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Obituary: The Ven. John Neville Perry

03 November 2017


Ecumenical parish ministry: the Ven. John Perry, when he was Arch­­deacon of Middlesex

Ecumenical parish ministry: the Ven. John Perry, when he was Arch­­deacon of Middlesex

The Rt Revd Bill Ind writes:

THE Revd John Perry, who died on 20 June, aged 97, was 14 when he decided that he wanted to be a priest. Like his father and his brother, John trained for the ministry at the University of Leeds and the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield, five years in all.

He began his ministry in the East End of London, at All Saints’, Poplar, and was ordained priest in 1944. Here, he helped with youth ministry, and met Rita Dyson Rooke, who was working at Poplar Hospital. They were married in 1946.

In 1950, he moved to St Peter’s, Hackney, as Vicar, with his wife and their two children. The challenge in Hackney was to build up a worshipping community, and out of this came the emphasis on the parish communion, the parish breakfast, and the parish meeting. In the mid-1950s, St Peter’s was filled with people who had come from the West Indies, especially Antigua.

John, Rita, and their family, now of eight children, moved to Feltham in 1963, and he was promised by the bishop that there would be additional clergy. Two assistant curates were appointed, the first of 11 whom John trained in his 12-year incumbency.

The emphasis on local pastoral ministry continued, and was extended with the concept of the ecumenical parish, which involved other churches, notably the Methodist communities, and the United Reformed church. Feltham remains an ecumenical parish.

Between 1966 and 1971, John had four assistant curates at Feltham, of whom I was one, as deacon and then priest. At first, I was allowed to preach once a month; and the sermon had to be on John’s desk by Thursday for him to check. Sometimes it was returned, covered in ink.

John taught us about celebrating the eucharist, and it was made clear that it was at the centre of parish life. All of us worked a six-day week, morning till night. Matins and evening prayer were said daily, and a weekly staff meeting was held, to which all of us contributed. There was also a weekly evening meeting, at nine, at which all the clergy met in the church to pray for the parish and its needs.

Besides this, assistant curates at Feltham enjoyed a lot of variety. I went to the local Borstal, took home communions, was taught how to baptise a sick baby at the local hospital, and, every now and again, was sent to preach to retired deaconesses in a home in the deanery.

In addition to his parish work, John became the Area Dean. He was also appointed a member of the Latey Committee, which recommended that the age of majority for marriage, and several other significant personal restrictions, be lowered from 21 to 18.

In 1975, John became the Archdeacon of Middlesex; but he was not always at home in the post, and, after seven years, he resigned and became the Vicar of small rural parishes on Romney Marsh for four years.

John retired and, with Rita, moved to East Grinstead. They were deeply involved in the life of the local parish, and at the same time both Rita and John worked as volunteers at St Catherine’s Hospice, Crawley. They celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary in 2006, but, after a steady decline in her health, Rita died in December 2008. John continued his voluntary work, especially with the elderly, though he himself was getting weaker. In 2016, he gave up his house and went to live in a care home, but still visited and cared for the people at the home.

John taught me a great deal, and I continue to be grateful for all that he gave to me. He was not a saint, and he could be both demanding and difficult, but he was a great parish priest.

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