cathedral in 1979, and reflected on his influence on her later ministry, saying: “He helped me maintain my optimism about working for the reign of God and making a dif­ference in the world even as I was moving from idealism to realism.”

For his work as General Secretary of the Scottish Council of Churches, the Revd John Symon, then Rector of Dun­blane, recalled that “he left a tone of happiness; he was an easy man to get on with, a delightful man to get on with”.

The Dean of Coventry Cathedral, the Very Revd John Witcombe, says: “He was one of the most striking people I have ever met. . . His pas­sion and refusal to accept ‘how things are’ will continue to inspire so many people”.

In 2008, Kenyon retired to the Midlands to spend more time with his three daughters, Lindsey, Shona, and Shelagh. Yet, even in retire­ment, he continued to campaign on environmental issues, for devolu­tion, and other matters close to his heart.

His extraordinary passion to bring ideals into reality was shaped throughout by his commitment to people, to bringing them together, and to reshaping society into one that lives up to our covenant re­­lationship with God. From national politics, to shaping individual min­istries, Kenyon led a life that in­­spired and changed many, and he will be sorely missed. In the months before he died, Kenyon had been drafting his autobiography, to be titled Live, Love, Laugh. These are good words with which to remem­ber him.

Memorial services will be held at Coventry Cathedral today at 3 p.m. and at St Mary’s Cathedral, Edin­burgh, on Friday 10 March at 5.30 p.m.

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